Missaukee County housing options range from small town to a bit more rural.

The basic recipe that makes up Missaukee County is equal parts forest and farmland, with lakes, a big river and small towns sprinkled in. The area dishes up both the landscape and lifestyle many folks picture when they think of “Up North”—quietude, agrarian roots, year-round unspoiled natural beauty, lots of wide-open spaces.

Lake City, which sits on the eastern shore of Lake Missaukee and is home to about 850 year-round residents, is the county seat and the largest community in the county. It is a quintessential Up North town: warm and welcoming. Many residents live right on the 2,000-acre lake, and with Lake City DDA’s new addition of a dock downtown, boating to dinner from the other side of the water is now part of lake life here.

The presence of Lake Missaukee has also turned Lake City into a beloved vacation destination for generations, especially downstaters and people from the west side of the state. But while many come for the recreation opportunities—hiking, swimming, boating, hunting, winter sports like cross-country skiing and snowmobiling—it’s often the tight-knit community vibe that entices people to come back and settle down for good. “It’s a friendly place,” says Carolyn Lantz, associate broker and co-owner of Whitetail Realty in Lake City. “People are willing to talk to you when you walk down the street. It’s a giving community; they’re willing to help in any way.” Lake City is also within a relatively short distance from larger communities, too: Cadillac is 20 minutes away, Traverse City is under an hour, and Grand Rapids is just over 90 minutes.

Outside of Lake City, the rest of Missaukee County is mostly defined by its rich agricultural heritage (namely in the form of large Christmas tree and dairy farms) and its wild public lands. The small farming town of McBain is the next-largest community, with under 700 residents; it’s the only other community in the county to have its own school system.

Missaukee’s sprawling rural landscape entices the kind of people who want a little space themselves and who live to be close to nature. “That’s what people want up here,” Lantz says. “If they’re going North, it’s ‘Give me the acreage.’” Lantz says anyone looking for acreage in Missaukee County will find pretty much whatever they seek, from an acre or less to a hundred acres or more. Many of the homes on bigger pieces of property have been historically used as hunt camps, and have been in the same family for years. And with more than 100,000 acres of public land here, many homes are nestled right up to the wilderness—or else, at the very least, close by.

For those who seek waterfront homes, Lake Missaukee is popular because of its location next to Lake City, affording residents the ability to walk, bike, or even take a quick boat cruise to run errands or head out to dinner or coffee. Though not connected to each other, nearby Lake Sapphire and Crooked Lake are all less than a mile from one another, opening up more options for waterfront living and recreation. Between the three lakes there’s nearly 5,000 acres of fresh water; all offer great opportunities for boating and fishing. Of course, that’s in addition to the more than 20 smaller inland lakes that dot the landscape here, and the secluded upper stretches of the Muskegon River.

In comparison to other counties in the northwest lower Michigan region, homes in Missaukee County are generally less expensive, too, including waterfront homes. The average home sale price in Missaukee County from 2014 was $106,000, Lantz says. Which makes the dream of having a home Up North that much more available to more people—especially those who’ve already fallen in love with the magic this area has to offer.

“We have many people who live here who spent their summers on this lake with their grandparents or aunts or uncles,” Lantz says. “They always find their way back.”

Photo(s) by Brian Confer