With more than 450 lakes in the Brainerd region, summer vacations here are all about the water. Dive off a trampoline into Gull Lake, kayak through Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area, and grab a bucket and turtle for a local tradtion unlike any other.
Since the 1950s, families have brought little ones to Paul Bunyan Land near Brainerd to enjoy amusement rides, like the Tilt-a-Whirl, and This Old Farm Pioneer Village for a peek into outbuildings stuffed with gear from settlers’ lives.
Loose-meat sandwiches and pie baked fresh daily at The Barn are worth the trip to town.
Cycle Path and Paddle in Crosby rents bikes and kayaks to explore Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area. Feeling adventurous? Conquer the park's mountain biking trails, which weave around aspen and birch trees.
The Dockside Lounge at Breezy Point Resort hosts live music, and the double-decker Breezy Belle takes guests out for leisurely lake tours. Spacious vacation homes on the golf course are splurges (from $359).
Prep for four-hour guided fishing trips with Walleye Dan by eating delicous handmade scones and drinking a cup of strong joe made from beans roasted at StoneHouse Coffee and Roastery in Nisswa.
Smoked duck with wild rice soup is an ideal lunch at Northwoods Pub in Grand View Lodge, which is fantastic whether you’re looking for a lodge room, a cabin or a luxurious cottage (from $185).
Downtown Nisswa concentrates quality shops into a few blocks: Zaiser’s for North Woods home accessories; Turtle Town Books and Gifts for children’s books, puzzles and toys; Lundrigans Clothing for casual, up-north resort wear; and The Chocolate Ox for a wide array of candies and ice cream.
At Lost Lake Lodge, the upscale, family-friendly dining room serves breakfast, lunch and dinners; the menu includes burgers and sea scallops. The lodge's simple lakeside cabins make it easy for travelers to unplug. All-inclusive packages start at $149 per adult per night.
More information: Brainerd Lakes Chamber (800) 450-2838; explorebrainerdlakes.com 
Bring the Kids
Turtle races For more than 50 years in Nisswa, youngsters have splashed and yelled encouragement to surprisingly zippy reptiles in hopes theirs would be the first to cross the finish line. Register in person to enter the race, and go to midwestliving.com/turtle  to watch our video. (218) 963-2620; nisswa.com