Both big water and small water are plentiful in Benzie and Manistee counties, so challenges abound for paddlers of every skill set.
The Manistee River, south of Watervale, is easily navigable, with a challenging 10-mile stretch from Hodenpyle Dam to Red Bridge that takes four to seven hours, depending on water levels. The 14.25-mile trip from Tippy Dam to Bear Creek Access or Rainbow Bend is slower and very beginner-friendly, with plenty of opportunities to explore side channels and marshlands.
To Watervale’s north, the Platte River offers a choice of swift or slow. The Upper Platte, from US31 bridge to M22 bridge is a challenging, four- to five-hour float that is rarely crowded. The Lower Platte from M22 bridge to the river mouth at Lake Michigan is popular with beginners, who enjoy a low-key float through Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
Just outside Watervale’s front door, Lake Michigan presents sea kayak possibilities: easy on calm days, challenging when the wind kicks up. After crossing Lower Herring Lake, paddlers portage the opening to Lake Michigan and push into the big waters. From Watervale, the tiny burg of Arcadia lies a five-mile paddle to the south and Elberta-Frankfort six miles to the north, both offering public access points and food.
C.S. MOTT NATURE PRESERVE
The family of Watervale has been long-dedicated to the efforts of the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, and at the resort a rock garden pays tribute to significant contributors who have helped save thousands of acres of land nearby.
Conservancy sites surround Watervale and make ideal destinations for late-summer hiking and birdwatching. Immediately to the south of the resort lies Arcadia Dunes: C.S. Mott Nature Preserve. Hiking trails are accessible from Watervale, the St. Pierre Trailhead and the Baldy Trailhead. From St. Pierre, a figure-eight trail system covers 12 miles of terrain and allows mountain biking as well as hiking. The trail systems provide Lake Michigan overlooks as well as access to Mount Baldy, a towering dune with a view that rivals that of its world-renowned neighbor to the north, Sleeping Bear Dune.
For fans of the two-wheeler, Benzie’s flats and hills are set to satisfy.
Beginning cyclists should try the car-free Betsie Valley Trail, a former railroad grade that offers 22 miles of relatively flat trail (7 miles paved from Frankfort to Beulah; 15 miles crushed fines Beulah to Thompsonville).
Benzie’s lightly travelled roads and curvaceous terrain deliver big for road cyclists. M22 in this stretch is not heavily traveled, has a smooth surface, wide shoulder and is beautiful to boot. For cyclists looking for an even more back-roads experience, truly any two-lane will provide. Grab a Benzie map and a highlighter or check MapMyRide.com to chart your day (the website shows elevation changes for the hill-averse—or hill-cravers). Main point: stay off US31.
Mountain bikers can explore the forest on hundreds of miles of two-tracks that weave throughout the vast Manistee National Forest (GPS recommended). Also nearby: the Big M trail system off M55 between Manistee and Wellston, one of Michigan’s premier mountain bike destinations. Find a mix of steeps and flats to accommodate beginners and experienced riders. Advanced cyclists can pedal the stretch of North Country Trail between the Marilla and Upper River Road trailheads, a 17-mile section (one way) that traces one of Michigan’s most lovely river runs.
Frankfort’s Amped Up Food Scene
From the Pan-Asian cuisine at local favorite Fusion, to craft beer, inventive pizzas and charcuterie at the recently launched Stormcloud Brewing Company, this harbor town 5 miles north of Watervale features a tasty and eclectic selection.
The art of the bagel is on display at L’Chayim Deli, and notable sandwiches can be found all over town, including the grilled egg salad with a zing of jalapeno from Frankfort Deli, the grilled cheese from Crescent Bakery and the fish sandwiches from Port City Smokehouse. These eateries are great places to stock up on carbs and protein—essentials for refueling on the road, river or trails. Crescent serves a can’t-miss pretzel and a maple-bacon glazed donut, while the Smokehouse makes its own jerky.
When pizza is required, those seeking a classic slice will enjoy A. Papano’s, and Villa Marine spices things up with a buffalo chicken pie. For a refined experience, Cru Cellars offers wine tasting and light delicacies, while Coho’s menu is highlighted by its tuna and duck.