The Emmet County profile gives an overview of what life is like in this county and how you and your lifestyle can fit in.
In a 1919 letter to a wartime pal, Ernest Hemingway gushed about the wonders of this part of Northern Michigan, calling it “beautiful country” and “the best place in the world to do nothing.” The writer and avid outdoorsman had spent many of his childhood summers here and developed a deep love for the area, as have generations of vacationers who return year after year for the quietude, fresh air and natural beauty. Indeed, with nearly 200,000 acres of forested Northwoods, 70 miles of stunning Lake Michigan shoreline and countless inland lakes, rivers and streams, Emmet County has long been revered as a vacationer’s paradise. But for those who live here year-round, that bliss isn’t reserved for just two weeks a year—it is part of everyday living.
People who choose to live and work in Emmet County are often attracted to the high quality of life driven by four beautiful seasons, resources for active, close-to-the-land lifestyles, and a strong sense of community. Of course, life here also includes everyday amenities like good schools, opportunities for continuing education, access to high-quality health care, a dynamic arts, culture and foodie scene, and more.
The total population of Emmet County is just over 33,000. The biggest city here is county seat Petoskey, which sits on a bluff overlooking Little Traverse Bay and is home to shy of 6,000 year-round residents. “Charm central” is how Smithsonian magazine described the place when it included Petoskey on its list of the best small towns in America. It’s easy to see why: There’s a timelessness here, seen in the Victorian cottages of Bay View (a former Methodist camp that now serves as a summertime hub for the performing arts), institutions like Stafford’s Perry Hotel and Jesperson’s Restaurant (both open since the turn of the last century), and the historic Gaslight Shopping District. But Petoskey is also very much in the here and now, and residents have access to amenities like North Central Michigan College, McLaren Northern Michigan hospital (the locale’s biggest healthcare facility), the largest school district in the county (2,868 students), movie theater, marina, waterfront park, a winter sports park and lots more.
Harbor Springs, across from Petoskey on Little Traverse Bay, is the second-largest community in the county, with 1,207 residents. The town is steeped in history, having been home to Native American settlements, a lumber boom town and century-old summer associations like Harbor Point and Wequetonsing. These days, the downtown streets are lined with boutiques, galleries, antique shops and restaurants, with lovely Victorian cottages overlooking the marina. Summer is the big tourism season here, but winter is a close second, with two of the state’s most revered ski hills—Nub’s Nob and Boyne Highlands—just a stone’s throw away.
North of Harbor Springs are the tiny coastal outposts of Cross Village and Good Hart. Both are old settlements located along the winding and scenic Lake Shore Drive (M-119), more famously known as the Tunnel of Trees. Each boasts a smattering of shops, galleries and restaurants. At the southern end of Emmet County’s Lake Michigan shoreline is Bay Harbor, a resort and residential community with luxury homes, yacht docks and a downtown that offers upscale shopping and dining.
Farther inland, rural living is centered around 20 small villages and townships. There’s a regional airport in Pellston; the 40-mile chain of inland lakes and rivers known as the Inland Waterway (a favorite for boaters) meanders through Conway, Oden and Alanson; Blissfest, a beloved annual family friendly music festival takes place in Bliss every year; and Mackinaw City, best known as the gateway to Mackinac Island, is also home to Fort Michilimackinac, an interpretive museum on the site of a 18th-century French fort and trading post.
Summer tourism drives a lot of business in Emmet County, but the overall economic mix is year-round and diverse, including retail, industrial, education, agricultural, building trades, and health and medical professions. Technology is spurring much of the economic momentum, as is a strong “shop local” mentality and supportive local governments. Nearly a third of county residents are self-employed. The region’s five biggest employers are McLaren Northern Michigan Hospital, Bay Harbor Co. land development company, Little Traverse Bay Bands Gaming Administration (which operates Odawa Casino Resort), aircraft manufacturer Moeller Aerospace Technology, and Walmart.
Extracurricular life here is rich. The region has long been an escape for artists and writers (like Hemingway), so the arts and culture scene has a strong foothold, bolstered by dozens of galleries and a few beloved independent bookstores, societies for fine arts, chamber and choral music, history, and more, plus innovative programming at places like Petoskey’s Crooked Tree Arts Center, a visual and performing arts space. Of course, the active outdoor lifestyle is a big draw here, too, supported by parks, preserves and other public lands scattered across the map in big green swaths. Residents don’t have to travel far to enjoy boating, golfing, paddling, fishing, hunting, hiking, camping, birding, cycling, winter sports like skiing and snowshoeing, and other activities.