Article by Kelly Willoughby.
Hi there! My name is Kelly Willoughby and I am an avid biking and running enthusiast. I have been exploring the outdoors for quite some time now and have discovered many beautiful places on my journeys. One of my favorites is the Janesville Trail System!
What do walkers, joggers, bikers, and hikers have in common? They absolutely love to get outside and explore nature. And gosh, does the Janesville community have a lot to offer for that! I live on the northeast side of Janesville and one of the best kept secrets in this beautiful city is the miles and miles of paved trails we have available – in any part of the city. You don’t have to go far to connect with nature, walk through the woods, view a beautiful creek or river, see a variety of wildlife, or just relax on a bench in a beautiful setting. Join me on a “virtual tour” of my favorite portion of the Janesville Trail System, from the northeast side to downtown and from downtown to Riverside Park, a total of 10-12 miles one way. I hope it will inspire you to get out and experience this beauty for yourself.
The first part of our journey starts just east of the Rotamer Rd/Wright Rd intersection on the northeast side of town.The path was recently extended and it’s a beautiful mile addition through Sheiffer Park. Jump on your bike or tighten your shoelaces and follow the paved path. As you turn left, you’ll notice a few small ponds straight ahead of you. Continue and you’ll feel as if you’re in the middle of a large, lush forest as the path winds through the cool trees. There are also unpaved paths in this area for the more adventurous.
From Sandhill Dr, journey south and cross through a charming little tunnel under Hwy 14. I dare you to yell as you go through and hear your echo! The next few miles of the path are my favorite. As you wind through the serene prairie and trees, you are likely to see a variety of wildlife – chipmunks, squirrels, turkey, other birds, and deer. If you’d like to stop to take in the view, there are many benches along the way to enjoy. Most of them are sponsored in memory of an amazing family member or person in the community.
Once you cross Wright Rd, head down a hill where you have the option of two different paths with a lovely sparkling stream flowing through the area. Its scenic views make it a popular resting area. If you go to the left, you will head into a tunnel under Wright Rd (another good spot to hear an echo!). In this area you can enjoy more views of the creek as well as a picturesque field where you’ll see critters out grazing in the evenings. Continue up a hill to Janesville’s Youth Sports Complex where you can take the path into the park and watch soccer, football, baseball, and softball games during the summer. After you have explored, circle around to go back the way you came.
If you choose to go right at the bottom of the hill from Wright Rd, you will wind through the woods as the path follows the creek down to Janesville’s second largest park – Palmer Park. There is a good chance you’ll see a dozen or more happy turkeys hanging out throughout the day. There are also a few off-road paths if you want to get closer to the stream or just take a little walk to explore the woods.
Photos courtesy of Eric Panico
Continue past Palmer Park until it leads you into the parking lot of the award-winning Rotary Botanical Gardens. The 20-acre garden is home to some of the best scenery in Janesville. This is a great place to stop, rest, and take a walk. After you’ve enjoyed the garden, backtrack just a bit on the path and take a right. You’ll enter the woods again and travel along the creek. As the path veers to the right, you’ll see the scenic Rock River and a pedestrian bridge with great views. On any given day, you could see geese, eagles, seagulls, white pelicans, beavers, muskrats, and more. There are often people taking pictures or fishing off the bridge.
Photos courtesy of Chase Coleman
Once you cross the pedestrian bridge, continue straight to the road then veer to the right and follow River Rd for several blocks until the path picks up again near downtown. Follow the riverbank north and the path will take you to Festival Street, the Bubbler, and the beautiful new Town Square and Blain Gilbertson Family Heritage Bridge. This is a perfect place to explore both sides of the river for coffee, shopping, lunch, dinner, and a ton of public art and fun places for selfies.
As you continue on the path north from downtown, you’ll travel along the west side of the river into Riverside Park, Janesville’s oldest park, with 87 acres to explore. On the other side of the river, you’ll see Traxler Park where the Rock Aqua Jays Water Ski team performs all summer long. In September, it’s the home to Dragon Boat Races.
In Riverside Park you’ll find several other gems: three scenic overlooks, picnic areas, pavilions, restrooms and a flowing artesian well, making it a perfect time and place to hydrate. The paved path ends here but you can continue on the road that winds through the park. There are picnic tables along the way that offer great places to rest and take in the beauty of the park and river. At the very end, past the tennis and pickleball courts and baseball field, the unpaved Devil’s Staircase segment of the Ice Age Trail heads into the woods where you can climb the bluff for breathtaking views of the river. You won’t be jogging along this path but it’s worth the hike!
Check out my Janesville Trail System map to help you find your way. I’ve added highlights for you. Click on the images to enlarge them or download the map here.
I hope that my “virtual tour” has given you inspiration to get out and explore the Janesville Trail System. Check out my Janesville Trail System map to help you find your way. If you ever see a girl out there wearing neon pink, please say hello as that’s probably me! 😊
Photography contributed by Kelly Willoughby, Janesville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, Eric Panico, Chase Coleman and Sandi Walton.