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Railroad Point Natural Area

Trail Details

County
Benzie
Regions
Northwest
Latitude
N 44° 38' 15.72"
Longitude
W 086° 08' 21.48"
Distance
1.3 miles
Trail Type
Foot path, Nordic ski trail
Terrain
Wooded ridges, Crystal Lake
Difficulty
Easy
Nearest City or Town
Elberta
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In 1998, with the help of the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, Benzie County purchased 66 acres on Railroad Point, the largest undeveloped parcel remaining on Crystal Lake. Railroad Point Natural Area has since been expanded to 209 acres that extends from the shores of Michigan's ninth largest lake south to the Betsie River. Two trails provide access into Railroad Point. The multi-purpose Bestie Valley Trail skirts Crystal Lake for a mile on the northern edge of the natural area while the Mary Margaret Johnson Trail, open only to foot traffic, heads inland from Mollineaux Road to views of Crystal Lake. The two trails are connected by the Charlie Kehr Memorial Trail.
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Description
In 1998, with the help of the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, Benzie County secured a Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant and purchased 66 acres on Railroad Point, the largest undeveloped parcel remaining on Crystal Lake. Railroad Point Natural Area has since been expanded twice, most recently in 2012, and now includes 209 acres that extend from the shores of Michigan’s ninth largest lake south to the Betsie River, a state-designated Natural and Wild-Scenic River.

When combined with the adjoining, state-owned Crystal Lake Outlet property, the preserves protect 4,300 feet of lake frontage or more than half of Crystal Lake’s publicly-owned shoreline. Inland Railroad Point features upland forests, wetlands, steep-sided bluffs and portions of Outlet Creek, the warm-water stream that connects the lake to the Betsie River. Such a diverse habitat supports an equally wide range of wildlife, from whitetail deer, bobcats, black bears, otters and coyotes to birds such as wild turkeys, great blue herons, wood ducks and the red-shouldered hawk, a threatened species in Michigan.

Two trails provide access into Railroad Point. The multi-purpose Bestie Valley Trail skirts Crystal Lake for a mile on the northern edge of the natural area while the Mary Margaret Johnson Trail, open only to foot traffic, heads inland from Mollineaux Road to views of Crystal Lake. The two trails are connected by the Charlie Kehr Memorial Trail that allows you to combine the trails for an enjoyable bike-and-hike outing.

The Mary Margaret Johnson Trail was completed in 2011 to replace the old logging roads visitors were using. The foot trail dips and climbs as it follows the natural contours of the terrain for a round-trip hike of 1.3 miles.
Amenities & Services
Difficulty - Easy
Foot Path
Trail Guide

From the trailhead, the Mary Margaret Johnson Trail enters the upland forest to skirt the edge of a wooded hollow.  There’s a bit of climbing here as you dip in and out of a small ravine before reaching post No. 1, a junction guarded by a pair of enormous oak trees at Mile 0.3.

To the east (right), you quickly reach post No. 2, marking a loop that continues along the bluff's rolling contour and at Mile 0.5 arrives at post No. 3. At the post is the Charlie Kehr Memorial Trail Connector, the massive stairway that connects the footpath to the multi-use Betsie Valley Trail below. There are views of Crystal Lake from the stairway or through the foliage on the edge of the bluff. The trail skirts the bluff briefly, then heads inland, returning to post No. 1 at Mile 0.8.

Head right. Within 100 yards the trail arrives at a small opening on the edge of the lakeshore bluff where a bench has been placed. Below is the brilliantly blue water of Crystal Lake. The 9,854-acre lake is 8 miles long and has more than 20 miles of shoreline. The average depth of Crystal Lake is 70 feet, but its deepest point is 165 feet, the reason its diverse fishery includes lake trout.

To return to the trailhead, backtrack the trail bypassing the loop along the way. You will reach the small parking area along Mollineaux Road in less than a half mile.

Facilities

There are no facilities or drinking water at the Railroad Point trailhead.

Hours & Fees

There is are no vehicle entry fees at Railroad Point. The natural area is open year-round.

Directions

The trailhead for the Mary Margaret Johnson Trail is posted along Mollineaux Road, which forms a loop off of M-115, 3 miles east of M-22 in Frankfort or 2 miles west of US-31 in Benzonia.

Information

For more information, contact the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy (231-929-7911). For lodging or additional travel information contact Traverse City Tourism (800-872-8377; www.traversecity.com)


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