By Carla Minsky
Wisconsin is a bike happy state. That much is true. So, with thousands of miles of on-and off-road bike trails to choose from, how do you narrow your options to plan a bike trip? How about giving props to the small towns? We define small towns as having a population of less than 10,000 and then added a layer of criteria like darn cute downtowns with kitschy cafés and cozy inns. If that sounds like it could be right up your alley, then keep reading.
Biking in Northern Wisconsin
St. Croix Falls
This thriving rural community, within an hour’s drive of the Twin Cities, bills itself as the City of Trails. This refers to trails of all sorts including bike paths, mountain biking, bike tours and on-road biking. It sits on the banks of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.
Best of Biking: The Gandy Dancer Trail is the real gem here for biking. It’s about 50 miles long and you can pick up the trailhead right at the Polk County Information Center. There’s also a new bike trail – the Stower Seven Lakes State Trail – that opened a few years ago and runs a very manageable 14 miles. Don’t overlook quiet country roads quite suitable for bike touring, like Country Road S just outside the city that runs along the outside edge of Interstate State Park, the oldest state park in Wisconsin.The go-to resource in town for all things biking, including bike trail maps, is bike shop Cyclova XC.
Rest & Repast: The Dalles House Motel is a hop, skip and a jump from the biking trailhead. The Vegetarian is a restaurant right in town serving vegetarian and vegan Indian cuisine for meat conscious bikers. After a full day of bike touring, ask for a window seat at the Dalles House Restaurant and enjoy their Old World supper club fare.
This purebred tourism community is located almost to the border of the Upper Peninsula. It’s situated in the heart of the Northern Highlands American Legion State Forest, all 250,000 acres of it. Within a 10 mile radius you’ll find 194 lakes. Especially handy are all the bike racks around town.
Best of Biking: The biggest draw for cyclists is the Heart of Vilas County Hike & Bike Trail, a nearly 50 mile stretch from Manitowish Waters to St. Germain running through the heart of Boulder Junction. The Nichol’s Beach Bike Trail, at 2.5 miles, takes you from the local Chamber of Commerce office, a hub for bicyclists, right to Nichol’s Lake for some picnicking and swimming. If you need to rent a bike, try Coon Tail Sports.
Rest & Repast: Sweet Emma’s is a quaint home for rental with nice views of the Manitowish River and garage to stow your bikes. You can access the paved bike trail from the Boulder Bear Lodge. After an afternoon of biking, sit down for a meal at the Granary Family Restaurant.
Biking in Central Wisconsin
Best of Biking: In the mid-1800s, all-weather roads were built by laying down plentiful wooden planks. Ride the hilly 17-mile Old Plank Road Bike Trail which parallels Hwy 23, the original plank road route. In town, try the Plymouth Recreation Bike Trail, which connects to the plank trail. Or head out to the Kettle Moraine State Forest. The Back Door Bike Shop in town is there when you need it.
Rest & Repast: Just off the biking trails, rest and refresh at Plymouth’s fine establishments.The 52 Stafford Inn is on the National Register of Historic Landmarks and its restaurant is considered one of the best in the state. The Exchange Bank Coffeehouse, located in a restored 1906 bank building, is a solid choice for soups, sandwiches, home-baked goodies and a nice strong espresso.
This friendly town is not only for bicyclists but for foodies and those who love art as well. Many restaurants source locally and the community is filled with art galleries.
Best of Biking: First, make a pit stop at Bluedog Cycles for recommendations on bike paths perfect for your biking skills andlevel of outdoor adventure. There’s a brand new Coon Prairie Bike Trail that’s paved between Viroqua and Westby, so you can enjoy both communities. Don’t overlook Sidie Hollow County Park either. The Kickapoo Valley Reserve is 16 miles away and has 20+ miles of bike riding bliss on non-motorized trails.
Rest & Repast: Locally owned Vernon Inn & Suites is right across from the Coon Prairie Bike Trail. Viroqua Heritage Inn is actually two Victorian-era B&Bs, serving an abundant breakfast, organic when possible, at your chosen hour. The Driftless Café, known for its pizza and fresh-baked goods, sources locally. The Viroqua Food Co-op has a buffet and coffee bar and emphasizes healthy, organic, local foods. These are just a few of the locations perfect for resting up after a hard day of biking in the great outdoors of Wisconsin.
Biking in Southern Wisconsin
Jefferson County is defined by arts, antiques, lakes, rivers, wildlife areas, state forests, small towns and hamlets like Cambridge. You could say it’s the ideal spot for urban escapees and bike riding enthusiasts.
Best of Biking: The nearby Glacial River Bike Trail runs along Hwy 26 along a converted railroad bed. You can also pick up the Glacial Drumlin State Bike Trail. But you have to love the Low Stress Bike Trail for the name alone – it runs from Fort Atkinson to Cambridge.
Rest & Repast: Cambridge offers many options for bike riders to relax and is B&B central, with the Oscar H. Hanson House, Cambridge House, Covington Manor, Lake Ripley Lodge and the Victorian of Cambridge all worthy choices. Grab a bite to eat at The Daily Grind and visit the Rowe Pottery Works Company Store next door.
Talk about small town America, on any given summer weekend you can expect a concert in the bandstand, ball leagues and bicycling in Brodhead.
Best of Biking:The Sugar River State Bike Trail, just north of Brodhead, was the state’s first rails-to-trails conversion. The covered bridge over a creek is a pretty stop for pictures, and there are several picnic areas along the way in Albany and Monticello. Rustic Road #27, north of Brodhead, is perfect for biking. Its Park Road offers excellent views of high bluffs and dense woods providing scenic view along the bike path.
Rest & Repast: The Sutherland House B&B, just three blocks off the Sugar River trail, is popular with bicyclists thanks to its hearty breakfast and bike storage. The Go-Inn Home B&B is on the Brodhead water channel and the bike trail. For those who like to both camp and bike, there’s the Crazy Horse Campground and Sweet Minnihaha Campground.