On the windswept eastern shores of Lake Michigan lies a coastal city with a charming and small-town ambiance: Frankfort, Michigan.
With less than 1,300 permanent residents, this scenic Northern Michigan paradise is managed by a small community.
They take great effort in making this city a great place to be, especially for those who want to explore lesser-known attractions near the lake.
Visiting here is almost like stepping back into a period devoid of modernity and all the noise and anxieties that come with it.
So if you’re looking for a tranquil place for your next getaway, making this city your top choice.
Here are the 15 best things to do in Frankfort, MI:
Marvel at the Beauty of Point Betsie Lighthouse
Point Betsie Lighthouse is an icon of its own—listed under the National Register of Historic Places and considered one of the most photographed lighthouses in the country.
It has been around since the 1850s, serving as the guiding light to the many ships sailing Lake Michigan.
Because of its historical importance, the lighthouse has been a subject for preservation for a few decades.
In fact, there’s still ongoing renovation today, so tourist access is quite limited.
But this hasn’t stopped it from being one of the most visited locations in Benzie County.
Its simple but elegant structure, framed by the white sands and blue waters of the lake, has made it the muse of several artists.
You’d see images of the lighthouse on photographs, paintings, and even needle-point illustrations in various galleries and museums.
But there’s no comparison to the real-life majesty that you’d witness if you visit it during your trip.
Cruise the Waters of Betsie River
One of the first natural attractions you’d see upon arrival in Frankfort is the Betsie River, which spans most of the city’s southern borders.
Starting as an outflow of Green Lake, Betsie River winds across Northern Michigan slows and widens to create Betsie Lake before finally spilling out into Lake Michigan.
The whole route spans 54 miles and traverses numerous habitats that serve as the home of the region’s endemic flora and fauna.
There are a few businesses in Frankfort that offer boating and kayaking trips upriver, giving you a chance to encounter waterfowl, colorful insects, migratory birds, and local mammals.
For those who want to fish, there are chinook salmon, steelhead, and brown trout at the dams that divide various segments of the river.
Or you can simply enjoy the gentle waters and the tree-lined banks that provide a sense of calmness and peace for weary travelers.
Stay at Betsie River Campsite
Betsie River Campsite doesn’t actually sit next to the actual Betsie River as the name might imply, but it’s already pretty close.
These camping grounds are the favorite of frequent visitors who need a convenient base of operations for their adventures.
It’s located next to River Road, a major highway leading to Frankfort’s city proper and the main route to the many other destinations in the region.
The campsite is already an attraction on its own, with expansive grounds for tents, trees bordering the edges, and the Betsie River rushing nearby.
But it’s also packed with modern amenities like electric and water hookups for RVs, cafes, fish cleaning and freezing stations, and ice cream machines.
You can even rent a bike or a kayak to explore the nearby attractions.
So make this your base camp during your trip to Frankfort, especially if you want to stay in a rugged and natural setting.
Head Out to Lake Michigan
Since you’re already next to the lake, why not head out into its deeper water for some thrilling adventures?
Lake Michigan is the second-largest among the Great Lakes, so there’s plenty of room for you to explore.
Near Frankfort, you can try jet skiing, swimming, parasailing, and wakeboarding.
But if you want to head to the deeper spots, book a charter with a local fisherman and join them for a half-day or whole-day trip.
They will take you to the best fishing spots in the lake so you can get a chance to catch a fish you’d be proud to take home.
Some freshwater games to watch out for include brown trout, catfish, salmon, and lake whitefish.
Play Under the Sun at Frankfort Public Beach and Playground
Frankfort Public Beach and Playground is the city proper’s lakeside attraction, and it’s the premier spot for those who want a quick trip to a sandy beach.
The soft sand grains, windswept landscape, and panoramic views have made the beach a frequently visited destination by residents and tourists alike.
Perhaps the most prominent beach features are the twin piers closing in far out in the lake to create Frankfort Harbor.
The pier on Frankfort’s side ends with a lighthouse, which adds to the scenic sight that’s sure to mesmerize you.
Walking down the piers is a must-try experience for those who want to see Frankfort from the sea.
But that’s not the only activity here, as the beach is ideal for sunbathing, games, and long walks, especially during summer.
Smell Fragrant Blooms at Crystal Gardens
On what was once a lawn maintenance business now stands Crystal Gardens, a seasonal destination north of Frankfort’s city proper.
The attraction has been around for many decades, establishing itself as a flourishing little gem for plant lovers and horticulturists.
Every spring and summer, people from the city and nearby regions visit the facility to see the attractions and buy plants, gardening supplies, and other implements.
All around, you’d see pots and beds of flowers blooming under the Michigan sun or within greenhouses.
There’s a nearby Nature House with farm animals, peacocks, tortoises, and other creatures in comfortable habitats.
In another section, the Rock Shop offers many different types of minerals and rock polishing services.
Don’t forget to visit their antique shop, the Barn Swallow, to find rare and unique items to bring home as souvenirs of your trip.
Enjoy the Beaches of Crystal Lake
There are many bodies of water surrounding the borders of Frankfort, and one of these is the gorgeous Crystal Lake.
This favorite summer attraction got its name from its waters, which have remained clean and clear throughout the years, thanks to minimal development in the area.
It’s Michigan’s ninth largest lake, reaching depths of 165 feet and spanning 9,854 acres in total area.
In the past, it was much deeper, but it was drained when a channel was created to connect it with Lake Michigan.
The project was stopped after Crytal Lake lost more than 20 feet of depth, which exposed beaches on several sections.
Those beaches are now used as tourists attractions, offering many opportunities for water-related activities.
The closest to Frankfort is Crystal Beach, which has boat launches, small piers, and a sandy coastline ideal for sunbathing or strolling.
Drink the Mystical Waters of Frankfort Mineral Springs
Frankfort Mineral Springs has a sort of mythical reputation among the city's residents, with the well being older than nearly all of the other structures in the area.
Located at the center of a small park in front of Betsie Lake, this spring was discovered in the 1800s by miners looking for salt.
They drilled into an aquifer that continues to release water to this day.
And like most other cultures, the community of Frankfort started legends about this miraculous water source.
Drinking from the spring is said to improve health, so residents visit the spring daily to fill bottles with underground water.
You’re welcome to fill a bottle or two, too!
The locals very much encourage visitors to try and see the benefits of the waters from the spring.
After visiting the sheltered well, you can explore the rest of the park, which has lush and verdant grounds and beautiful lakeside views.
See Stunning Pieces at Elizabeth Lane Oliver Center for the Arts
Even in a place as isolated as Frankfort, there’s still a thriving art scene that celebrates the beauty and life in the city.
The hotspot for all this creativity and talent is Elizabeth Lane Oliver Center for the Arts.
The facility’s mission is to promote various art forms in the community, particularly among the youth.
That is why they maintain an educational program, conduct regular workshops, and hold exhibits that showcase works by talented local artists.
And it’s not just limited to paintings and sculptures, as the center encourages all types of art, whether it’s textile, culinary, literature, and even wellness arts.
Visiting these exhibitions is a feast for the five senses, so make sure it’s on your itinerary!
Play a Few Rounds at Crystal Downs Country Club
Whether you’re a professional or an amateur, you’re going to have a great experience at the beautiful Crystal Downs Country Club.
Designed by acclaimed architect Alister MacKenzie, this lakeside, 9-hole golf course is considered one of the region’s hidden gems.
It became famous when notable American golfer, Ben Crenshaw, talked about his marvelous experience playing on the course.
Since then, Crystal Downs Country Club has become a consistent entry to the top courses list in the US, ranking 10th during 2007 and currently 19th in the whole world.
This prestigious recognition has made it a sought-after destination for most golfers, even if it’s one of the most isolated courses with few modern conveniences.
With gorgeous views of Lake Michigan, rolling landscapes, and fresh winds blowing in, this course is like a grand paradise for golfers.
Cap Off a Day of Touring at Stormcloud Brewing Company
After your adventures in Frankfort, make a stop at the Stormcloud Brewing Company and order some cold mugs of beer.
This brewery specializes in Belgian-style beverages, creating a unique and fruity flavor profile that many beer drinkers will love.
In fact, the unique concoctions have earned the brewery a silver medal award from the 2020 Great American Beer Festival.
So if you’re keen to try award-winning drinks, then check out their selection and order a mug or two.
They have delicious ales, flavorful stouts, and craft beers available on tap at the pub.
Drink it along with their signature dishes, such as pretzels, specialty popcorn, and savory flatbread pizzas made with fresh ingredients.
Before you leave, grab a pack or two to bring home and share with friends or family!
Other Things to Do Nearby
If you haven’t had your fill of adventures in Frankfort, there are many other attractions that are just a few minutes away.
Climb the Slopes of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is breathtaking attraction north of Frankfort, with expansive slopes of pale white sand that reach 450 feet high.
It’s been hailed as one of the most beautiful spots in the country, owing to the pristine dunes, sweeping landscape scenery, and magnificent glacial formations.
During summer, throngs of people come here to camp and take in the ambiance and views.
There are three main grounds to choose from: D.H. Day Campground, Platte River Campground, and Manitou Island campgrounds.
The last one is located on one of the islands just a few miles from the shores of Sleeping Bear Dunes—the perfect basecamp for thrilling adventures out in the water.
Explore Old-Growth Forests at Interlochen State Park
Interlochen State Park sits in an isthmus that divides the aforementioned Green Lake and Duck Lake.
Spanning 187 acres in total area, this idyllic destination is recognized as the first state park in all of Michigan.
And since it sits in between two lakes, the attraction offers many water-related activities for the whole family, such as swimming, fishing, and kayaking.
It’s also one of the few places in the state with old-growth forests, so Interlochen State Park serves as an important ecological hotspot that you’re welcome to explore.
Spot Endemic Wildlife at Betsie Dunes Nature Preserve
Another excellent location to check out Lake Michigan’s iconic sand formations is at Betsie Dunes Nature Preserve.
It’s located north too, but it’s much nearer Frankfort.
Here, you’d find the same spectacular sand dunes like those in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, albeit not as tall.
It’s also home to endemic flora and fauna that thrive in the windswept and sandy landscape.
So watch out for blooming spring flowers, waterfowl, and insects on the low shrubs and trees dotting the surroundings.
Go Mountain Biking at Arcadia Dunes: The C.S. Mott Nature Preserve
Adventure seekers will have a grand time here at Arcadia Dunes: The C.S. Mott Nature Preserve, the largest facility under the care of Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy.
It sits next to Lake Michigan and is about a half-hour drive from Frankfort.
Here, you’re free to explore more than 15 miles of trails, the most popular of which is the scenic Outlook Trail that brings you to the summits of the dunes.
One of the favorite activities here is mountain biking, owing to the undulating terrain and challenging routes that really test riders' skills.
Nature lovers will have an exceptional experience touring all the wonders of Frankfort.
From mystical wells to crystalline lakes, from sand dunes to gardens blooming with flowers, there’s no shortage of gems in this city.
Reference this list when planning your itinerary so you won’t miss these top spots!