Top Things to Do in Brainerd Lakes
For generations, dozens of resorts in the Brainerd area—130 miles northwest of the Twin Cities—have drawn travelers seeking laid-back lake escapes.
Due to possible coronavirus-related travel restrictions, please check destinations' websites for the current status of attractions, restaurants and lodgings.
It's the day before the summer solstice, when triumphant rays of orange and red should streak the northern Minnesota sky until well past 10 p.m. But today, clouds thicken over little Lost Lake like cotton batting from an old quilting basket, turning lily pad-flecked water into an inky pool. A loon paddles past, mindless of the whir of fishing reels along the docks at Lost Lake Lodge. The kids holding the fishing rods peer into the water, waiting. A few minutes slip past. The lines tug, and kids shriek. Their parents look on with smiles, remembering their own catches on docks that looked remarkably like this one.
For generations, dozens of resorts in the Brainerd Lakes region have sold moments like these, and families have been eager buyers, joining the Friday afternoon cabin traffic as it snakes the 130 miles northwest from the Twin Cities. Some land at resorts like Lost Lake Lodge, a quiet escape with a fantastic dining room and simple lakeside cabins decorated with fish-pattern carpet and other Up North decor. Others choose places like golf-friendly Madden's on Gull Lake or stately Grand View Lodge.
No matter the locale, evenings tend to go something like this: Twilight spills its palette of pinks, purples and blues across the water; boats putter across the lake; bald eagles dive for dinner; and screen doors slam as kids grab the makings for s'mores. The next day, more vacation memories are waiting to be made: at turtle races, beside the Babe the Blue Ox statue and alongside lakes stocked with so many fish, they'll almost bite bare hooks.
Grand View Lodge
Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area Once a landscape of mining pits and rock stockpiles, the area now attracts recreation enthusiasts with more than 25 miles of mountain bike and paved bike trails, camping, yurts, and lakes with 25 miles of shoreline. In Crosby, rent bikes at Cycle Path. cuyunalakes.com
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. walleyedan.com
Jack Pine Brewery Sample craft brews like the Duck Pond brown ale or Lone Wolf IPA in a 7,400-square-foot brewery with patio. Free brewery tours are offered on Saturday afternoons. jackpinebrewery.com
Paul Bunyan Land Since 1950, families have come to enjoy the talking Paul Bunyan figure, Babe the Blue Ox statue and amusement rides, like the Tilt-a-Whirl and merry-go-round. Guests can also explore Pioneer Village’s 45 historic buildings. paulbunyanland.com
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. paulbunyantrail.com
Shopping Nisswa’s downtown concentrates quality shops into a few blocks: The Chocolate Ox for candies and ice cream; Found: A Curated Life for modern home goods, clothing and accessories; and Buffalo Plaid for “Up North” themed décor. nisswa.com
Turtle Races For the past 57 years in Nisswa, thousands of kids have urged turtles across the finish line with splashes and yells. Register in person. brainerd.com
Antlers Restaurant Chandeliers made from mule deer antlers sparkle over surf-and-turf fine-dining at Whitebirch Golf Course in Breezy Point. breezypointresort.com
The Barn Loose-meat sandwiches, fluffy buttermilk pancakes and slices of homemade pie draw crowds to the Brainerd diner. The Barn Facebook
The Classic Grill Large windows overlook the golf course at Madden’s on Gull Lake resort. Try juicy burgers and pork rib chops. maddens.com
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. lostlake.com
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. grandviewlodge.com
The local 218 Come to the Brainerd restaurant for craft beer and an eclectic menu that includes hamburgers, seafood, seared ahi tuna and fried chicken. local-218.com
Sherwood Forest Regionally inspired foods, such as beer-battered walleye tacos and bison meatloaf sliders, fit in with the early 1900s log cabin design in Nisswa. sherwoodforestmnlodge.com
StoneHouse Coffee and Roastery Enjoy beans roasted in-house and scones made with the Nisswa roastery’s ground wheat. stonehousecoffee.com
Zorbaz A staple of Minnesota’s lake culture, this family-friendly party bar on Gull Lake serves big portions of pizza and Mexican food—and beer, of course. zorbaz.com
Where to stay
Breezy Point Resort The Dockside restaurant has live music, and the double-decker Breezy Belle takes guests out for leisurely lake tours. Lodging ranges from inn rooms to spacious vacation homes. breezypointresort.com
Cragun's Resort and Hotel Families band together for karaoke, horse-drawn trolley rides, bonfires and water-skiing lessons. Most of the 266 cabins and rooms overlook Gull Lake. craguns.com
Grand View Lodge A 60-room boutique hotel opened in 2019, adding to lodging choices that already included cabins, villas and townhomes. Guests can enjoy three golf courses, a spa, indoor and outdoor pools, and lake activities such as paddleboard yoga. grandviewlodge.com
Kavanaugh's Sylvan Lake Resort One- to three-bedroom cottages and condos overlook Sylvan Lake. When you’re not at the beach or on the lake, try recreation options such as indoor and outdoor pools, tennis, rental bikes, and hiking. kavanaughs.com
Lost Lake Lodge It’s small—13 cabins—but service is fantastic, and the dining room dishes up creative fare like smoked salmon with dumplings. Relax on the private beach or get out on the lake in a canoe, kayak or pontoon boat. lostlake.com
Madden's on Gull Lake Families prefer lakeside cabins; golfers score rooms facing fairways. Spend days playing tennis, boating, trap shooting, biking or jumping off the trampoline in the lake. maddens.com
Quarterdeck Resort The main lodge features bright, spacious and recently renovated rooms with balconies overlooking Gull Lake. Beach houses and lakeside cottages accommodate groups. Moor your own boat or rent a pontoon boat to explore Gull Lake. quarterdeckresort.com
For more information visit Brainerd Lakes Chamber explorebrainerdlakes.com