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Remoteness and solitude describe a trip along the 22-mile Betsie Valley Trail in Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula. Starting at the old logging town of Thompsonville, the trail slopes gently downhill in the Betsie River Valley through a state forest, a natural area, and a game refuge on its way to the port of Frankfort on Lake Michigan. The western 6 miles are paved, while the rest of the trail is covered in crushed limestone (which may be soft in some spots). Snowmobiles are allowed in season between Thompsonville and Beulah.
The trail follows the corridor of a railroad line that opened operations between Cadillac and Frankfort in 1888 and became part of the Ann Arbor Railroad in 1895. The railroad struggled; a railroad car ferry across Lake Michigan from 1892 to 1982 was its most profitable business. The railroad went through a series of owners after World War II. The section that is now the Betsie Valley Trail became disused in the early 1990s and began its transformation into a trail in 1992.
Beginning in Thompsonville, you’ll head north through farmland for about a mile until you cross a renovated railroad bridge and enter a 7-mile stretch of pine and hardwood in the Pere Marquette State Forest. Along the way, you’ll see the old turbine that supplied the sole source of electricity in this area. Near Aylsworth and Zimmerman Roads, you’ll pass the ghost town of Homestead, where railroad maintenance workers lived at the turn of the 19th century.
The trail offers a gradual descent along the 5.3-mile stretch between Aylsworth Road and Beulah, where you can stop by the replica railroad depot for visitor information, restrooms, and memorabilia. Just west of Beulah, the trail meets the south shore of Crystal Lake and winds through a row of beachside cottages. Dogs are not allowed on the trail between Beulah and Mollineaux Road (about 3 miles). Trail users must stay within the 10-foot trail easement for a 2-mile stretch west of Beulah to Railroad Point Natural Area, a 200-acre refuge that offers a 1-mile stretch of preserved beach along Crystal Lake.
At Mollineaux Road, near mile 15, the trail surface becomes asphalt, and the route veers into the woods and follows the Betsie River and adjacent marshland past the Betsie River State Game Area. About 7 miles past Beulah, you cross the Betsie River into Elberta, which has cafés and visitors’ services. You can take Frankfort Avenue north for a mile to see ruins at the old railyard at the mouth of Betsie Lake. Crossing the river again on MI 22, the trail takes a 2-mile run into Frankfort along the lake and past marinas to the Lake Michigan shoreline.
Several towns, including Beulah, Elberta, and Frankfort, as well as the Crystal Mountain resort near Thompsonville, have bike rentals, and you can shuttle between towns on the Benzie Bus.
To reach the Thompsonville trailhead from US 131, take Exit 176 toward Frankfort onto MI 115/
55 in Cadillac, heading northwest. After 34.4 miles, turn right onto Thompsonville Road. Go 2 miles, and turn left onto County Road 602/Lincoln St. In 0.1 mile, turn right into the park (entrance will be before the Betsie Valley Trail and Front St.); look for parking straight ahead in about 0.1 mile. The trail’s endpoint is located 0.4 miles south along the trail.
To reach the Frankfort trailhead from US 131, take Exit 176 toward Frankfort onto MI 115/55 in Cadillac, heading northwest. Go 44.8 miles and bear right as US 31 joins MI 115. Go 2.3 miles and turn left onto MI 115/Frankfort Hwy. Go 7.3 miles, continuing onto Forest Ave., and turn left onto Fifth St. Go 0.1 mile (you’ll cross Main St. and head into the marina), and look for parking to the left or right off Waterfront Dr.
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 gravel...eh...
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. http://locojoe.com
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 Frankfort...bike 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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