Those who love to spend time outdoors will savor the options available in Benzie County, Michigan this spring. Morel mushroom hunting, golfing, fishing, biking, hiking, and active events, as well as, numerous restaurants and class-act breweries, a winery/meadery, and a distillery create a wonderful start-to-finish getaway experience.
Morel Mushroom hunting
Benzie County is one of the best locations in Michigan to find morel mushrooms starting in late April through May offering prime places for finding morels like forests, riverbeds, fields, and natural paths along old railroad tracks. “Morel mushrooms tend to grow around old Apple orchards, dead Elm trees and logs. Living White Ash and Maple are also common areas”, according to Benzie County Visitors Bureau’s website which features a morel mushroom hunting guide.
Carved by glaciers, and shaped by water and wind, the rolling hills of Benzie County create a golf experience that is world-class. Some of the more challenging courses feature dramatic elevation changes, difficult water hazards and strategically placed bunkers, while others have scenic views and are more relaxed, less challenging, and cater to intermediate or beginning golfers. Among the great golf courses in Benzie County are:
- Champion Hill Golf Course in Beulah. Champion Hill is distinguished by its scenic, open, rolling, heather lined fairways, large contoured greens and distant views of Lake Michigan, Crystal Lake, and Platte Lake;
- Crystal Mountain in Thompsonville has two distinctively different, yet equally mesmerizing golf courses, Mountain Ridgeand Betsie Valley. Mountain Ridge offers panoramic vistas of northern Michigan with fairways winding through stately forests and ascending to high elevations. Having recently benefited from a $1 million renovation, Betsie Valley distinguishes itself with protected greens, tree lined fairways and deep-seated bunkers. Both golf courses have received a prestigious 4-Star rating from Golf Digest magazine;
- Crystal Lake Golf Club in Beulah is situated near the stunning Crystal Lake, offering impressive scenic views of the lake complete with rolling hills, shady nooks, and beautifully maintained greens. Crystal Lake Golf Clubwas voted the #1 public golf course by the Grand Traverse Insider magazine and rated as one of the best places to play by Golf Digest;
- Pinecroft Golf Course in Beulah is a favorite golf destination with undulating terrain, mature pine and fir trees combined with the magnificent views spanning the length of Crystal Lake. With its reputation reaching beyond the region, Golf Digest readers have given Pinecroft Golf Coursea 4-star rating;
Benzie County is also known for its year-round fishing for rainbow, brook, brown, and lake trout, small mouth bass, northern pike, yellow perch, blue gills, whitefish, rock bass, and sturgeons on the rivers and lakes. There are also registered fishing guides who can help visitors find desirable areas to fish on Benzie County’s many rivers, streams and lakes.
Charter Fishing is a popular sport along Lake Michigan in Benzie County. Fish often caught on charter fishing excursions include steelhead, Coho salmon, King salmon, brown trout, and lake trout ranging in size from 8 to 30 pounds. Frankfort is an important port city in Michigan offering one of the deepest harbors around, great for fishing the bigger fish. Mary Carroll, President of Benzie County Visitors Bureau says, “I’m not surprised that men and women both are interested in charter fishing, which is one of our most popular summer activities in Benzie County. It’s just a blast – it’s a laid back activity that men or women can do together or in a group and it gets them out on the big lake in an exciting adventure together.” Ben Wolfe, well known fishing guide in Northern Michigan adds, “Benzie County is the birthplace of salmon fishing. The Platte River State Hatchery in Benzie County is where salmon fishing on the Great Lakes began. Whatever Michigan has now was started in Benzie County and it’s great to fish in the same body of water that made history for so many anglers.”
Hiking and Biking
Benzie County and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore have over 100 miles of hiking and biking trails and wildlife habitats for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers. Among these, The Betsie Valley Trail that spans from Frankfort, in the North, through Beulah and Benzonia to Thompsonville, in the south, has 22 miles of paved and compacted aggregate trail. Journeys along this trail can be shorter or longer depending on the rider. Pets are permitted on most parts of the trail as long as they are on a leash and under control. There are also many miles of other trail options within Benzie County for hiking and biking. Information, maps and details are available at the Benzie County Visitors Bureau website visitbenzie.com under Play: Bike and Hike. Many biking events also take place in the spring, summer and fall along the roadways. Fat tire biking is available year round on some trails at Crystal Mountain, including a popular event held in January called the Fat Chance Fat Tire Bike Race.
Winery, Breweries and Distillery tastings
Four unique beverage producers are excited to share their products with visitors to Benzie County. The popular Stormcloud Brewing Company in Frankfort offers their own unique award-winning selection of Belgian-style craft beer, select ciders from the region, as well as, great food. St. Ambrose Cellars in Beulah offers award winning wines and meads and antipasto plates to enjoy them. Iron Fish Distillery in Thompsonville that opened in fall 2016 is Michigan’s first dedicated full line distillery located on a working farm offering a line of locally produced spirits including bourbon finished in maple syrup barrels, Michigan wheat white whiskey, Michigan white rum made with a touch of Benzie County produced honey, and Michigan winter wheat vodka. Lake Ann Brewing Co. in Lake Ann, the casual rustic “upnorth” brewery, focuses on making ales using American ale yeast & Pacific Northwest hops. They specialize in craft beers, as well as local ciders, mead & wine. They have a light snack menu, but you can order from the eatery just steps away & have it delivered to your table at the brewery. All four places are a unique tasting experience and worth the exploration across beautiful natural areas of Benzie County to wet your whistle.
After a day outdoors in whatever activity suits one’s fancy, enjoy one of many unique restaurants in Benzie County to make the experience complete. Among many locally owned restaurants, food is hearty at Stormcloud Brewing Company, Villa Marine Food and Spirits, The Hotel Frankfort and Dinghy’s Restaurant and Bar in Frankfort, The Cabbage Shed in Elberta, Cold Creek Inn and Hungry Tummy Restaurant and Bar in Beulah, Roadhouse Mexican Bar and Grill in Benzonia, Platte River Inn and Papa J’s in Honor, the Thistle Pub and Grille at Crystal Mountain, and Geno’s Sports Bar and Grill in Thompsonville.
There are many lodging choices in Benzie County, including cottages, cabins, inns, motels and condos. For an entire listing see www.visitbenzie.com. For assistance with lodging choices, call the Benzie County Visitors Bureau at 800-882-5801.
General Information about Benzie County
Benzie County is a perfect vacation getaway with friendly towns and villages such as Frankfort, Elberta, Honor, Thompsonville, Beulah, Benzonia, and Lake Ann plus the majestic Crystal Lake. Benzie County has spectacular beaches, over 100 miles of biking and hiking trails, views of Lake Michigan, and great restaurants and shops. Perfectly situated along the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Benzie County has nearly 30 miles of Lake Michigan coastline, 57 inland lakes, approximately 200 miles of rivers. Outdoor activities in the spring, summer and fall include fishing, golfing, biking, hiking, running, kayaking, paddle boarding and more.
Benzie County is only 130 miles north of Grand Rapids, 235 miles north of Detroit, 290 miles north of Chicago, 295 miles north of Fort Wayne and 380 miles north of Indianapolis. Plan a couple of days or more and get a true flavor of the relaxed pace and exquisite natural beauty of Benzie County.