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Trail Runner Series: 6-Mile Out-and-Back with Kids

Visitors riding the Betsie Valley Trail. Photo by Aubrey Ann Parker.

The Betsie Valley Trail from Elberta Trailhead

The first in our new Trail Runner Series, describing the best places to run in Benzie County.

When I moved to Frankfort with my family last summer, one of the highlights of the area was the wealth of outdoor activities available. In particular, the number of beautiful trails waiting to be explored. With a highly active six-year-old and a newborn baby, we did a lot of walking—walking on trails, walking through the woods, and walking on the beach. We enjoyed our time together in our new community, but my true passion is running.

The challenge this summer is how to fit running into my schedule and where to take my still-active and typically daydreaming seven-year-old and my now 10-month-old who I’ll have to push in the stroller when I can’t run on my own.

With this series, I hope to highlight some of my favorite area trails and also give a heads up to other active families out there as to which ones are best for kids and pets.

One of my favorite routes with the kids is the three-mile stretch of the Betsie Valley Trail from the Elberta Trailhead to the River Road (or Adams Road) Trailhead. This paved section is flat and smooth, which means the seven-year-old can keep up without getting too tired and the baby can fall asleep—and hopefully stay asleep—without being jostled around. There are also very few intersections, so I don’t have to worry about the oldest getting a little ahead. (This area can be busy in the summer with other bikers and runners enjoying the trail, so a reminder to my son to keep to the right and to warn people when he’s approaching is always a good idea.)

Parking at the trailhead on M-22 is limited. A small dirt lot is the main access point, however, there is more parking available across the road at the Elberta Farmers’ Market, too. The paved trail continues uninterrupted by main-road crossings for three miles before finally intersecting with River Road. At this point, I typically turn around and head back. This makes it the perfect choice for a fast six miler with kids in tow. If six miles (making it all the way to River Road and then returning to the Elberta Trailhead) is too long for you, team up with a running buddy and do a car drop, just don’t forget to transfer the car seats!

The most scenic part of the trail greets us as we turn the corner from the small dirt parking lot. A sweeping view of Betsie Bay on the left and the surrounding marshland on the right carry us through the first quarter mile. We always see a variety of waterfowl, and one time my son had to stop to watch a local muskrat, which he then talked about for the next five miles. There is also a lookout point here for birders and curious kids to either side of the main trail.

The trail crosses the entrance to Betsie River Campground after about a mile and a half. This is the only place I have to be wary of traffic when I have the little biker along.

Miles two and three on the way out are flat and fast; not as scenic as some stretches but still close to town, fully paved, and pet friendly (as long as your dog is leashed). Bring your own water, and your own doggie bags, as these are not provided on this section of the trail. Additionally, there are no outhouses at the Elberta Trailhead or along this section of trail, so keep that in mind before heading out. If you do make it to River Road, there is an outhouse at this trail access point, visible from the intersection. (Note that you do have to cross River Road to get there, which can be busy at times.)

Formerly part of the Ann Arbor Railroad, the Betsie Valley Trail stretches for 22 miles from Thompsonville all the way to Cannon Park in Frankfort. I can’t wait to explore the rest of it!

Stay tuned for the next of this series, which will continue along the Betsie Valley Trail. You can learn more about the Betsie Valley Trail online at BetsieValleyTrail.org. Do you have a favorite Benzie County trail? Go to The Betsie Current on Facebook and share a picture of your favorite route.

Photo by Aubrey Ann Parker.

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