The shoreline from Arcadia to Frankfort consists of beautiful sand beaches and steep dune bluffs that rise up to 300 feet above the lake. From the public beach in Arcadia to just south of Frankfort (Elberta), there is no public land so much of the route must be admired from the water not the shore. Still this paddle is well worth it for the lovely scenery. There is an access point using Lower Herring Lake that allows kayakers access to Lake Michigan between Arcadia and Frankfort.
In all, four access locations are available: one in Arcadia, one 5 miles north of Arcadia via Lower Herring Lake, the public beach at the Frankfort harbor, and Point Betsie, 4 miles north of Frankfort. A trip to Point Betsie to visit the historic Point Betsie Lighthouse is worthwhile.
Trip Highlights: Lake Michigan access, large coastal dune bluffs, historic lighthouses.
Beginner: A 4-mile paddle from the Frankfort public beach to Point Betsie.
Intermediate/Advanced: Extended trips from Lower Herring Lake to Point Betsie (about 10 miles) or Arcadia public beach to Point Betsie (about 14 miles).
Trip Duration: Part or full day.
Navigation Aids: NOAA chart 14907, USGS: Benzie County at 1:100,000.
Cautions: Submerged dock pilings, and clapotis off the Frankfort breakwall.
Trip Planning: The shore is almost entirely gently sloping sand beach that would allow a surf landing if weather conditions deteriorated. Westerly winds can build large seas, so a calm day or winds from the east are preferred. From the Arcadia public beach to the Frankfort public beach, there are no public shore access locations (Lower Herring Lake is a possible takeout, but it involves a 1-mile long paddle across an inland lake) so plan on sitting in your kayak for at least three hours without a shore break.
Just north of the Arcadia Harbor entrance is a small public beach (N 44° 29.63' W 086° 14.49') with parking, easy access to the lake, and porta-john toilets. To get to the beach, simply head south from Frankfort on M 22 to Arcadia. Watch for a Lake Michigan public access sign and head east down the road till it dead-ends at the small park.
Lower Herring Lake Access:
From Frankfort head south on M 22 until you see a sign for lower herring lake access dnr access. Turn right on Elberta Resort Road and follow it to the boat ramp on Lower Herring Lake. Launch your kayak at the boat ramp and head southwest across the lake until you reach a small channel that leads to Lake Michigan. The end of the stream is often blocked by a sandbar so you may have to carry your kayak over the bar to the water. The beach on either side of the outlet is owned by the Watervale Inn, please don't linger at the beach unless you are a guest at the inn.
There is Frankfort public beach access inside the harbor breakwall and to the north of the breakwall. In addition to a lovely sand beach, there are porta-johns and ample parking. To get to the beach simply drive into Frankfort on Main Street and continue toward the harbor until you reach the beach.
Point Betsie Beach:
Drive north from Frankfort on Highway 22 past Crystal Lake. Turn left (west) on Point Betsie Road and follow it until it dead-ends at Lake Michigan. There are no public toilets at this location and roadside parking only.
start: From the Arcadia public beach paddle north along the coast.
mile 1.0 to 3.0: For the first 1.0 mile, the land is fairly flat with a sand beach shore and low dune bluffs. The low dune bluffs give way to steep dune bluffs that rise about 300 feet above the lake. Some of the bluff faces are wooded, while others are bare sand.
miles 3.0 to 4.5: As you approach the outlet to Lower Herring Lake at about Mile 4.5, the dunes become much lower, and there is a long, low sand beach. The outlet is often blocked by a sandbar (N 44° 33.60' W 086° 13.34'). This is a possible takeout spot: You can paddle into Lower Herring Lake and take your kayak out at the DNR public boat ramp access - about 1.0 mile-(N 44° 34.24' W 086° 12.52').
miles 4.5 to 7.5: Continue along about 1.0 mile of lower dune bluffs, then from about Miles 5.5 to 7.5, you pass very steep dune bluffs that rise about 300 feet above the lake.
miles 7.5 to 9.5: The dune bluffs continue, ranging from more moderate dune slopes of about 50 to 100 feet to steep bluffs about 150 feet high as you approach Frankfort Harbor. The lighthouse at the harbor entrance on the North Breakwall is worth checking out. Although there has been a breakwall lighthouse since 1832 here, this newer model was put into service in 1932. You can land at the beach (N 44° 37.91' W 086° 14.77') inside or north of the harbor or continue north to Point Betsie.
miles 10.0 to 12.0: You pass dune bluffs that rise up to 150 feet from the lake.
miles 12.0 to 14.0: The dune bluffs become less steep and the land flattens to smaller rolling coastal dunes as you approach Point Betsie. At Point Betsie Beach (N 44° 41.42' W 086° 15.34') end your trip. Make sure you have a good look at the lighthouse. The first lighthouse at Point Betsie was completed in 1858. The original tower remains, but much of the present structure was added in 1894. The lighthouse was not automated until 1983, the last manned lightstation on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan at that time. The many outbuildings associated with the light station are owned by the U.S. Coast Guard and are used to house Coast Guard personnel.
Restaurants: Main Street in Frankfort provides several dining options. The Coho Café (616-352-6053) has good food, and they usually have several vegetarian meals on the menu. For information about other dining options, you can walk across the street to the Frankfort Chamber of Commerce or call (616) 352-7251.
Lodging: There are several motels in the Frankfort area. For those who want to enjoy the beach at the Lower Herring Lake access point guilt free, call the Watervale Inn at (616) 352-9083. This resort, located on Lower Herring Lake, is very popular so you will need to make reservations far in advance. For more information on lodging, call the Frankfort Chamber of Commerce at (616) 352-7251.
Camping: The Platte River Campground, located at the southern edge of the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, is north of Frankfort off M-22. Call (616) 326-5134 for information. For private campgrounds the Betsie River Camp Site is located in Frankfort; call (616) 352-9535.