Benzie County, home to beautiful towns like Frankfort, Thompsonville, Beulah, and Elberta affords views of Lake Michigan, the Betsie River, Crystal Lake, and miles of pine and hardwood upland forests all easily accessed from your two-wheeled transport. So no excuses: hop on your cycle and scoot down to Benzie to enjoy the Northern Michigan’s outdoors !
Where to Rent in Benzie County
- Beulah: Crystal Lake Adventure Sports: 214 South Benzie Boulevard. Call 231.882.2527.
- Frankfort: Crystal Lake Adventure Sports Rental Kiosk: 1 block from Lake Michigan in Frankfort. Open 9 am to 5 pm daily.
- Elberta: Conundrum Café: 603 Frankfort Avenue. Call 231.352.8150.
- Thompsonville: Crystal Mountain Resort: 12500 Crystal Mountain Drive. Call 888.968.7686 ext. 7000.
Biking the Betsie Valley Trail
22 miles long, stretching from Frankfort to Thompsonville and winding through Elberta and Beulah, the Betsie Valley Trail is a premiere destination for Benzie County biking. The trail is built upon the foundation of the former Ann Arbor Railroad and is now perfect for bike and pedestrian use, with restaurants, accommodations, and plenty of beautiful scenery to take in along the way.
The Trail — Where You’ll Go, What You’ll See
Betsie Valley Trail, sponsored by the Friends of the Betsie Valley Trail, begins at Frankfort’s Lake Michigan beach and winds through Cannon Park, at the west end of Main Street. You will continue on Waterfront Street for 3 blocks—which is the only segment of the trail that shares a road—until passing through Frankfort’s waterfront to 10th Street. This is where the DNR-owned trail officially begins.
The 6.7-mile segment from Cannon Park to Mollineaux Road is paved asphalt and crosses the Betsie River twice near Elberta. You’ll also be rewarded with views of Betsie Lake and its serene marshlands, as well as occasional glimpses of the Betsie River as you cruise by.
At Mollineaux Road, you will encounter a transformation from asphalt to a limestone surface, most easily traversed by mountain bikes (though it is compacted enough for road bikes to ride on). Three miles from Mollineaux will take you along Crystal Lake to Beulah; the first mile of this passes through the Benzie County-owned Railroad Point Natural Area, which provides access to the beach and Crystal Lake.
From Beulah (which has a Visitor’s Center modeled after the former Railroad Station) to Thompsonville, the trail is composed of an aggregate packed surface and is restricted to non-motorized use. This 13-mile section is more remote and secluded, passing through miles of forest and wetlands with one of the only structures being an old turbine at Wolf Road that once produced the only electricity in the area, powered by the Betsie River. 6.5 miles will take you through a part of the legendary Pere Marquette State Forest. The trail concludes at Thompson Avenue in Thompsonville, one block south of Lindy Road.
Parking Along the Trail
Seasoned cyclists may consider 44 miles round-trip as a supremely approachable and reasonable distance, but for more casual cruisers on the trail, there are options for parking along the Betsie Valley Trail to facilitate your ride.
- Frankfort – Parking is located at the trailhead at Main Street and 9th.
- Elberta – You can park right off the trail in Elberta, in a designated lot located essentially on the southwestern tip of Betsie Lake.
- Between Elberta and Beulah – There are two spots available to park along the trail between Elberta and Beulah. The first is at the intersection of the trail and River Road; the second is at Mollineaux Road.
- Beulah – Parking for the trail is available at the Visitor Center right on the trailhead.
- Thompsonville – Trail-side parking in Thompsonville is located in the ballpark just north of Lindy Road.
NOTE: Between Beulah and Thompsonville, there is no designated trailside parking. Although there is trail access where the trail intersects at Aylsworth Road, Pine Road, Landis Road and Wolf Road, these are not designated parking spots, so plan accordingly!
Visit BetsieValleyTrail.org for more information on the trail.
The Betsie River Pathway
Nestled in the Pere Marquette State Forest, this DNR-operated trail is absolutely a must ride for mountain bikers. It is 10 miles long, traversing the tranquil forest setting and on occasion cutting through fields; while you cruise along, take in the thriving bird habitat inhabiting the forest including chickadees, bluejays, and Pileated woodpeckers. The pathway even features an abandoned orchard. Because it is maintained by the DNR, the Betsie River Pathway is well-groomed and the terrain is not too challenging (there is only an elevation gain of 320 feet throughout the trail). Be sure to share the trail! Hikers and their canine friends coexist peacefully with mountain bikers using the Betsie River Pathway. The trailhead for the Betsie River Pathway is located 6 miles west of Thompsonville at the intersection of King Road and Longstreet Road, which can be easily reached via M115.
Visit Michigan.org for more directions and trail maps.
The Lake Ann Pathway
For a short but stunningly scenic jaunt, the Lake Ann Pathway is an ideal option for mountain biking. While it is just under 3.5 miles in length, you’ll be able to see four lakes, circumnavigate three bogs, and even bike along a section of the Platte River. The pathway showcases swamps, trout streams, and picturesque overlooks. The ecosystem displays a plethora of tree species such as Maple, Oak, Beech, Tamaracks, and Cedar, and also hosts the stunning Cypripedium acaule (more commonly known as the Pink Lady’s Slipper orchid)! An abundance of hilly sections in the northern portion of the trail makes it an intermediate ride. It also should be noted that the pathway is a single-track mountain bike trail and is designed for multi-use, so watch out for hikers and doggies.
The Lake Ann Pathway is actually a network of trails composed of four loops, divided by Reynolds Road. The first loop is 1.8 miles, encircling the state forest campground. However, it is west of Reynolds Road where the majority of the trail lies, and when combined with the campground loop rounds out the trek to about 5 miles.
Heading west from the trailhead in the forest campground, you’ll cross Reynolds Road and arrive at Post 5. Turn right to ride north, where you’ll skirt a bluff and Shavanaugh Lake will come into view. The trail will take you down near water level before you’ll descend further to ride along the shoreline of Mary’s Lake, after which you’ll climb a ridge to reach Post 6. Keep right which will take you along the edge of Mary’s Lake (it is not uncommon for the view of the lake to be obstructed by foliage in summer months), where you’ll eventually come across a portion that offers views of the low-lying wetlands between Mary’s Lake and Tarnwood Lake. After descending down to Post 7, you will bear right and begin the arduous climb toward Post 8.
When you’ve crested this section you’ll encounter the high point of the trail at 860 feet. Here you will be rewarded with views of Tarnwood Lake and the swamp surrounding it. Now head south: you will follow a ridge and descend quickly into a bog, soon after arriving at Post 8. More hilly terrain awaits due south, where you’ll approach the Platte River. The trail runs beside the Platte for a third of a mile (complete with a boardwalk and bench) before it swings away from the river to ascend another ridge to reach Post 9. A swift right turn will take you down into the river valley once again.
At this point you’ll be nearing the finish of the pathway. Simply continue on the trail, which will again jut upward and take you along a ridge with a bench offering views of the river valley. Only about a half mile from Post 9 you’ll encounter Post 10; press on straight ahead toward Post 5 where the pathway began. You will reenter the woods and pass a second bog, and then you’re home free!
The trailhead and parking for the Lake Ann Pathway is located within the Lake Ann State Forest Campground, which requires a recreation passport for vehicle entry. From Interlochen, follow US31 west, turn right on Lake Ann Road, turn left on Bronson Lake Road, and finally take a right onto Reynolds Road.
Visit Michigan.org for location on the map and more information.
Arcadia Dunes Dryhill Trails
The Dryhill Trails are a part of the Arcadia Dunes Nature Preserve, which is protected, operated, and managed by the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. Arcadia Dunes is GTRLC’s largest preserve, and the Dryhill Trails are 12 miles of multi-use trails suited for mountain biking as well as running and hiking. They take you into the rugged heart of the glacial moraine ridge, flanked with Sugar Maples and American Beeches and wind through six meadows—naturally banked turns and quick rolling hills make the Dryhill Trails a biker’s haven.
From the trailhead, bear left to head north to enter the forest. In about a half mile you’ll cross over an old two-track and begin to climb a tough hill. This will deliver you to an intersection with Chestnut Trail: keep left to stay on Dryhill and continue east. The following section presents a series of hills as you’ll drop in and out of the ravines along the northern edge of the moraine, with views of orchards on the hillsides, Joyfield Road to the north, and ephemeral glances of Upper Herring Lake.
At about the fourth mile of the trail, you’ll climb out of the forest into a meadow before cruising downhill, crossing Taylor Road (a trailhead and parking area), and then pumping uphill to a high point of the trail at 975 feet. After cresting this you’ll descend and approach the second intersection of Taylor Road; if you’re too tired to complete the loop, you can head north on Taylor Road, take a left onto Matzinger Road when you come to it, and follow that all the way back to the trailhead, about a three-mile ride.
If your stamina is solid and your resolve is real, press on. At around mile eight, you’ll encounter—that’s right, you guessed it—another hill! After cresting it, you’ll fly down to cross Matzinger Road just before the nine-mile mark. When you come across the second junction at Chestnut Trail, keep left. You’ll then make the final long, steady climb upward to be rewarded with a downhill section that will transport you all the way back to the trailhead at St. Pierre Road, rounding out your ride to nearly 10 miles.
For more information on the Arcadia Dunes Nature Preserve and other trails owned by the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, call them at 231.929.7911 or visit them online GTRLC.org.
Mountain Biking at Crystal Mountain
Thompsonville’s Crystal Mountain isn’t only a destination for skiing and snowboarding in the winter—it has a magical menagerie of mountain bike trails open in the summer! Crystal offers technical downhill trails that can only be accessed by lift, and they also have miles of on-site trails varying from beginner to advanced terrain. The best part? Crystal serves as a Benzie biking hub: many of the trails connect with the Betsie River Pathway, the Betsie Valley Trail, and Arcadia Dunes. They also offer bike rentals.
For trail maps, rental rates, lift hours, and more information on mountain biking at Crystal Mountain, call them at 888.968.7686 ext. 7000, or visit them online at CrystalMountain.com.