The Betsie Valley Trail is a popular recreational trail located in Benzie and Wexford Counties in Michigan. It is a multi-use trail that follows the route of the former Ann Arbor Railroad line, offering a scenic and accessible pathway for walkers, runners, cyclists, and other outdoor enthusiasts.
For 90 years (1892-1982) freight cars were carried across Lake Michigan on car ferries to Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula. The passenger service was discontinued in 1951 and freight service in 1985. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) bought the rail corridor in 1998.
The Betsie Valley Trail is owned by the DNR and parts are maintained and operated by Benzie County. A nonprofit corporation formed in 1993 “to advocate, promote and encourage the development and successful operation of a recreational trail on the former Ann Arbor Railroad corridor in Benzie County.” FBVT is a benevolent friend of the trail. It supports the efforts of the DNR and County and intends to see that the trail is maintained and enjoyed.
Betsie Valley Trail Key Features
The Betsie Valley Trail is 22 miles long and extends from Frankfort to Mesick. It passes through the towns of Elberta, Beulah, Benzonia, and Thompsonville, offering beautiful views of the Betsie River, forests, wetlands, and farmlands.
Surface and Accessibility
From Lake Michigan Beach and passes through Cannon Park. It travels along the Betsie Bay and passes through Frankfort’s waterfron parks. From here to Mollineaux Road the trail is a 6.7-mile-long asphalt trail and is the most frequently used section of the trail. The next 3 miles is hard pack limestone and runs to Beulah. Please be mindful that 2 of those miles are a 10-foot easement on private property.
The longest part of the trail is an aggregate trail 12 miles long from Beulah to Mesick. This part of the trail is heavily wooded and open to snowmobiling December 1st through March 31st.
The trail is suitable for walking, running, bicycling and rollerblades. The aggregate may be difficult with a road bike. The surfaces are generally well-maintained and relatively flat, with a few gentle inclines. Whether you are on the public trail or private property, please stay on the market trail. You will be passing through sensitive eco systems.
Along the Betsie Valley Trail, you can enjoy scenic vistas of the Betsie River, picturesque bridges, and charming small towns. You will ride along Crystal Lake on your way to Beulah.
The trail passes through diverse landscapes, including forests, wetlands, and open fields, providing opportunities for wildlife viewing and birdwatching. You will pass through miles of pine and hardwood including 6.5 miles of the Pere Marquette State Forest.
The trail offers several amenities for visitors, including parking areas, restrooms, picnic tables, and benches at various points along the route. You will also find information kiosks that provide details about the trail’s history and points of interest.
Activities and Recreation
The Betsie Valley Trail is popular among outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy activities like walking, running, cycling, and cross-country skiing during winter months. Fishing is another popular activity, as the trail runs alongside the Betsie River, known for its trout and salmon.
The Betsie Valley Trail connects with other trail systems, including the Frankfort-Elberta Trail and the Crystal Lake Trail. These connections allow for longer excursions and additional exploration of the surrounding area.
Benzie County offers a range of attractions and recreational opportunities near the Betsie Valley Trail. You can visit the beautiful beaches of Lake Michigan or enjoy water activities on Crystal Lake or Betsie Lake. You can also explore the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore either by car, bike or hiking. (we will talk about one of the trails in our next post)
There are plenty of restaurants and lodging options including camping in towns the trail passes through.
Bicycle rental is available in Frankfort, Elbert, Beulah and at Crystal Mountain Resort in Thompsonville.
- Frankfort parking: Restroom available – From U.S. 31, turn west on M-115. Continue onto Forest Avenue . Turn left onto 5th Street/Frankfurter Street. Turn left onto Waterfront Drive. Parking is on the right.
- Elberta parking: From U.S. 31, turn west on River Road. Turn left on M-22/Lake Street. Parking is on the left.
- River Road boating access site: Restroom available – From U.S. 31, turn west onto River Road. After 3.5 miles, the parking lot is on the right.
- Mollineaux Road Parking: From U.S. 31, turn west onto M-115. Crystal Lake boating access site is on the right after 2 miles.
- Beulah Trailhead and Visitor Center: Restroom available – From U.S. 31, turn west onto Spring Valley Street toward downtown Beulah. Turn right onto Crystal Avenue. Parking is on the left.
- Thompsonville parking: From U.S. 31, turn east onto North County Line Road. After 6 miles, turn left onto South Pioneer Road/Weldon Road for .5 miles. Turn right onto Lindy Road for 1.5 miles. Turn right onto Front Street. Take the next left onto Thompson Avenue. Roadside parking is available along Thompson Avenue. Located near Thompsonville Junction.
Visit Betsie Valley Trail’s website or Facebook page for the most up-to-date information regarding trail conditions, amenities, and any regulations or guidelines that may be in place. For more information about the area you can visit The Benzie County Chamber of Commerce or The Frankfort-Elbert Area Chamber of Commerce.
Please note: Due to safety concerns, a long-term closure along the Betsie Valley Trail is in place at the Manistee River Bridge in Mesick. A reroute is posted, which includes travel along some county roads.