The Betsie Valley Trail is built on the bed of the former Ann Arbor Railroad. 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 Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) bought the rail corridor in 1998.
Benzie County and the Friends of the Betsie Valley Trail have been working with the DNR since 1992 to build the Trail.
The Ann Arbor Railroad carried freight and passengers from Toledo through Ann Arbor, Owosso, Cadillac, Thompsonville and Beulah to Frankfort and Elberta.
The Trail starts at the City of Frankfort’s Lake Michigan Beach and passes through Cannon Park. Then passes through the City’s waterfront parks to 10th St., where it officially becomes the DNR owned Betsie Valley Trail. Excellent for road bicycles, roller blades and wheel chairs. 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 newly resurfaced hard-pack limestone is appropriate for most road bikes. 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. 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 Thompsonville is open to snowmobiles from December 1st through the end of March.
The 12 mile trail from Beulah to Thompsonville has an aggregate trail surface that is difficult for road bikes. Cross bikes or preferably mountain bikes work better. This trail segment is fairly remote and passes through miles of pine and hardwood upland forests, including 6 1/2 miles of the Pere Marquette State Forest.
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 was 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 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).