Just steps away from Beulah Beach in the heart of a charming small town with restaurants named Lucky Dog and Hungry Tummy, there’s an old train depot that doubles as the trailhead for one of the finest bike paths in northern Michigan. 

The Betsie Valley Trail runs along the shore of beautiful Crystal Lake and the banks of the scenic Betsie River all the way to Frankfort, a lovely town nestled between Betsie Lake and the Lake Michigan beach where you can watch stunning sunsets over North Pier Lighthouse.

For Robert Downes, the author of “Biking Northern Michigan,” the 22-mile Betsie Valley Trail is a personal favorite. 

“The best part of it is from Beulah to Frankfort,” said Downes, communications director for the Cherry Capital Cycling Club in Traverse City. “There’s a lot of wildlife. People have spotted bears out there and deer, of course. There’s a lot of birds. 

“And there’s excellent restaurants to stop at and refuel.”

Come on up to the Traverse City area and experience the region’s best rides with your road bike or mountain bike. Then, unwind and relax in the cozy charm of a picturesque cabin or cottage right on the water or out in the woods.

Here’s a closer look at some top recommendations for where to ride and where to stay this year:

Biking on the Betsie Valley Trail

Betsie Valley Trail

The Traverse City area is full of fantastic places to stay including many cottages and cabins that make the perfect home base for a biking adventure. Just a mile up Benzie Boulevard from the Betsie Valley Trail parking in Beulah is Crystal Lake Resort, for example, with 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom cottages and a private sandy beach. A couple of miles down Benzie Highway in the other direction is Betsie Riverside Resort, with 11 unique cabins in a park-like setting right on the water and an indoor pool, too.

You could stay at either one and have a short trip to the trailhead. From there, pedal west about 10 miles to Frankfort or south about 12 miles to Thompsonville, the home of Crystal Mountain Resort, which features a variety of lodging options including gorgeous cottages that sleep up to nine guests. 

Heading west, the Betsie Valley Trail is crushed limestone as it routes along Crystal Lake, then transitions to a paved path with scenic crossings of the Betsie River. The 10-mile ride to Frankfort is just long enough to work up your thirst for coffee at Petals & Perks or a beer at Stormcloud Brewing. You can also grab ice cream at The Cool Spot or enjoy a meal at any of several distinctive restaurants including Nautical Grill, Villa Marine Bar, Port City Smokehouse, Vita Bella, A. Papano’s, and more.

The ride east and south of Beulah on the Betsie Valley Trail is all crushed limestone that’s best suited for mountain bikes and hybrids. This stretch of the trail passes through the Pere Marquette State Forest and wetlands ideal for birdwatching. 

When you arrive in Thompsonville, reward yourself with a visit to Crystal Mountain just a couple miles to the west. There’s a tasty selection of resort restaurants – from pizza and family-friendly casual to fine dining, too – and you can soothe your muscles with a refreshing visit to Crystal Spa

Whichever direction you bike out of Beulah, you can start your journey with a boost at Ursa Major Bistro & Coffee Shop or L’Chayim Delicatessen, then celebrate your return with drinks at Five Shores Brewing or a homemade pie at The Cherry Hut.

Boardman Lake Loop

Boardman Lake Loop

Just south of downtown Traverse City is a paved 4-mile bike loop that’s popular for a very good reason: It’s accessible and breathtaking! As its name suggests, the Boardman Lake Loop circles Boardman Lake where you’ll see swans and other water birds and maybe an eagle, too. 

“It’s only 4 miles around so it’s perfect for families with kids,” Downes said. “That’s my top recommendation for family fun. I ride it just about every day.”

In addition to the natural scenery, the Boardman Lake Loop passes by a couple of brewpubs, Right Brain and The Filling Station. Plus, it’s accessible from the TART Trail network that connects to pretty much everything else downtown including Island View Cottages, and vintage places to stay right on West Grand Traverse Bay.

If you don’t bring your own bikes, you can rent both regular pedal bikes and e-bikes from Brick Wheels or City Bike Shop right near the north end of the lake.

Family Biking on the TART Trail

TART Trail

The 10.5-mile TART Trail is the way to get around downtown Traverse City on a bike to attractions such as West End Beach, Clinch Park, and Traverse City State Park. It’s also a way to connect to longer rides both east and west of town. 

For example, the 17-mile Leelanau Trail is a paved, off-road route that runs up and down the Leelanau Peninsula through forests and farmland. Along the way are interesting destinations just off the trail including the DeYoung Natural Area and several wineries, from Shady Lane Cellars and Brengman Brothers to MAWBY Vineyard, Ciccone Vineyards, and Black Star Farms

“That’s a fun day trip,” Downes said. “You can ride to Suttons Bay and there’s all kinds of places to get coffee or lunch.”

If you don’t want to pedal back into Traverse City, you and your bike can board a Bay Area Transportation Authority bus. And if you’d like to stay in a cottage on the peninsula, check out Amber Sands Resort right on Lake Leelanau. 

East of downtown Traverse City, the TART Trail goes past the beachfront Lakeshore Resort TC all the way to M-72 in Acme and KOTI Vacation Rentals, which offers intriguing Scandinavian cabins along Acme Creek near East Grand Traverse Bay. More advanced cyclists enjoy traveling the hilly back roads from there up to Elk Rapids.


VASA Pathway 

The TART Trail is also a convenient access point to the VASA Pathway, which includes a series of mountain biking loops that range from 3 to 25 kilometers through state forest land. The pathway with a trailhead at 4450 Barlett Rd. in Williamsburg is the jumping off point for some of the best mountain biking in Michigan. Not only is part of the trail used for the iconic Iceman Cometh race that takes place each November, but it connects to two more epic mountain biking attractions:

  • The VASA Pathway intersects with the VASA Singletrack, a well-marked, hand-built trail that runs continuously for 20 miles through the woods. From the trailhead at 5450 Supply Rd., you can choose to ride the full loop or smaller loops as short as 3 miles. 
  • The VASA Pathway also connects to the VASA Skillz Loop, a family-oriented bike park with a few miles of beginner-friendly trails that include jumps and berms making it a great place to learn.

“There’s not a lot of spots around Traverse City that have jumps,” said Tim Reicha, president of the Northern Michigan Mountain Biking Association. “People will ride (the VASA Skillz Loop) over and over again and connect to the VASA Pathway and the VASA Singletrack.

“(On the Singletrack) you can make a loop as short as 3 miles. There are options and it’s mapped pretty well.”

Couple road bike low view

Other Trails to Ride

For mountain bikers, Palmer Woods Forest Reserve on the border of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore near Glen Arbor has 18 miles of trails with some really good climbs and fast, fun descents as well as optional jumps and tabletop features along the way. Road bicyclists will love the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail, which winds through the park for 28 miles with its most popular stretch between Glen Arbor and the iconic Dune Climb

Either of those destinations is just a short drive from any of the cottages and cabins in the Traverse City area. Places to stay that are centrally located to bike trails in Traverse City, Benzie County and along Sleeping Bear Dunes include Brookside Cottages, Spider Lake Retreat, Ranch Rudolf, Ellis Lake Resort, and others.

“Northern Michigan’s just magical in the summer,” Reicha said. “And there are many other things to do in Traverse City when you’re done riding for the day. 

“There are lots of beaches. We have a huge variety of good food options, wineries, breweries, and shopping. There’s really a lot to do.”