The Lure of Minnesota's Brainerd Lakes | Midwest Living

The Lure of Minnesota's Brainerd Lakes

The laid-back lakeside life of the Brainerd Lakes region has drawn families for generations. Discover why.


Nisswa’s downtown bustles on Wednesdays.
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Iven’s on the Bay recovered from a 2006 fire and is the area’s premier fine-dining seafood restaurant.
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Lawn games complement beach time at Madden’s on Gull Lake.
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Grand View Lodge guests choose cabins on Roy Lake for posh places to stay.
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Staffers at Grand View Lodge help guests light a fire for s'mores.
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Trip guide

For more information: Brainerd Lakes Chamber (800) 450-2838;

What to do

Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area Even beginners can handle parts of the 25-mile trail that opened in 2011. Cycle Path and Paddle in Crosby rents bikes and kayaks for travelers eager to explore this pristine park. (218) 546-8131;

Croft Mine Historical Park Learn about the Crosby area’s brief but proud iron mining history during self-guided tours in a cool, darkened tunnel. In the adjacent dry-house-turned-museum, visitors see exhibits about a 1924 drowning disaster that killed 42 miners. Open Saturdays and Sundays during the summer. (218) 546-5466;

Fishing Whether you’re a veteran angler or just want to expose a kid to a few hours out on the lake, the region offers thousands of places to go. (Minnesota residents can fish for free in most state parks.) For a guided experience, try Walleye Dan. (218) 839-5598;

Paul Bunyan Land Since 1950, families have brought little ones here to enjoy the amusement rides like the Tilt-a-Whirl and Space Shuttle. These days, they also explore This Old Farm Pioneer Village, a collection of outbuildings stuffed with old farming equipment. Admission charged. (218) 764-2524;

Paul Bunyan State Trail Bring your bike to explore this 112-mile paved path, or rent one from Trailblazer Bikes (with shops in Nisswa and Brainerd). (218) 963-0699 Though the state’s longest bike path has entry points off of many busy intersections, you only have to pedal a few minutes before you find yourself alone, listening to the wind and the wildlife.

Shopping Nisswa’s downtown concentrates quality shops into a few blocks: The Chocolate Ox; Zaiser’s for North Woods home accessories; Turtle Town Books and Gifts for children’s books, puzzles and toys; Lundrigan’s for Scandinavian-inspired chic fashions; Appaloosa Ridge for lake-theme gifts and accessories; Massie Creek for high-end home goods; and Urban Accents for cheeky shirts, cards and books. (218) 963-2620;

Where to eat

Antlers Restaurant A Hungarian mushroom soup and surf and turf menu highlight the fine dining on Whitebirch Golf Course at Breezy Point Resort in Pequot Lakes. (218) 562-7162;

The Barn Maid-Rite-style sandwiches and pie baked fresh daily (the crust is outstanding; local faves include rhubarb custard and sour cream and raisin) draw crowds to this Brainerd diner for breakfast and lunch. (218) 829-9297

The Classic Grill Stunning North Woods architecture meets lush golf course views at this Madden’s-owned restaurant, which you’ll find about a mile from the resort’s check-in area (shuttle available). Menu standouts include half-pound burgers, pork rib chop, steaks and coconut shrimp. (800) 233-2934;

Iven’s on the Bay Seafood fans flock to this classy dining room facing North Long Lake for outstanding sushi, Canadian walleye and steaks—plus excellent seasonal desserts like Key lime cheesecake and caramel-apple bread pudding available in late summer. (218) 829-9872;

Lost Lake Lodge The dining room is open to the public for breakfast, lunch and dinner; offerings run the gamut from fluffy buttermilk pancakes and a simple but well-prepared burger to exquisite sea scallops and walleye cooked in parchment packets. It’s a good idea to make reservations for dinner. (800) 450-2681;

Northwoods Pub For affordable dining at Grand View Lodge, stop here and try the creamy walleye chowder with sweet corn, bacon and skin-on potatoes; a nicely spiced broiled walleye fillet with tangy remoulade on grilled ciabatta; and crisp, perfectly seasoned fries. (866) 801-2951;

StoneHouse Coffee and Roastery In a comfortable storefront, enjoy beans roasted in-house and scones made with their own ground wheat. In Nisswa. (218) 961-2326;

Where to stay

Breezy Point Resort The Dockside restaurant and lounge hosts live music, and the double-decker Breezy Belle takes guests out for leisurely lake tours. Spacious vacation homes on the golf course are luxurious splurges. (800) 432-3777;

Grand View Lodge Gracious hospitality and attention to detail define this upscale resort. A small indoor pool and water park overlook the lake. Lodging options range from king rooms to townhomes along the lake. (866) 801-2951;

Lost Lake Lodge It’s small—13 cabins in all—but the service is fantastic, and the dining room serves beautifully plated meals. (218) 963-2681;

Madden’s on Gull Lake Whether you want to golf, boat or just jump off the trampoline anchored in the lake near the swimming beach, Madden’s visitors have plenty to choose from. Families prefer cheery lakeside cabins; golfers can snag spacious, comfortable rooms facing the fairways. Kids’ programs promise supervised activities (and a break for parents!). (800) 233-2934;

(A version of this story appeared in Midwest Living® July/August 2013.  Prices, dates and other details are subject to change, so please check specifics before making travel plans.)


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