Locals know the area around Frankfort as “beautiful Benzie” — a county of clear lakes, scenic rivers recognized for their salmon and bald eagle sightings, and Lake Michigan beaches flanked by soaring sand dunes, without the commotion of a national park.
Around this northwest Lower Peninsula community, visitors can take their pick of action-packed outdoor adventures: a wildlife viewing experience on the Betsie River, a sunrise paddleboard excursion on Crystal Lake to explore the lake’s bottom, or a Lake Michigan charter fishing trip to hook a king salmon, to name just a few.
Frankfort — along with neighboring Elberta, Beulah, and Benzonia — bustles in the summer months with tourists passing through to visit Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore to the north and Traverse City to the east. The lakeside communities also are hot spots for open-air enthusiasts who prefer watersports and fishing on the region’s many inland lakes and rivers.
At more than 9,800 acres, Crystal Lake holds the honor of being the state’s ninth largest inland lake. Other beauties such as Platte Lake, Little Platte Lake, and Upper and Lower Herring lakes add to the area’s recreational appeal.
“The color of Crystal Lake is basically crystal blue,” says Elaine Newbold, owner of Crystal Lake Adventure Sports. “Our rivers are great to paddle, and paddleboarding is huge. Getting out and being active is just a beautiful way to experience northern Michigan.”
Elaine and Randy Newbold, who’ve owned the business for 28 years, operate stores in Beulah and Frankfort. They offer kayak, stand-up paddleboard (SUP), bicycle, and other beach and water equipment rentals. The Newbolds typically launch their customers from the Crystal Lake beach in Beulah, or on Lake Michigan when it’s calm.
The outfitting duo also rents pontoon boats, and delivers kayaks and SUPs for day and weekly rentals to cottages and lake houses in the area. They occasionally offer guided kayak and SUP tours, but it’s a more do-it-yourself type of experience, with visitors setting off on their own biking or paddling adventures.
“We’re surrounded by beautiful lakes, of course, and the water is just gorgeous,” Elaine Newbold says. “The other thing we have is the Betsie Valley Trail. People will rent a bike in Frankfort and ride to Beulah (about 12 miles), and have lunch and come back.”
The Betsie River, a state-designated scenic and wildlife nature river, features a steady, swift current with natural obstacles and overhanging trees. The 54-mile river empties into Betsie Lake in Frankfort and is popular for its trout, steelhead, and chinook salmon fishing, or adventurous paddles between several dams and bridges on the river.
The 30-mile, spring-fed Platte River averages 2 to 3 feet deep, and winds through wetlands and several lakes from its origin in Long Lake to the mouth of Lake Michigan inside the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
The river offers two distinct paddling experiences. The Upper Platte is fast and exciting, with a quick current that often flips canoes. The Lower Platte features a slower current and warm, shallow water that’s great for newbies and families seeking a relaxing, all-day float.
Situated on the shores of the Platte River, both the Veterans Memorial State Forest and the Platte River State Forest Campground offer public launch sites and primitive camping. They are great options if you prefer a more rustic, wilderness experience or have your own kayaks.
The area is also home to the Platte River State Fish Hatchery & Weir, which spawned the state’s sports fishing industry back in 1966. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources planted the first of 850,000 coho salmon in the Platte River, in an effort to control an explosive population of invasive alewives in Lake Michigan.
“The Platte River is known for the coho salmon,” says charter captain Kent Lockwood, who operates A Day Away Sportfishing Charters. “That’s where it all started.”
The idea was controversial at the time, but it led to a unique fisheries management program and an important recreational and commercial fishing industry. Today, sport fishing is a $2.3 billion industry in Michigan. The Platte hatchery is the state’s main salmon hatchery, where Atlantic, chinook, and coho salmon are raised.
Kayakers can portage around the weir in autumn and watch the salmon swarm around them. It’s one of the best times to paddle the Platte River, but stay alert as fishermen flock to the Platte and Betsie rivers in the fall for the annual salmon runs.
“The area’s well-known. It’s a real good sportsman’s area,” Lockwood says. He’s operated out of Frankfort for more than 20 years because of its excellent fishing, along with the small-town friendliness. Vacationers like it, he adds, because they get to experience a Great Lake with both Sleeping Bear Dunes and South Manitou Island in view.
“There are fishermen who want to catch big fish, and there are the tourist types who want to experience what they call deep-sea fishing,” Lockwood says. “We’re fishing a couple of miles off shore. It’s the scenery (that gets their attention) when they do get out there.”
Captain Andy Odette and his wife, Krista, run Intimidator Sportfishing Charters out of Elberta. They’ve been doing it for 30 years, and their children now have their own charter boats. “The fishing is really, really good,” Krista Odette says. “People come here to Frankfort for all of it — the water, the tranquility, all of the outdoor activities. It’s just beautiful.”
FOR THE ATHLETIC:
Frankfort will host the IRONMAN 70.3 triathlon, where competitors bike, swim, and run, on Sept. 11.
Frankfort & Benzie County
Photos courtesy of Traverse City Tourism