Taking a Family Bike Ride on The Betsie Valley Trail

One day last week, while we were up in northern lower Michigan, we spent a morning riding our bikes on the Betsie Valley Trail – a rails to trail route in Benzie County.

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.

It’s a beautiful trail – about 25 miles long. The first 7 miles or so are paved and great for road bikes and mountain bikes. After that it’s gravel. The flowers that run along the trail in Frankfort and Elberta are beautiful this time of year, and the marsh grasses are tall. What better place to ride with friends and family as well as fulfill the ‘take a ride on a greenway’ requirement for the LGRAB Summer Games!

Can anyone tell me the name of these flowers by the way? I was not successful in my flower research for this post.

pink flowers and marsh grass

Pink flowers lining the trail in Frankfort and Elberta, with marsh grass behind

On the bridge on the Betsie Valley Trail

It was a very foggy morning as you can see by this photo. Hard to believe it’s July and that it was sunny and hot only another few miles inland. We’re right off Lake Michigan here and the fog kept rolling in all day long.

It didn’t really matter though – we had a great ride. The trail is well-maintained, wide, and not crowded. Because we had Little Ding with us we didn’t ride far- only to Elberta and then back to Frankfort – probably about a mile or so each way. Little Ding loved riding across the bridge that spans the Betsie Lake and its marshland. We saw a handful of different kinds of flowers along the way, and were serenaded by birds that we were unfamiliar with.

Riding over the Betsie Lake Bridge

Purple flowers along the Betsie Valley Trail

Private drive along the Betsie Valley Trail While the later section of trail that winds along Crystal Lake runs by numerous private homes, there are only one or two along this stretch of the trail.  Luckily these folks like biking and cyclists and have a whimsical sense of humor when it comes to landscaping their driveway entrance.

While riding across the lake and marsh, we spotted a very cool-looking Red-winged Blackbird which we were able to identify by using our trusty iBird Explorer. Give Little Ding the credit for that one – as we looked out at the marsh grass and watched the bird land and hide in the tall reeds he stated “Hey, why don’t you look up that bird on your iPhone application!”. He’s 6 years old and he knows more about my phone than I do . The app has all the bird calls too, which makes it super cool if you ask me.

Looking at birds on th Betsie Valley Trail

Hanging out with the giant propeller on the Betsie Valley TrailAfter you cross the bridge, you come to what was an entrance to a marina – it now sits unused apparently. At the entrance though, are two giant propellers, just standing there,  roped off, so to speak, by some very large and very heavy old anchor chains – your basic maritime public art.  We didn’t see any markers to indicate where these giant ship propellers came from, though by their size they could be off of one of the old car ferries that used to run across Lake Michigan like the historic Ann Arbor No. 5. Little Ding has this take on them:   “These are symbols of the great men who died in the boat war”. Works for me! We even found a passerby to get a picture of all three of us.

Looking through the propeller

The family Ding hanging out on the Betsie Valley Trail

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