Discover Brainerd Lakes

Nestled in the heart of Minnesota, the Brainerd Lakes area is a scenic paradise filled with picturesque views and many outdoor activities.

Spanning four charming lakeside communities, this region offers visitors and locals an opportunity to immerse themselves in nature while enjoying a relaxing retreat from everyday life. From hiking and biking trails to watersports and fishing excursions, the Brainerd Lakes area promises to cater to individual interests for an unforgettable experience.

As a popular family vacation destination for generations, visitors have always been drawn to the natural beauty of Brainerd Lakes. The famous Paul Bunyan Trail and Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area provide ample opportunities to explore the breathtaking landscapes.

The area is also home to various local attractions and events, including amusement and adventure parks, annual festivals, and the renowned Brainerd International Raceway.


Top 3 Facts About Brainerd Lakes in Minnesota


Lakes Galore

Although the city has relatively few lakes, there are over 460 lakes within 25 miles (40 km) of Brainerd, mainly located north.


Historical Significance

Mining is a significant part of the area’s history. The Croft Mine Historical Park is built on 17 acres of the original Croft Mine and includes an interactive underground mine tour and museum.


Paul Bunyan Land

This amusement park might be the high point of your family’s vacation. They can talk to the animated Paul Bunyan, who’s been greeting visitors since 1954, or explore the park’s rides — there are 27 total!

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Must-See Attractions

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Northland Kart Kountry

Amusement Park

For a thrilling family adventure, Northland Kart Kountry is a must-visit destination. This amusement park offers a variety of activities to entertain visitors of all ages, including several go-kart tracks, batting cages, a bungee bounce, and water wars. Additionally, guests can enjoy mini-golf, jump shot basketball, a climbing wall, bumper boats, and an arcade!

Paul Bunyan Land

Amusement Park

Step back in time at Paul Bunyan Land & This Old Farm, where nostalgic amusement meets historical charm. The park, a staple in Brainerd for over 70 years, combines the excitement of rides like roller coasters and tilt-a-whirls with the quaintness of a pioneer village. You’ll also get entry to This Old Farm, where you can interact with barnyard animals in the petting zoo.

Safari North Wildlife Park 

Wildlife Park

Safari North Wildlife Park offers an unforgettable adventure for wildlife enthusiasts and families. Visitors can engage in unique experiences such as feeding giraffes, riding camels, and walking among parakeets in the landing exhibit. The park also features a safari train expedition, bringing you up close with various animals, including lions, monkeys, antelope, and zebras.

Annual Events and Festivals

February 3, 2024

The Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza

Brainerd’s Ice Fishing Extravaganza is held annually on Gull Lake, the world’s largest charitable ice fishing contest. Founded in 1991, this event offers a competitive ice fishing experience and contributes to local charities, with more than $4 million donated to date. There’s plenty for winners, too, with $150,000 in cash and prizes up for grabs.

February 10, 2024

Kites Over Brainerd Lakes

Every February, a large splash of color competes against the region’s stark whiteness during the annual Kites Over Brainer Lakes festival. This family-friendly event features a breathtaking display of kites flown by professional and amateur kite enthusiasts. It’s a perfect occasion for families and individuals alike to enjoy the simple pleasure of kite flying, bringing a sense of joy and community spirit to the crisp winter air.

July – August, 2024

Brainerd International Raceway

For motorsport enthusiasts, the Brainerd International Raceway is an adrenaline-pumping destination. During July and August, the raceway becomes a hub of excitement, hosting some of the most thrilling car races in the region. This event offers an electrifying experience for spectators, with the roar of engines and the high-speed action providing an unforgettable day out for fans of all ages.

Top Hiking Trails

Paul Bunyan Trail

Crow Wing State Park to Lake Bemidji State Park

Experience the scenic beauty of the country’s longest continuously paved rail trail with the Paul Bunyan State Trail. This 115-mile path offers a fantastic journey from Crow Wing State Park to Lake Bemidji State Park, winding through small towns and lush landscapes. Suitable for biking, hiking, and inline skating, the trail is mostly level and accessible, with some challenging rolling hills and curves scattered throughout.

Crow Wing State Park

3124 State Park Road, Brainerd, MN

Crow Wing State Park is an excellent choice for a historical hike combining natural beauty and a glimpse into the past. Starting from the picnic area, you can explore the old Crow Wing Town Site at the confluence of the Mississippi and Crow Wing rivers, where informative signs detail the frontier town’s history. The hike also offers a chance to climb the stairs to Chippewa Lookout, standing high above the Mississippi River for breathtaking expansive views.

Pillsbury State Forest

County Road 77 – Brainerd Area

Venture through the dense forests of Pillsbury State Forest, where a network of trails leads you through a mix of deciduous and coniferous trees. This forested area is dotted with small lakes and ponds, making it a great place to spot wildlife and beavers at work. Additionally, the forest is home to various wildflowers, including the rare yellow lady’s-slipper.

Best Golf Courses

Deacon’s Lodge – Breezy Point Resort

9348 Arnold Palmer Dr., Breezy Point, MN

A true masterpiece by Arnold Palmer, Deacon’s Lodge is an exceptional golf course that weaves through a stunning landscape of lakes, woodlands, and wetlands. This 18-hole championship course is known for its wide bentgrass fairways and beautifully designed green complexes. It has garnered numerous accolades, including being listed among America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses by Golf Digest, and is a top choice for golfers of all skill levels​.

The Classic – Madden’s on Gull Lake

11266 Pine Beach Peninsula, Brainerd, MN

Renowned for its place among America’s Top 100 Greatest Public Courses and awarded 5 Stars by Golf Digest, The Classic at Madden’s is a par 72 course that offers a distinct and traditional golfing experience. Designed by Scott Hoffmann, the course is known for its challenging yet unique holes, set amidst towering oaks and stunning northern landscapes. It’s a course that tests your skills and captivates you with its beauty, making it a favored choice for golfers visiting the Brainerd area​​​​​​.

The Pines – Grand View Lodge

23521 Nokomis Ave., Nisswa, MN

At The Pines, golfers are treated to a picturesque journey through 27 holes, divided into the Lakes, Woods, and Marsh nines. This “player’s course” offers a diverse and challenging experience amidst Minnesota’s rich forest landscape. The course is complemented by a full-featured practice facility and a clubhouse with amenities, making it a well-rounded and enjoyable destination for golf enthusiasts.

Water Sports

Gull Lake Cruises

Boat Tours

Set sail on the beautiful Gull Lake aboard the luxurious North Star yacht for a perfect blend of fine dining and sightseeing. Choose between day and evening cruises, and enjoy the area’s top-notch cuisine, fine wines, beers, and signature cocktails. The yacht features an outdoor observation deck for soaking in the scenic views and an indoor salon for ultimate comfort. The cruise operates from mid-May through mid-October and is perfect for any special occasion or a relaxed outing​.

Minnesota School of Diving

Scuba Diving lessons and excursions

For those interested in exploring underwater, the Minnesota School of Diving provides a range of services for scuba diving and snorkeling enthusiasts. Since 1959, they have offered quality PADI scuba instruction, equipment sales, and rentals. Local scuba diving excursions are available at the Cuyuna Mine Pits, and they organize dive travel both domestically and worldwide. This is an excellent opportunity for both beginners and experienced divers to explore the underwater world in a safe and guided environment.

Boats and Beyond Rentals

Boat Rentals & Jetski Rentals

If you’re keen on independently exploring the lakes, Boats and Beyond Rentals offers a variety of boats and jet skis for rent. Their fleet includes pontoons, tritoons, ski boats, fishing boats, and personal watercraft, all professionally maintained for safety and enjoyment. Conveniently located in the heart of the Brainerd Lakes Area, they offer rentals for use on Gull Lake, or you can opt for their delivery service to other nearby lakes.

Winter Activities

Ice Fishing

The Brainerd Lakes Area is a haven for ice fishing enthusiasts, offering abundant opportunities to catch various fish in the winter months, including crappie, bluegill, northern pike, and walleye. The area is home to numerous lakes, making it ideal for drilling a hole and dropping a line. Local resorts and ice house rental companies often provide the equipment for a comfortable and enjoyable ice fishing experience. 


Brainerd Lakes is also an excellent destination for snowmobiling, offering miles of well-maintained trails that traverse the beautiful winter landscape. These trails connect various parts of the region, providing a unique way to explore the area and enjoy the snowy scenery. Local businesses and resorts often offer snowmobile rentals and necessary gear, making it easy for both beginners and experienced riders to participate in this exhilarating winter sport.

Cross Country Skiing

Cross-country skiing is a wonderful option for those who prefer a quieter, more scenic winter activity. The Brainerd Lakes area boasts several trails suitable for all skill levels, from beginners to advanced skiers. These trails wind through picturesque forests and across frozen lakes, offering a peaceful way to experience the region’s natural beauty in winter. Equipment rentals are available at various locations, making it easy for everyone to enjoy this refreshing outdoor activity.

Where to Eat

Dunmire’s Bar & Grill

$$ – $$$ • Classic Minnesotan

Blue Oyster

$ – $$ • American

Notch 8

$$ • Pizza, Burgers & More

Where to Shop

Bells and Blossom Boutique

Clothing Store

Little Hobo Boutique

Gift Shop

The Gallery

Clothing store

Where to Sleep

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Tips on Renting a Vacation Home in Brainerd Lakes

Location and Lake Access

Brainerd Lakes is renowned for its numerous lakes, each offering unique experiences. Decide whether you want a serene, secluded spot or a location closer to towns for easy access to amenities. Consider rentals with direct lake access if you’re interested in water activities like boating, fishing, or swimming.

Seasonal Considerations

The Brainerd Lakes area offers different experiences based on the season. Summer is perfect for water activities and hiking, while winter is great for ice fishing, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing. Spring and fall offer beautiful natural scenery with fewer crowds. Choose your rental period based on the activities you are most interested in.

Local Attractions and Activities

Brainerd Lakes is filled with opportunities for outdoor adventures, dining, shopping, and cultural experiences. Plan some activities in advance and consider the proximity of these attractions to your rental and what gear and clothing you might need to bring along. Whether you’re into golfing, hiking, or exploring local history, the area has something to offer.

Budget and Booking Time

Your budget will influence your choices. For better deals, consider booking during the off-peak season. Early reservations are generally recommended, especially for summer stays when the area is most popular. Look for rentals that offer the best balance of cost and comfort for your needs.

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Going Deeper On Brainerd Lakes

The Brainerd Lakes area in Minnesota has a history deeply rooted in the coexistence of native Ojibwe people and European settlers. Zebulon Pike first encountered the region during his 1805 exploration of the Mississippi River’s headwaters, and the area’s development initially centered around Crow Wing Village, a fur and logging community. The relationship between settlers and Native Americans was complex, as demonstrated by the “Blueberry War” of 1872, a notable event that underscored tensions and misunderstandings of the era.

Brainerd’s establishment as a city is credited to John Gregory Smith, president of the Northern Pacific Railroad, who named it after his wife and father-in-law in 1870. The city initially functioned as a strategic railroad point and experienced significant growth. However, its development faced a setback in 1876 when its charter was revoked due to a controversial mayoral election.

The early 20th century saw Brainerd’s evolution from a railroad town to a more diversified economy, with paper and service industries becoming predominant. Today, Brainerd is a vibrant community known for its historical significance and as a central hub in the Brainerd Lakes area, balancing its rich past with modern development.

Frequently Asked Questions About Brainerd Lakes

There are many popular day trips you can take from Brainerd. You can visit Pine Grove Zoo in Little Falls or Safari North Park in Brainerd for animal lovers. Another popular destination is the legendary Paul Bunyan’s Animal Land in Bemidji, MN. 

Yes, Brainerd Lakes is an excellent destination for family vacations. The region offers activities for all ages, including water sports, amusement parks, mini-golf, and wildlife watching. There are also several family-friendly resorts and lodgings that cater to the needs of families with children.

The best time to visit Brainerd Lakes depends on the activities you’re interested in. Summer (June to August) is perfect for water-based activities and outdoor adventures. Winter (December to February) is ideal for snowmobiling, ice fishing, and skiing. The shoulder seasons of spring and fall offer quieter escapes with beautiful natural scenery.

The Brainerd Lakes area has numerous resorts, each offering unique accommodations and activities. Some popular resorts include Madden’s on Gull Lake, Cragun’s Resort, and Grand View Lodge. Depending on your chosen resort, you can enjoy amenities like golfing, spa services, indoor and outdoor pools, and various dining options. Remember to take advantage of water activities on the pristine lakes.

The population of the Brainerd Lakes Area can vary greatly depending on the season, as it’s a popular vacation destination. The population of Brainerd, MN, is approximately 13,000, but the surrounding communities also contribute to the overall population. During peak seasons, you can expect a bustling atmosphere, which becomes more tranquil during the off-season.

Yes, Brainerd Lakes has several cultural and historical attractions. You can explore the history of the region at the Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum or visit the Mille Lacs Indian Museum. The area also hosts various cultural events and festivals throughout the year.

Muskoka is known for its picturesque towns and charming villages. Some popular towns you can visit include Bracebridge, Gravenhurst, Huntsville, and Port Carling. Each town offers its unique attractions, shops, and restaurants, making them perfect stopovers during your exploration of the Muskoka region.

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