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Frankfort and Elberta Area Parks, Trails, Historic Locations, Lighthouses & More

In the Northwest Lower Peninsula, Frankfort and Elberta are neighboring communities that offer sandy beaches on Lake Michigan, historic lighthouses, cozy places to stay, and plenty of things to do outdoors.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Covering almost 40 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore offers sandy beaches, recreational trails, a challenging Dune Climb, kayaking, and much more. The national park is north of Frankfort and includes North Manitou Island and South Manitou Island. For more details, see the Sleeping Bear Dunes section.

Recreational Trails & Bike Route

Frankfort and Elberta are connected by a paved trail, a portion of the Betsie Valley Trail. The trail starts near Cannon Park and goes east along Lake Betsie and then south to Elberta before continuing east to Beulah, Benzonia, and Thompsonville. The entire route is approximately 22 miles. The trail is used for biking, walking, and jogging. You'll want to use a mountain bike if you want to ride the entire route since the trail has an aggregate surface from Beulah to Thompsonville.

Elberta has a bike route along Frankfort Avenue and Furnace Street, which starts at Elberta Waterfront Park and ends at downtown. The end of the bike route is near an access point for the Betsie Valley Trail.

In Frankfort, Lake Michigan Beach includes a walking path along the beach to the pier and lighthouse. Many people like to walk on the pier to the lighthouse and then loop back through the park on the walking path.

Parks in Frankfort

Lake Michigan Beach is a popular place to chill out and play. The park has a large swimming beach, volleyball court, and playgrounds. A few chair swings are scattered around the park and provide nice views of Frankfort Light Station and Lake Michigan. There are restrooms located near the parking area.

Rotary Park, Mineral Springs Park, and Open Space Park are located next to each other on the northern shore of Betsie Bay. A section of the Betsie Valley Trail travels through the three parks and leads to Cannon Park.
  • Rotary Park is east of City Hall, and the park has a playground and volleyball court.

  • Mineral Springs Park has a playground, picnic area, and room to picnic. The Mineral Springs pavilion at the park provides access to the flowing water of the city's mineral springs.

  • Open Space Park provides what the name of the park suggests, open greenspace for picnics and outdoor activities. The park has a large wooden fishing pier on the north side of Betsie Bay. Near the trail that passes through the park there are benches that offer excellent views of the sparkling lake and nearby boats. At the east edge of the park, there is a boat launch on Lake Betsie.

Market Square Park is north of downtown along Crystal Avenue. Tennis courts, basketball courts, playgrounds, and a picnic area are among the facilities at the park.

Father Marquette Cannon Park on Main Street is a short distance from Lake Michigan Beach and has a picnic area near the Betsie Valley Trail.

Parks in Elberta

Elberta Beach is a peaceful spot with a long, sandy swimming beach on Lake Michigan. The pristine beach is a great spot to watch the sunset over Lake Michigan, and compared to Lake Michigan Beach in Frankfort, it is usually not crowded. A short boardwalk on the north end of the beach connects to the southern pier at the mouth of Betsie Bay. The drive to the parking lot at Elberta Beach is very steep.

Elberta Waterfront Park is a great spot to picnic, with gorgeous views of Betsie Lake and Frankfort. The well-maintained park on Betsie Bay features a large picnic shelter, playground, ampitheatre, and a short walking path. The park includes historical markers about the Life Saving Station and Ann Arbor Railroad.

Elberta Marina Pavilion Park includes a picnic shelter and a small play area. From late May to mid-October, the park hosts Elberta Farmers' Market on Thursdays mornings.

Along Frankfort Avenue/M-168, there are a couple of small parks on the south side of the street that have playground equipment.

Soaring & Gliding

Since the 1930s, Frankfort has been known as a "soaring mecca" because of the Frankfort Sailplane Company and the numerous glider competitions that have been hosted in the area. Stan Corcoran's Frankfort Sailplane Company designed civilian glider planes in the area prior to World War II. Corcoran moved to Joliet, Illinois, and established a sailplane factory adjacent to Lewis College Airport.

In May 1942, the Frankfort Sailplane Company won a government contract to manufacture 40 TG-1A (Training Glider Model 1A), the first aircraft used to train U.S. Army glider pilot cadets. The TG-1A was used to prepare pilots to fly the Waco CG-4 combat assault glider.

An historical marker commissioned by the National Soaring Museum recognizes Frankfort's contributions to glider planes and is located at the corner of Main Street and 4th Street, the former location of the Frankfort Sailplane Company.

Soaring is still a popular activity in the area. The Northwest Soaring Club in Frankfort offers introductory flights, enabling you to see Lake Michigan, Betsie Bay, and other parts of Benzie Country from a new perspective.

Boating & Kayaking

Betsie Bay is home to many sailboats and recreational boats, providing convenient access to Lake Michigan from municipal marinas at Frankfort and Elberta. A handful of private marinas are located on Betsie Bay, including Jacobson Marina and East Shore Marina in Frankfort and Betsie Bay Marina in Elberta.

Near Rotary Park, the Frankfort Municipal Marina is on the north side on Betsie Bay and is open from early May through mid-October. The marina offers fuel, ice, electricity, water hook-up, shower facilities, and pumpouts. The harbormaster can be reached at (231)352-9051.

The southern half of Betsie Bay is shallow, so Frankfort's boat launch on the north side of the bay is best for larger boats. Frankfort's public boat launch is located at the east end of Open Space Park and is can be used from mid-April to mid-October. The facility features restrooms and a fish-cleaning station. Seasonal and day-use launch passes are available. Kayaks can be launched from the dock/launch area. For more details about the boat launch, call (231)352-4722.

A smaller boat ramp area is located at Elberta's village marina. Kayaks can be launched from this location also.


For fishermen who like to cast their lines near shore, both Frankfort and Elberta have fishing piers on Betsie Bay. Frankfort has a large wooden fishing pier at Open Space Park, and Elberta has a pier along the shore at Elberta Waterfront Park. Betsie Bay is known for salmon, brown trout, steelhead, smallmouth bass, and catfish.

On calm days, many people like to fish from the north and south piers that reach out into Lake Michigan at the mouth of Betsie Bay. The southern pier is reached from Elberta Beach, and the northern pier is accessed from the walkway at Lake Michigan Beach in Frankfort. During periods of bad weather or large waves, don't try fishing on the two Lake Michigan piers.

If you don't own a fishing boat, don't worry. There are several charter fishing services in Frankfort that will take you on Lake Michigan fishing expeditions, including Fishing Hunting Charters, Gold Coast Charter Service, Hammerhead Charters, and Sea Joy Charter Fishing.

A valid fishing license is required to fish on Michigan lakes and waterways, and you can get a Michigan fishing license at East Shore Marina (324 Lake Street in Frankfort) and other bait shops and sporting good stores.


The Frankfort North Breakwater Lighthouse was built in 1932 and is located on Lake Michigan at the mouth of Betsie Bay. The active light station features a 67-foot-tall tower that can be seen from shore at Lake Michigan Beach. On calm days, you can walk the pier for a closer view of the light.

On the southern pier at the mouth of Betsie Bay, there is a red and white harbor light that can be seen from Elberta Beach.

Four miles north of Frankfort, Point Betsie Lighthouse is a charming location that dates back to 1858. The lighthouse features a colorful keeper's quarters attached to a brick light tower, which is 37 feet tall. The Fresnel lens from the lighthouse is no longer in use and is on display at the Sleeping Bear Dunes Maritime Museum. To visit the historic location, take M-22 north four miles and turn left on Point Betsie Road to the lighthouse.

Further north, you can see the Robert H. Manning Memorial Lighthouse along the shore of Lake Michigan Beach Park in Empire. The cylinder-shaped light was constructed in 1991 to honor the memory of Robert Manning, a long-time resident of Empire.

More About Frankfort & Elberta

Downtown Frankfort offers many unique stores, boutiques, and restaurants along Main Street. A favorite spot to eat during the summer months is A&W, a drive-in style restaurant at the corner of M-115 and M-22.

Other lodging choices in Frankfort include the Chimney Corners Resort, Harbor Lights Resort, Hotel Frankfort, and Serendipity House.

For a great view of Lake Michigan, visit the overlook off of Bye Street in Elberta. It offers a spectacular view of the lake, breakwaters, and Elberta Beach. From the overlook area, you can either drive or walk down a very steep narrow drive to Elberta Beach.

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