Betsie Valley Trail


Betsie Valley Trail Facts

States: Michigan
Counties: Benzie
Length: 22.1 miles
Trail end points: Waterfront Drive (Frankfort) and County Rd. 669 (Thompsonville)
Trail surfaces: Asphalt, Crushed Stone
Trail category: Rail-Trail
ID: 6016111
Trail activites: Bike, Inline Skating, Fishing, Wheelchair Accessible, Mountain Biking, Snowmobiling, Walking, Cross Country Skiing

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Betsie Valley Trail Description

Northern Michigan's natural splendor is on display during a trip along the 22-mile Betsie Valley Trail. Stretching north and west from Thompsonville to Frankfort, the crushed limestone and asphalt trail travels through Pere Marquette State Forest and along the waters of Crystal Lake, the Betsie River and Betsie Lake. Some parts of the limestone section are quite soft, and road bikers should follow signs indicating an alternate route for the section between Beulah and Mollineaux Road.

Between Frankfort and Beulah the trail is open for non-motorized use, and the 6 miles between Frankfort and Mollineaux Road is asphalt—good for inline skating. Between Beulah and Thompsonville (13 miles) the compacted aggregate trail is open to snowmobiles between December and March.

Thompsonville's Crystal Mountain Resort Area, which offers lodging, dining and bike rentals, serves as the starting point for this journey. (If you start from the trail's southern end, there is parking at the ball field just north of Lindy Road.) In the 13-mile section from Thompsonville to Beulah, you will travel the former Ann Arbor Railroad corridor through forest and fields; 6 miles of this portion passes through the naturally beautiful Pere Marquette State Forest. Also along the way are several historical remnants, including the old turbine from the dam that was once the sole source of electricity in this area, and the ghost town of Homestead, where railroad maintenance workers lived in boarding houses at the turn of the 19th century.

While the limestone surface may be soft in spots, the trail offers a nice, gradual descent along the 5.3-mile stretch between Aylsworth Road and Beulah. Once you arrive in Beulah, stop by the old rail depot for visitor information, bathrooms and memorabilia (there is ample parking if you choose to start or end your journey here). Shops, bicycle and kayak rentals, a public beach and a playground are also located here.

Just west of Beulah the trail meets the south shore of Crystal Lake. Here, the trail winds through a row of beachside cottages, and the lake, lives up to its name, with hues of deep sapphire and turquoise shimmering in the sunlight. Be sure to abide by signs warning trail users that dogs are not allowed within this segment. Trail users must stay within the 10-foot trail easement and adhere to a speed limit of 10 miles per hour for the short segment to Railroad Point Natural Area. This beautiful 67-acre Railroad Point Natural Area offers a 1-mile stretch of preserved beach along Crystal Lake. The waves lap up against shady stands of birch, aspen, pine and maple. Take a swim, enjoy a picnic and, above all, take time to enjoy this slice of lakeside splendor.

At Molineaux Road, near mile 15, the trail surface becomes asphalt, and the route veers into the woods and soon begins following the Betsie River. At an overlook jutting out above the river peer down for a bird's-eye view of the fish jumping in the waters below. More wildlife viewing awaits in the village of Elberta.

The Audubon Society built a wooden viewing platform overlooking the marsh and wetlands at the mouth of the Betsie River, and lucky visitors will spot herons and all sorts of migrating waterfowl and marsh birds, including ducks, geese, snipes and rails. Cross State Highway M-115, and in seconds you will reach another observation deck overlooking Betsie Lake, which is the access waterway to Lake Michigan. From here, the trail travels along the shore to the public marina, which offers a safe haven for Great Lakes boaters.

The small town of Frankfort, at trail's end, serves up culinary delights and overnight lodging if you're ready for a meal and a bed. There is also a bike-rental shop in Frankfort, if you plan to start your journey from here.

Parking and Trail Access

To reach the Thompsonville trailhead, take State Route M-115 to Thompsonville then follow Thompsonville Road north to Beecher Road. The parking area is on left side of Thompsonville Road.

To reach the Frankfort trailhead, take M-115 to 9th St. in Frankfort and turn left to access the trailhead.

Betsie Valley Trail Reviews

My husband and I rode this trail on Oct 1st. The weather had temporarily turned chilly and windy. We found we were not dressed appropriately. We did not ride as far as planned. We began in Frankfort, and rode the paved section east to about a half mile of Rt 115, and returned to Frankfort. The pavement is in good shape. There are many benches, and the section we rode had three restrooms. The only caution to remember for next time is that the trail is east-west from the start alongside Betsie Bay, to the first road crossing at River Road. There it turns north. Time the trip so that the sun does not blind you while riding the east-west section. We parked at a trail head adjacent to the public boat launch in Frankfort. Find the Famile Fare grocery on the south side of Rt 115. The boat launch and parking, and a flush toilet restroom, is behind the grocery. Before going, you should look for pamphlets at various locations in Frankfort and in Beulah. We picked up a few pamphlets at the A&W Root Beer in Frankfort, and The Cherry Hut in Beulah. The maps in these pamphlets are better than the Google map provided on Traillink. Another pamphlet warns against swimming in Crystal Lake because of Swimmers Itch. The beach looked welcoming when we drove by it in Beulah, and the pamphlet explained how to use caution, but it was too chilly for us to do anything but sit and admire.

My wife and I (with two year old in tow) did this trail. We camped at Betsie River Campground (in between Benzonia/Beulah and Frankfort), which is right on the trail. I dropped them off with camp supplies day 1, drove the car to the trailhead in Thompsonville and left it there overnight and rode the trail back to camp. The next day we bicycled back to the car together with a lunch/swimming break in Beulah. Takes a couple of hours at a leisurely pace.

Great trail for a day ride. From Beulah to Frankfort is really beautiful and well maintained. Beulah has a nice park with crystal lake swimming access, place to refill water, bathroom, etc. Frankfort, like a lot of Lake Michigan tourist towns is great as well with plenty to offer.

Beulah to Thompsonville is loose gravel. The woods are peaceful and the trail doesn't cross many roads on this stretch, but not much to look at. Good for a mind wandering ride, but the loose

I'd do Frankfort to Beulah again, but I'd skip the leg to Thompsonville.

I just rode the trail, starting from Thompsonville and ending in Frankfort. The first 1/2 mile of the trail seems to be unmaintained, so I recommend starting on Thompsonville road right next to some sports complex. From there to Beulah the trail is similar to a gravel road. I have a hybrid bike with smooth 1.5 inch tires and it was a little harry at times, but don't be scared. Maybe bring a spare tube... I would not do it on a road bike. This section however is the most scenic. The short section from Beulah to the paved section is easily passable on any bike, and has great views as well. The whole ride took me about 2 hours, and there is a great public beach at the end on Lake Michigan. Also a brewery that I am about to try. ¿¿


Rode the 20 miles-plus from Thompsonville to the end at Lake Michigan in late August. What a great ride! The first half is not paved so skinny road tires (less than an inch and half for all but experienced riders) are not recommended. The gradual downhill to Lake Michigan helped to make the trail more enjoyable. Saw lots of scenery and wildlife along the way. No black bears but berry-filled scat on several occasions. No other trail users on the upper, unpaved portion. An "Up North" undiscovered jewel!

We went from Frankfort to Beulah, loved Frankfort, lots of places to stop, catch a bite, nice ride for beginners. Will be terrific upon paving completion. Trailhead was easy to find

We were staying at Crystal mountain resort. The description says it starts ( ends ) here and was told so by an employee at the resort as well. Got dropped off in Frankfort with the hopes of ending at Crystal mountain. From this direction, the trail markings and gravel path end at Thompsonville. We tried taking one of the marked snowmobile trails to finish our ride but those trails were all soft sand and unridable in my opinion. We had to take the main roads the last couple of miles to get back to the resort.
In regards to the other parts of the trail, it's 6 miles of asphalt starting at Frankfort, followed by crushed stone till you get to Beulah. After that, the gravel has larger stones on the trial for the remainder of the route. Scenery wise, Frankfort to Beulah was the best.

We rode this trail in early October 2011. The Betsie Valley Trailway in Michigan runs from Frankfort to Thompsonville and is a 23 mile rail-to-trail with the first 8 (or so) miles of the trail paved and the rest gravel. We rode it out and back from Frankfort for a total of 47 miles. This was a great trail with a lot of variety. Water, forest, open grassy areas and hills. The trail runs along Crystal lake and then in to secluded forest. The town of Beulah is in-between and has restaurants and shopping and the old depot is a visitors center with bathrooms. Thompsanville has a restaurant and convenience store.

My wife and I rode the entire trail and it was awesome. There is not many people on the trail from Beulah to Thompsonville probably because it is not paved. We really enjoyed this trail and would recommend it to anyone that wants to go for a 46 mile bike ride round trip. If you don't want to go that far the most scenic is from Frankfort to Beulah.

My wife and I truly enjoyed running the Betsie trail. The woods are beutiful. There are plenty of wildflowers and wildlife. I saw at least 20 turtles laying eggs alongside the trail one morning. During the week, there was little traffic at all to speak of. The run alongside Crystal Lake will inspire you, whether you are running or cycling. If you are looking for a special trail, this is it.

"Follow Mich scenic M-22 to get to trailhead in along beautiful Betsie river, saw salmon migrating, followed shore of Crystal Lake to Beulah, had lunch at Brookside Inn...along US31, great food and bakery...headed back...easy ride with lots to see. "

"My wife & I do very little biking, but the trail from Frankfort to Beulah has become a MUST for us when we visit this scenic area."

"This is a favorite trail of mine. Starting near Lake Michigan and running along the Betsie River, the trail also runs alond the shore of Crystal Lake. This path offers great shade on hot days."

Biked the trail from Frankfort to Beulah...10 miles...paved half way with hard packed crushed gravel the rest...Beautiful path...surpised that a railtrail could curve so much...followed the Betsie River...and followed the shoreline of gorgeous Crystal Lake...Lake on one side and wide range of cottages/homes on the other. Very tame trail would recommend it to all...don't miss this one!

"The improved section of trail only runs from Frankfort to Benzonia. However, If you are looking for a longer ride you can exit the trail on Mollineaux rd and go up 115 turn right on US-31 then left on Walker. Head down the hill to (forgot street name), then turn left and head in to Beulah. From there continue around Crystal Lake on County Highway 704. You can loop back when you get to the end of Country highway 704. Crystal Lake is beautiful so you'll want to see it all twice."

"I rode the Betsie Valley trail during Labor Day weekend 2003 with a crossbike. Frankfort to Crystal Lake is paved and hugs the Betsie River for a couple miles. From Crystal Lake to Benzonia, the trail is crushed limestone.

The trail goes right through the beach on the south side of Crystal Lake. The original railroad right of way has been shaved down to a 10-foot width. East of Benzonia to Thompsonville, the trail was not yet improved. It was overgrown with weeds and railroad ballast."

"This is a nice but somewhat short trail. You sure don't want to go off the edges, and be careful at the road crossings too. The trail offers a lot of shade and a prety much flat, level and new surface."

"This trail is so very scenic (Beulah to Frankfort) with views of Crystal Lake, Betsie River and Lake Michigan (where the trail ends in Frankfort). The trail also has heavily wooded sections. The Beulah residents are very friendly.

We loved this trail."

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