The Betsie Valley Trail is built on the bed of the former Ann Arbor Railroad, which carried freight and passengers from Toledo through Ann Arbor, Owosso, Cadillac, Thompsonville and Beulah to Frankfort and Elberta. From 1892 until 1982 the freight cars were carried across Lake Michigan on car ferries to Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Passenger service was discontinued in 1951 and freight service in 1985. The railroad was abandoned in 1994 and, in 1998, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) bought the rail corridor. Benzie County and the Friends of the Betsie Valley Trail have been working with the DNR since 1992 to build the Trail.

The Trail starts at rhe City of Frankfort’s Lake Michigan Beach and passes through Cannon Park at the west end of Main Street. It shares 3 blocks of Waterfront St. along Betsie Bay, the only part of the trail to share a road, then passes through the City’s waterfront parks to 10th St., where it officially becomes the DNR owned Betsie Valley Trail. From Cannon Park to Mollineaux Rd. (6.7 miles) the trail is asphalt and excellent for road bicycles, roller blades and wheel chairs. It crosses the Betsie River twice near Elberta with beautiful views over Betsie Lake and its marshland, then travels to Crystal Lake with periodic views of the Betsie River.

The trail from Mollineaux Rd. to Beulah (3 miles) runs along Crystal Lake. The limestone fines surface is hard enough for road bikes but mountain bikes work better. The first mile passes through the County owned Railroad Point Natural Area with access to the beach and Crystal Lake. The two mile portion closest to Beulah runs through private property on a 10 ft. easement. Special use restrictions apply here and are listed on trail side signs. Please stay on the trail in this area.

Frankfort, Elberta and Beulah and Thompsonville have accommodations, restaurants, and camping (see Web Links page). There is off road parking next to the trail in Frankfort and Elberta, at River Rd., at Mollineaux Rd. and in Beulah. Beulah has a beautiful public beach on Crystal Lake. Visit the Beulah Trailhead and Visitor Center, a replica of the former Railroad Station, for information on local restaurants and Delis. Bicycles may be rented in Frankfort, Elberta, Beulah, and at Crystal Mountain Resort in Thompsonville.

The Trail from Frankfort to Beulah is restricted to non-motorized use. The Trail from Beulah to Thomsonville is open to snowmobiles from December 1st through the end of March.

The 13 mile trail from Beulah to Thompsonville has an excellent aggregate trail surface, hard enough for road bikes but cross bikes or, preferably, mountain bikes work better. It is remote, almost devoid of structures, and passes through mile after mile of pine and hardwood upland forests, including 6.5 miles of the Pere Marquette State Forest. There is a gradual 50 foot incline over the 5.3 miles from Beulah to Aylsworth Road which is no more of a challenge than the predominant winds from the west on the way back. Between Landis and Haze Roads, there is much wetland and excellent birding in the spring. At Wolf Road, the Trail passes the old turbine which once produced the first electricity in this area, powered by the nearby Betsie River. In 2006 the old bridge over the Betsie River near Thompsonville was renovated and the Trail has been completed to Thompson Avenue in Thompsonville, one block south of Lindy Road. There are two restaurants in Thompsonville, and complete lodging and dining facilities at Crystal Mountain Resort nearby. There is trail-side parking in the ballpark just north of Lindy Road in Thompsonville (entrance beside the trail as it crosses Lindy Road). While there is access to the Trail at the road crossings indicated on the Trail map, there is no designated parking between Beulah and Thompsonville.

Representative Photos of the Trail from
Frankfort to Thompsonville

Cannon Park in Frankfort (Photo by Bill Olsen)
Along Frankfort’s Waterfront on Betsie Lake (Photo by Bill Olsen)
Elberta Swale (Photo by Liz Calhoun)
Audubon Viewing Platform near Elberta (Photo by Bill Olsen)
Another view of the Betsie River from the Trail near Elberta. (Photo by Liz Calhoun)
Near River Road (Photo by Bill Olsen)
Lewis Bridge Overlook (Photo by Bill Olsen)
Between River Road and M-115 (Photo by Bill Olsen)
Railroad Point Natural Area on Crystal Lake (Photo by Bill Olsen)
Crystal Lake from Railroad Point (Photo by Liz Calhoun)
Along Crystal Lake (Photo by Bill Olsen)
Beulah Trailhead and Visitors Center (Photo by Bill Olsen)
On the way to Thompsonville with ferns on either side. (Photo by Liz Calhoun)
Between Case and Zimmerman Roads (Photo by Bill Olsen)
Near Landis Road (Photo by Bill Olsen)
Stairway to Dair Creek and the beaver dam (Photo by Deborah Weir)
Renovated bridge over the Betsie River near Thompsonville (Photo by Bill Olsen)
Bridge overlook (Photo by Deborah Weir)
Looking south (Photo by Deborah Weir)