Emmet County outdoor recreation includes The Headlands, Ski hills, Little Traverse Wheelway, Little Traverse Bay, Bear River Valley, Petoskey State Park and the Tunnel of Trees!
Some 550 acres of pristine woodlands, including more than two miles of undeveloped Lake Michigan shoreline, make this a magnificent specimen of Northern Great Lakes terrain. Hiking, biking and cross-country skiing are welcome on the marked nature trails; bald eagles, osprey, white tail deer, wild turkeys, coyotes and even black bear have been sighted here. But the real magic happens at nightfall: The Headlands is an official International Dark Sky Park, so designated because of its exceptional nighttime beauty and lack of artificial light distracting from star gazing. Camping is not allowed but the park is open 24 hours a day; visitors are encouraged to bring blankets and stay overnight to sky watch, walk the Dark Sky Discovery Trail, and participate in free monthly all-ages programming.
Tunnel of Trees
This 20-mile two-lane between Harbor Springs and Cross Village is one of the prettiest drives in the entire state. It’s also a dreamy destination for road biking. The route flanks the Lake Michigan shoreline nearly the entire way, sailing along high bluffs and under tree-branch canopies that dapple the road with sunlight. Highlights include exploring Good Hart’s historic general store, stopping for a leg stretch at beaches and preserves along the way, and finishing with a brewski at Cross Village’s storied Polish watering hole, Legs Inn. The trip is especially lovely during fall color season, and also in the spring, when blooming trilliums blanket the woods flanking the road.
Little Traverse Conservancy Preserves
Emmet County is home to dozens of nature preserves, and we can thank Little Traverse Conservancy in part for that. The four-decade-old nonprofit works to acquire and protect irreplaceable land to provide open spaces, wildlife habitat, scenic views and opportunities for visitors to experience nature. LTC owns and manages more than 80 preserves in Emmet County alone (out of 164 total over a five-county range), ranging from pint-sized (like the less-than-half-acre Shurtleff Preserve in Cross Village, with amazing views of Lake Michigan) to sprawling (such as the 750-acre Sturgeon Bay Dunes, a stunning spot to watch the sunset). Many have marked trails, and some are even open to kayaking, fishing, horseback riding, and other adventures.
Petoskey State Park
Smack between Petoskey and Harbor Springs, on a mile-long slice of sand facing directly into the sunsets on Little Traverse Bay, this 303-acre park is a favorite among locals. Sand volleyball courts, picnic area, restroom facilities, 180 modern campsites with one mini cabin, two short hiking trails, great rock-picking (especially for the park’s namesake stone), and a beautiful overlook atop “Old Baldy,” a stable sand dune that’s just behind the beach and accessible via a short stair climb.
Little Traverse Bay
This 45-square-mile Lake Michigan bay scoops into Emmet County along its southwest corner and is a haven for boaters, sailors, anglers and paddlers. Find marinas and boat launches in the bayfront towns of Petoskey and Harbor Springs; learn to sail (or pass your love of sailing on to your kids) with Little Traverse Sailors sailing school; rent kayaks from one of the local outfitters to spend a quiet morning paddling around Harbor Point, a small peninsula home to posh family cottages and the historic Little Traverse Lighthouse.
Bear River Valley Recreation Area & Whitewater Park
This 36-acre park in a valley just minutes from downtown Petoskey recently underwent a $2.4 million facelift that included returning a spectacular stretch of the Bear River to its natural, wild state. The restoration efforts made this spot one of Lower Michigan’s few true whitewater experiences, with challenging drops and rapids for experienced paddlers, and a separate, gentler launch for newbies. The park also offers unpaved and paved trails for biking, walking and hiking, plus fishing spots, picnic areas, and even spaces for events and performances.
Little Traverse Wheelway
Following portions of an original turn-of-the-last-century bike path turned trunkline, this 26-mile mostly paved route stretching along the Little Traverse Bay waterfront is now one of the region’s most scenic non-motorized trails. The trail actually starts outside of Emmet County, in Charlevoix; Emmet’s portion runs between Bay Harbor and downtown Harbor Springs, threading through Petoskey and Petoskey State Park along the way. A favorite for leisurely riders, runners and walkers.
With its rolling terrain and an average annual snowfall of nearly 100 inches, Emmet County is one of the state’s best spots for snowsports, which is why you’ll find two of the Midwest’s best ski resorts, Nub’s Nob and Boyne Highlands, both here and less than a 10-minute drive apart. Nub’s has been a locals’ favorite for 57 years, boasting a highly decorated snowmaking team that keeps the 53 runs impeccably groomed. Over at the Highlands there are 55 runs, including the 1.25-mile North Peak Pass, which is the state’s longest. (Though for the littlest kids, we also love the ski area at Petoskey’s Winter Sports Park; admission is free.)