If starting from Hammersly Road and the Southwest Commuter Trail (where there is ample parking), it will be 82 miles to the border and back. If starting from a location near downtown (at the start of the SW Commuter Trail), the total mileage will be closer to 95.
Destination Distance From Downtown
2 of 5 diamonds
Some might classify this as a one star for difficulty since the trail is primarily flat, however, because most of it is crushed limestone, and because of the distance, two stars would be more appropriate.
Time To Complete
If riding from Madison, to the Illinois border and back, give yourself seven to eight hours to complete the round trip with a couple brief stops. If only going to the tunnel and back, it should take you less than four hours.
Spring, Summer, and Fall
Spring can bring a soft and sloppy trail. If riding this trail after heavy rains, know that your pace will slow significantly. Fall often brings hard packed and fast conditions, but look out for fallen black walnuts.
On Leash Only
A daily trail fee of $4.00 is mandatory or a one year trail pass, which works on all WI state trails is available for $20.00/year. Payment kiosks are set up in several places along the trail. Checks or cash are accepted.
Although Madison doesn't have many gravel roads like Western Wisconsin, Southern Minnesota or Iowa, we do have a few fantastic long distance gravel trails.
The Badger State Trail will take you all the way to the IL border if you wish to travel that far. The serenity riding under a tree canopy on a trail marked with patches of moss, chunks of calved limestone and pastures flanking you on each side will calm even the most stressful day.
The piece de la resistance is riding through the Stewart tunnel just South of Bellville.
What Makes It Great
Where else can you get a mix of wildlife, taverns, old driftless towns, and a long abandoned train tunnel? Although many might not notice the subtle changes along the trail, if you pay attention, you will see so many hidden treasures!
Most feel the long tunnel passage is the highlight of the ride, but many also find the technicolor leaves and lichen, the puffball mushrooms and the old crumbling rock cliffs to be just as magical.
If you ride South of the tunnel, you'll be treated to a vista overlooking low marsh land. This is an area rich in wildlife and everything from coyote to raptors can be found not only on this section, but throughout most of the trail.
You'll love the small towns like Bellville, Monticello, and Monroe for fuel but also classic driftless area architecture featuring limestone buildings. Stop for lunch in Monroe for a Limburger cheese sandwich with onions and local beer. This region is known for its cheese and beer production and you'll have plenty of choices.
If you're not up for stopping in a town, and prefer a picnic lunch, there are several picnic tables and a new trail welcome center with flush toilets in Monroe.
Who is Going to Love It
This trail is great for everyone from children to long distance enthusiasts. In fact, you will most likely see families and racers sharing the trail with you.
Since you can turn around at any point, distance is not an issue. Do note the trail has slight gradient changes and the last three miles up to the tunnel can sometimes feel like a push as can the section between Monticello and Monroe. Thankfully, the trail is almost always in pristine condition (except after large rains or during the Spring thaw).
Three items you will need are a headlight for the tunnel, tires you feel comfortable riding on gravel with (most like a 28 mm or wider, but it can be done on road tires), and an extra tube since there are long stretches between towns and only one bike shop along the route.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
There are several jumping off locations and places to park. If you want to start on the gravel section, the Lacey Road parking lot is suggested. For those wanting to start in Madison, two great options are Hammersley Road and the SW Commuter Trail (posted on the map) or downtown Madison at the start of the SW Commuter Trail.
There is a $4 daily or $20 annual trail fee that is strictly enforced but payment kiosks can be found the length of the trail.