Top Things to Do in Brainerd Lakes, Minnesota

For generations, dozens of resorts in the Brainerd area—130 miles northwest of the Twin Cities—have drawn travelers seeking laid-back lake escapes.

Lost Lake Brainerd Lakes area
Lost Lake. Photo: John Noltner

What to Do

Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area

Once a landscape of mining pits and rock stockpiles, Cuyuna Country State Recreation 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.


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.

Paul Bunyan Land
Paul Bunyan Land. John Noltner

Paul Bunyan Land

Since 1950, families have come to Paul Bunyan Land 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.

Paul Bunyan State Trail

Bring your bike to explore this 112-mile paved path, or rent one from a local shop.


Nisswa's downtown concentrates quality shops into a few blocks: The Chocolate Ox for candies and ice cream or Found: A Curated Life for modern home goods.

Where to Eat and Drink

Antlers Restaurant

Chandeliers made from mule deer antlers sparkle over surf-and-turf fine-dining at Whitebirch Golf Course in Breezy Point.

The Barn

Loose-meat sandwiches, fluffy buttermilk pancakes and slices of homemade pie draw crowds to the Brainerd diner.

The Classic Grill

Large windows overlook the golf course at Madden's on Gull Lake resort. Try juicy burgers and pork rib chops.

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.

Northwoods Pub

For affordable dining at Grand View Lodge, stop at the pub for 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.

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.

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.

StoneHouse Coffee and Roastery

Enjoy beans roasted in-house and scones made with the Nisswa roastery's ground wheat.


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.

Staffers at Grand View Lodge help guests light a fire for s'mores.
Grand View Lodge. John Noltner

Where to Stay

Breezy Point Resort

The Dockside restaurant at Breezy Point 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.

Cragun's Resort and Hotel

Families band together at Cragun's for karaoke, horse-drawn trolley rides, bonfires and water-skiing lessons. Most of the cabins and rooms overlook Gull Lake.

Grand View Lodge

A recently opened 60-room boutique hotel added to Grand View's 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.

Kavanaugh's Sylvan Lake Resort

One- to three-bedroom cottages and condos at Kavanaugh's 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.

Lost Lake Lodge

Lost Lake is 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.

Madden's on Gull Lake

Families prefer lakeside cabins; golfers score rooms facing fairways. Spend days at Madden's playing tennis, boating, trap shooting, biking or jumping off the trampoline in the lake.

Nature Link

Minimalist modern cottages at the new Nisswa resort have floor-to-ceiling windows framing white pines and Clark Lake. Future plans call for a lakefront hotel as well.

Midwest resort revival
Quarterdeck Resort. Ackerman + Gruber

Quarterdeck Resort

The main lodge at Quarterdeck 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.

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