Beulah South Loop
49.3 mile loop
This is basically half a century ride (not the length of time, but the distance, unless you’re an exceedingly slow rider), part of it over very hilly terrain. It’s not an easy area to find places to carve out a shortcut. A lot of the roads look promising, but then peter out on dead ends. This has a lot to do with the numerous streams and particularly the Betsie River as it winds its way through the valleys. This route even dips down into Manistee County on the south end for a bit. This is an adventure.
That’s not a bad thing. The topography is part of the region’s charm, and the ride is beautiful throughout. If you like hills, this is your ride. But, try to cut this ride short and you may find yourself in a maze of roads that continually route you back the way you came. There are a few alternate routes shown on the map that allow for options if a fifty mile ride isn’t possible. They’re still going to involve a few hills, however. That’s a given in the area unless you’re on the Betsie Valley Trail or riding around one of the nearby lakes.
It begins and ends in the village of Beulah, a charming spot nestled on the east end of colorful Crystal Lake. Beulah would not exist were it not for an engineering error by an entrepreneur with questionable engineering skills named Archibald Jones. In 1873 he tried to connect the Crystal Lake to the Betsie River in hopes of creating a navigational channel to Lake Michigan.
Unencumbered by the thought process, Jones and his cohorts didn’t take into consideration that the lake was far higher than the river. Once the channel was opened it sucked the lake’s shoreline down by about twenty feet and it lost a quarter of its water volume. The subsequent draining did nothing for carving a channel, but it did create land for a town and a wider resort economy around the lake shore. Even after all that, Crystal Lake is still nearly twenty feet higher in elevation than Lake Michigan just across a nearby dune.
The route leaves Beulah, crosses US-31, then rises eastward out of the village on Narrow Gauge Road. It rolls up and down and back around (on some rather challenging hills, particularly the climb on Homestead Road after it crosses Case Road) to cross US-31 once more into the village of Benzonia. The Benzie Area Museum sits near the intersection. This is also the home of the late Bruce Catton, Pulitzer Prize winning author of A Stillness at Appomattox and Waiting for the Morning Train.
The road then carves its way down a long descent into the Betsie River Valley and passes the famous home and shop of the late artist Gwen Frostic, whose cards echo the natural character of northern Michigan. The shop itself is a throwback to an earlier time, with views within of the printing presses and long corridors of unique woodwork. The exterior is made of native stonework and the roof is covered in native plants.
The road then abruptly climbs out of the valley and up into the rolling hills to the south. There are some long sweeping uphills and long sweeping downhills. You’ll pass by wide open farm fields, through tree covered canopies, past u-pick fruit farms, over numerous streams, alongside an inland lake, near the Crystal Mountain Resort, over the Platt River, through the village of Honor and back over one last climb, then a joyous descent down the winding Narrow Gauge Road back into Beulah. One personal insight. County Road 677 from M-115 to Goose Road is a slice of heaven for cyclists. It just is.
It’s all worth the pedaling, but take plenty of fluids and some snacks along to tide you over. There are few stores along the way. This is the quiet inland.
Once the ride is complete, you’ll be in Beulah. There are some nice places to eat, including the Phoenix Café right downtown, and the historic Cherry Hut (founded in 1922) out on US-31 just north of town. With Crystal Lake right there you can also have a nice picnic lunch on the beach.
Since this was a long, hilly ride, tomorrow you can take an around-the-lake-loop (see the Frankfort-Beulah-Betsie Valley Trail) that’s mostly flat and rides along the Betsie River on a tree covered bike path, through the active town of Frankfort right on Lake Michigan, and around the vibrantly chromatic Crystal Lake. The pedaling opportunities in this region will keep you rolling for quite some time.
NOTE: The alternative routes shown on the map do not indicate hills. Be assured, they’re there.