As the last glacier retreated, it left in its wake layers of till and lots of water, providing the raw material for north-central Minnesota’s lush forests and lakes of all sizes.
It would be easy to spend all your time basking in Lakeland hospitality and listening to the loons on the water, but there’s plenty more here for you to enjoy if you choose. Area events calendars are an energetic mix of live music, theater, and arts and crafts festivals.
Year-round outdoor recreation is a natural. A variety of state parks, state and national forests, state trails and wildlife areas provide venues for hiking, fishing, bird-watching, biking, skiing and more.
Lodgings run the gamut from rustic cabins to all-inclusive luxury resorts. Some are close to town hubs; others are truly remote and perfect for retreats.
Worth noting Our listings cover several lake “neighborhoods” that are far apart, so don’t expect you’ll be able to see it all on a single trip.
What to do
Itasca State Park Minnesota’s oldest state park includes 100 lakes (including the headwater of the Mississippi River), 49 miles of trails, 200-plus campsites, cabins and a swimming beach. dnr.state.mn.us 
Summerhill Farm Specialty gift shops and the Sun Porch restaurant draw shoppers to this farm just north of Park Rapids. (218) 732-3865; summerhill-farm.com 
Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge The 43,000-acre refuge hosts the Detroit Lakes Festival of Birds. Free. (218) 847-2641; fws.gov/refuge/tamarac 
Where to eat
The Fireside Dine on stellar steaks for reasonable prices. The porch lets in sunshine and breezes on warm days. In Detroit Lakes. (218) 847-8192; firesidedl.com 
Iven’s on the Bay Northwest of Brainerd, this elegant place serves steaks, seafood and a variety of martinis. (218) 829-9872; ivensonthebay.com 
Prairie Bay Grill and Catering A contemporary menu features build-your-own bruschetta. In Baxter. (218) 824-6444; prairiebay.com 
MinneSoda Fountain Families love the retro ice cream parlor in Park Rapids. (218) 732-3240
Where to stay
Chase on the Lake A historical property in Walker includes a spa, a bowling alley and a Wii room. (888) 242-7306; chaseonthelake.com 
Cragun’s Resort and Hotel on Gull Lake Guide services and equipment rentals make it a fun, family-friendly Brainerd retreat. (800) 272-4867; craguns.com 
Fair Hills Resort Take the family to summer camp on Detroit Lakes. Activities and meals included. (800) 323-2849; fairhillsresort.com 
Grand View Lodge In Nisswa, golfers enjoy three full-size courses, and families go for the beach and indoor pool. (866) 801-2951; grandviewlodge.com 
Madden’s on Gull Lake Hotel rooms and cottages await on a private peninsula in the Brainerd area. (800) 233-2934; maddens.com 
Royal Starr Resort Peaceful cabins sit near Park Rapids. (800) 822-0701; royalstarrresort.com 
Brainerd Lakes Chamber (800) 450-2838; explorebrainerdlakes.com 
Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce (800) 542-3992; visitdetroitlakes.com 
Leech Lake Area Chamber of Commerce (800) 833-1118; leech-lake.com 
Park Rapids Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce (800) 247-0054; parkrapids.com