Explore Brainerd Lakes, Minnesota
Published: Tuesday, September 1, 2020
By: Trisha Reilley
The Brainerd Lakes Area is centrally located in Minnesota—about 2½ hours north of Minneapolis/St. Paul and about 2 hours west of Lake Superior. The Brainerd Lakes Area is a region made up of several small communities: Brainerd/Baxter, Crosslake, Cuyuna Lakes, Nisswa, and Pequot Lakes. Each has its own character and charm, yet each is connected by its abundant resources. Nestled among the pines and surrounded by lakes, the Brainerd Lakes Area is easy to get to, but hard to leave. Come see why we’re known as a vacation destination for families, boating aficionados, and anyone who enjoys the outdoors.
Gull Chain of Lakes
The Gull Chain of Lakes is in the heart of the Brainerd/Baxter area and is one of the most popular lakes in the state. The Chain includes eight lakes and connecting channels covering 13,000 acres. You can boat all the way from the southern end of the lake (near the Baxter city limits) north to Nisswa. There are docks to tie up your boat and take the walking path into downtown Nisswa. From there, you can enjoy shopping, a brewery, and restaurants.
The Gull Chain is home to several species of fish and is quite the walleye lake (Minnesota’s state fish) for those who would like to cast for the catch of the day.
Gull Lake has some award-winning luxury resorts on its shores, too. You’ll find several lakeside restaurants perfect for grabbing a bite to eat and watching the sunset. Many places have free live music and outdoor patios perfect for sipping a cold beverage and letting your cares wash away.
Whitefish Chain of Lakes
The Whitefish Chain of Lakes has 14 interconnected lakes, 119 miles of shoreline, and 14,000 acres. Along the shores is the city of Crosslake with its small town charm. It’s the quintessential lake destination.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Recreation Area offers a great place to have a picnic and launch your boat. Feel the power of the water and walk across the Pine River dam. It dates back to 1885 (but has since been rebuilt) and is responsible for controlling the water flow and lake levels of the Whitefish Chain. Along the shoreline at the recreation area, you’ll find a massive 1,000 feet of shoreline restoration as part of the ongoing National Loon Center project. This project will improve water quality, wildlife habitats, and add a new boardwalk and boat mooring for easy public lake access.
The Whitefish Chain is a very popular destination with vacationers and avid boaters. You can spend the whole day cruising from one lake to the next. You’ll also find several resorts and lakeside restaurants for casual dining. There’s nothing better than a summer evening on the water.
Pelican Lake is located north of Brainerd/Baxter near Pequot Lakes. It covers 8,367 acres and is a beautiful, shallow lake. While Pelican Lake isn’t part of a chain of lakes, it’s an excellent choice for a more laid back vibe. Pelican Lake is known for its water clarity, sandy bottom, and good walleye fishing.
The historic Breezy Point Resort is on Pelican Lake with lots of amenities, dock space, entertainment, and dining options. Breezy Point Resort was once a mecca for the rich and famous during the Roaring 20s.
Bay Lake is another beautiful lake, this one located on the eastern edge of the Brainerd Lakes Area. It has 24 miles of shoreline and unique topography since it has three islands and plenty of bays to boat around and explore.
Easy Lake Access
We’re fortunate that you don’t have to live on a lake to easily access our waters. The vast majority of lakes have at least one—many lakes have multiple—public boat accesses. Most have concrete ramps in the water that make launching your boat and taking it out again easy. Most are free or have a nominal fee.
Family Fun Off the Water
While there’s no denying that there are plenty of lake activities to do here, there’s also fun to be had on land. Take a visit to the iconic Paul Bunyan Land Amusement Park where a talking animated 26’ lumberjack has been greeting kids by name since 1954. If you feel the need for speed, head to Brainerd International Raceway (BIR). BIR is nationally known for its drag racing, and it also has a road racing course. If you’re feeling adventurous, head to the Brainerd Zip Line Tour. With its seven-line ziplines, it’s the best bird’s eye view of the Brainerd Lakes and Gull Lake.
There’s Something in the Water
The Brainerd Lakes Area is becoming a well-known hub of tap rooms and even a new distilling company. In the Brainerd/Baxter Area, try Jack Pine Brewery, Roundhouse Brewery, and 5Rocks Distilling Company. 5Rocks is the only craft distillery within 75 miles of the Brainerd Lakes Area. They feature vodka, gin, bourbon whiskey, a cocktail room, or to-go cocktail kits. In downtown Nisswa, you’ll find Big Axe Brewery, while Crosslake is home to 14 Lakes Brewery. Whether you like hoppy IPAs or prefer light beer, each brewery has its specialty and offers variety for you to choose from.
The Brainerd Lakes Area has lodging options to fit everyone’s style and budget. With nearly 80 properties to choose from, it’s impossible to whittle that down to just a few. You’ll find large luxury resorts, hotels with indoor water parks, campgrounds, and small resorts across the region from both on the larger chains of lakes (Gull and Whitefish) to the smaller, quieter lakes.
Begin your adventure at www.explorebrainerdlakes.com.
Events that Plan to Return in 2021
Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at BIR
The world’s best drag racers and the fastest cars all come to BIR. Generally takes place the third weekend in August.
Brainerd Ski Loons Shows
The Brainerd Ski Loons host weekly ski shows throughout the summer in Brainerd’s Lum Park where you see pyramids, ballet lines, kids ski lines, doubles, trios, and barefoot lines.
This article first appeared in the Fall Issue (Sep/Oct) 2020 of Great Lakes Scuttlebutt magazine.