Brainerd, Minnesota and its surrounding area provide an outdoor paradise that boasts over 500 lakes, multiple rivers, gorgeous forests, and pristine parks. During the summer, the area is perfect for boating, jet skiing, biking, wakeboarding, kayaking, and golfing. Once the snow starts falling, it’s time to get ready for snowmobiling, snowboarding, skiing, tubing, and snowshoeing.
1.Paul Bunyan State Trail
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Paul Bunyan State Trail is a 115-mile-long recreational rail trail that stretches from Lake Bemidji State Park to Crow Wing State Park in north-central Minnesota. This trail is Minnesota’s longest state trail, and also the country’s longest continuously paved rail trail. When the trail isn’t covered in snow, it’s ideal for outdoor recreational activities that include walking, running, skateboarding, biking, hiking, and rollerblading. During the winter the trail provides the perfect opportunity for snowmobiling on some of Minnesota’s famously fresh, powdery snow. Visitors will enjoy the vibrant flower blossoms during the spring, the marvelous display of color offered by the trees in the fall, and the abundant wildlife that can be viewed all year long.
Brainerd, MN, Phone: 651-296-6157
2.Safari North Wildlife Park
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Safari North Wildlife Park is a private zoo and conservation center situated just off of State Highway 371 in Brainerd, Minnesota. The park aims to promote preservation and conservation through affordable, safe, and memorable experiences within a quality educational environment. Visitors will have the opportunity to explore the park’s hundreds of animal species that include primates, reptiles, birds, and mammals. The continent-inspired exhibits include Australia, South America, Asia, Africa, and North America – with their respective animal species. Popular animal enclosures to explore include the grizzly bears, bald eagle, giraffe, striped hyena, kangaroo, white Bengal tigers, spotted leopard, and black leopard. The zoo has a gift shop and a snack shack equipped with sandwiches, pizza, nachos, and slushies.
8493 State Highway 371, Brainerd, MN, Phone: 218-454-1662
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Gull Lake is a beautiful lake situated in Cass and Crow Wing Counties, near Baxter and Brainerd, Minnesota. The lake is the largest in the area and boasts the largest shoreline to go along with it. The area around the lake is highly developed with residential and commercial properties, including 19 resorts. Gull Lake plays host to the annual Brainerd Ice Fishing Extravaganza, a fun, charitable, ice-fishing contest featuring over 20,000 ice-fishing holes. There are a variety of exciting lake activities to enjoy that include riding wave runners, boating, wakeboarding, waterskiing, tubing, fishing, and swimming. No matter the time of year, Gull Lake is fun for the entire family.
4.Brainerd International Raceway
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The Upper Midwest’s largest racetrack, Brainerd International Raceway is a racing complex offering road courses and a dragstrip in Brainerd, Minnesota. The complex features an incredibly diverse motorsports schedule that includes car shows, cruising events, drifting and autocross competitions, Superbike racing, endurance racing, road racing, and drag racing. The complex is even equipped with a small lake for watercross – snowmobile racing on open water. The big event everyone waits for is Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals. It happens each August. The best drag racers in the world drive some of the fastest dragsters in the world in front of thousands of energetic fans. Those brave enough to camp in the complex’s infamous Zoo Campground are sure to have a one-of-a-kind experience.
5523 Birchdale Road, Brainerd, MN, Phone: 218-824-7223
5.Paul Bunyan Land
© Paul Bunyan Land
Paul Bunyan Land is a roadside amusement park with a historic village situated along State Highway 18 in Brainerd, Minnesota. The amusement park has been creating wonderful memories since opening in 1954, and has been a popular attraction for locals and visitors in the Brainerd Lakes region. The park features several carnival-style rides that include the Ferris Wheel, Merry-Go-Round, Space Shuttle, and Mini Himalaya. Patrons will also have the opportunity to explore Pioneer Village, one of the largest collections of antiques in the state, where they’ll experience historical relics from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. Paul Bunyan Land offers visitors a day filled with unique attractions, fun rides, and interesting Minnesota history.
17553 State Highway 18, Brainerd, MN, Phone: 218-764-2524
6.Mount Ski Gull
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Mount Ski Gull is a ski resort located in the Pillsbury State Forest overlooking Gull Lake in Nisswa, Minnesota. The resort operates as a registered non-profit, putting the focus on providing affordable and equal accessibility to all who wish to experience Mount Ski Gull. There’s also an emphasis on offering challenging activities in an environment that’s both fun and healthy, that will empower young people to develop competency, confidence, and compassion. During the winter months the resort offers ideal conditions for snowboarding, skiing, and tubing – all in one location. The resort is equipped with a lodge where patrons can get hot coco and bite to eat, as well as grab ski, snowboard, and tube rentals.
9898 County Road 77 Southwest, Nisswa, MN, Phone: 218-963-7587
7.Mille Lacs Lake
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Mille Lacs Lake is situated within Crow Wing, Mille Lacs, and Aitkin Counties in Minnesota, and recognized as the state’s second largest lake. The lake sprawls out to an impressive 132,516 acres, has a maximum depth of 42 feet, and features two islands that comprise Mille Lacs National Wildlife Refuge – the country’s smallest wildlife refuge. Fishing here is incredible, as the lake is teeming with fish species that include walleye, largemouth bass, northern pike, muskie, and others. The lake is also perfect for water activities that include boating, jet skiing, wakeboarding, water skiing, tubing, and swimming. Visitors will enjoy fresh Minnesota air, beautiful blue skies, and breathtaking views during their trip to the lake.
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Northland Arboretum is a non-profit nature reserve and arboretum situated about a mile from downtown Brainerd, Minnesota. The arboretum has dedicated its focus to ensuring the community is both aware and involved in critical aspects of nature. All year round the arboretum boasts magnificent displays of nature and beauty, offering well-manicured trails for peaceful walks, hiking, cross country skiing, and snowshoeing. During the summer, visitors can learn about plants, animals, and recycling at one of the arboretum’s weekly nature talks. The arboretum even offers a fun scavenger hunt for patrons to enjoy, they’ll win prizes for finding the golden rock. Whether for outdoor recreation, a little relaxation, or to learn about nature, the arboretum has a little something for everyone.
14250 Conservation Drive, Brainerd, MN, Phone: 218-829-8770
9.Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum and Library
© Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum and Library
Visitors will find Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum and Library located in the heart of downtown Brainerd, Minnesota. The museum has been keeping record of Crow Wing County history for the last 91 years. The structure is comprised of three floors featuring unique exhibits that include displays of lumber, railroad, and mining industries. Visitors will have the opportunity to explore a completely restored home whose history dates back to the early 1900s. Patrons will also have the chance to dive into history at the museum’s research library, complete with hundreds of historical books, maps, and photographs. Visitors to the Brainerd, Crow Wing County area will definitely want to add this historical gem to their list of stops.
320 Laurel Steet, Brainerd, MN, Phone: 218-829-3268
10.Ernie’s on Gull
© Ernie’s on Gull
Ernie’s on Gull is a casual, American restaurant situated on the shores of Gull Lake, just steps from Gull Point in Brainerd, Minnesota. The restaurant features a sensational menu that embraces many of the area’s staple dishes expertly prepared by the Executive Chef and their talented culinary team. The divers menu provides a wide variety of options for diners to choose from, and is constantly being updated as the restaurant moves from one season to the next. Visitors will enjoy menu favorites ranging from Hand-Cut Walleye Fingers to Avocado Tacos to Bacon Brussel Sprouts to their famous Lobster Bisque. As they dine, guests will take in breathtaking views of the lake while receiving exceptional service from the restaurant’s friendly staff.
10424 Squaw Point Road, Brainerd, MN, Phone: 218-829-3918
11.This Old Farm
© This Old Farm
This Old Farm is part of Paul Bunyan Land, and is located just off of State Highway 18 in Brainerd, Minnesota. For more than 60 years this roadside attraction has been entertaining visitors with its 26-foot-tall animated and talking Paul Bunyan statue. The park provides an entire day of fun for the whole family with amusement park rides that include the Tilt-A-Whirl, Space Shuttle, Zumur Wings, Merry-Go-Round, Ferris Wheel, and Long Train Ride. Also on the property is Pioneer Village, an area complete with 30 historical buildings dating back to the 1800s including a fire station, train depot, saloon, and blacksmith shop. Admission includes access to Pioneer Village and the petting barn, and unlimited rides at the amusement park.
17553 State Highway 18, Brainerd, MN, Phone: 218-764-2524
12.Brainerd Zip Line Tour
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Brainerd Zip Line Tour is situated in Pillsbury State Forest, just steps from the shimmering Gull Lake in Nisswa, Minnesota. For visitors wanting to add a little excitement to their Brainerd Lakes vacation, the zip line tour provides the thrilling outdoor adventure they’re seeking. The tour weaves down and across Mount Ski Gull, featuring an adrenaline-pumping, seven-line course, an Indiana-Jones-style suspension bridge, an optional free-fall of 50 feet, and breathtaking 15-mile views over the Brainerd Lakes area. Visitors will soar through fresh Minnesota air as they take in marvelous forest and lake views during their 2.5 hour tour. Brainerd Zip Line Tour offers an area activity that is safe, unique, and fun for the whole family.
9898 County Road 77 Southwest, Nisswa, MN, Phone: 218-316-6584
© Roundhouse Brewery
Delivering superior craft beer in a historical setting, Roundhouse Brewery has quickly gained popularity among locals and visitors alike in Brainerd, Minnesota. Starting with quality ingredients and the passion for pursuing an exceptional pint, the brewery aims to create, brew, and distribute unrivaled beer to the people in the Brainerd Lakes region and beyond. The brewery gets its name from old, turn-table-type structures used to repair and maintain trains, and is situated just steps from the location of where one once stood. The interior features exposed brick, exposed HVAC ducting for an industrial look, stool-height wood tables, wood picnic tables, a knotty pine bar, and chalkboard menus. Popular draft choices include the Golden Spike IPA and Lunchbucket Ale.
1551 Northern Pacific Road, Brainerd, MN, Phone: 218-454-2739
14.Jack Pine Brewery
© Jack Pine Brewery
Jack Pine Brewery is a sleek, modern brewery and taproom located along State Highway 371 in Baxter, Minnesota. Patrick Sundberg started where most brew master’s start, out of his home, and for 12 years tweaked, competed with, and judged his own beer before finally launching Jack Pine in 2013. The brewery provides quality craft beer selections that range from dark to light, hoppy to malty, and everything in between. They also offer a delicious, award-winning pepper beer that’s great for spicing things up. The interior is spacious, features industrial design, vintage beer barrels, and rustic décor. A few of the favorites include Hornets Nest (Nitro) Pale Wheat Ale, Ice Out IPA, and the Barbwire IPA.
15593 Edgewood Drive, Baxter, MN, Phone: 218-270-8072
15.Gull Lake Cruises
© Gull Lake Cruises
Gull Lake Cruises is a cruise agency offering luxury charters aboard the North Star yacht on Gull Lake in Brainerd, Minnesota. Visitors can escape the everyday worries and stress with a peaceful cruise around the lake’s majestic waters. They’ll have the opportunity to relax the day away while enjoying some of the area’s finest fare, an extensive wine list, imported and domestic beers, and signature craft cocktails. The North Star offers day and evening public cruises, and can also be chartered privately for any occasion. The yacht features an observation deck that gives passengers the perfect chance to take in fresh Minnesota air, marvelous lake views, and maybe even a picture-perfect sunset.
11000 Craguns Drive, Brainerd, MN 56401, Phone: 888-974-6206
16.Glacial Waters Spa
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Glacial Waters Spa is located at the Grand View Lodge Spa & Golf Resort, just steps from shimmering Gull Lake in Nisswa, Minnesota. The spa uses mineral-rich water collected from the area’s ancient glacial lakes. Crystal pure lakes have long been known to provide rejuvenating and healing properties. The spa believes this water is the key to restoring the natural balance to one’s body, mind, and spirit. The spa features rejuvenating body massages that include Deep Tissue, Stone, Golfer’s, and Grand Relaxation. They also have The Grand Glow, The Indulgence, and the Moroccan Ritual body treatments available. Don’t forget the spa’s popular hydrotherapy treatments including Calming Waters, Moroccan Rain, and Glacial Rain.
23521 Nokomis Avenue, Nisswa, MN, Phone: 218-963-8700
17.Green Lantern Bar & Grill
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Green Lantern Bar & Grill is a casual restaurant serving classic American fare, situated just off of State Highway 18 in Brainerd, Minnesota. The exterior features a maroon paint color, cobblestone around the base of the building, and a handful of patio tables with umbrellas, and chairs. As soon as visitors enter the diner they’ll be met with warm, Minnesota hospitality, welcomed aromas from the kitchen, and a relaxed atmosphere. The interior is equipped with knotty pine, diner-style tables and chairs, booths, a full-service bar, and flat-screen TVs. Diners will enjoy menu favorites that include the Blue Burger, BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich, Green Lucy Burger, and Pan Fried Tilapia.
13184 County Road 8 Southeast, Brainerd, MN, Phone: 218-764-2323
17 Best Things to do in Brainerd, Minnesota
- Paul Bunyan State Trail, Photo: Courtesy of stars_hjp - Fotolia.com
- Safari North Wildlife Park, Photo: Courtesy of Syda Productions - Fotolia.com
- Gull Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Viktor Fedorenko - Fotolia.com
- Brainerd International Raceway, Photo: Courtesy of jk1991 - Fotolia.com
- Paul Bunyan Land, Photo: Paul Bunyan Land
- Mount Ski Gull, Photo: Courtesy of Natali - Fotolia.com
- Mille Lacs Lake, Photo: Courtesy of johnsroad7 - Fotolia.com
- Northland Arboretum, Photo: Courtesy of david léotard - Fotolia.com
- Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum and Library, Photo: Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum and Library
- Ernie’s on Gull, Photo: Ernie’s on Gull
- This Old Farm, Photo: This Old Farm
- Brainerd Zip Line Tour, Photo: Courtesy of Brocreative - Fotolia.com
- Roundhouse Brewery, Photo: Roundhouse Brewery
- Jack Pine Brewery, Photo: Jack Pine Brewery
- Gull Lake Cruises, Photo: Gull Lake Cruises
- Glacial Waters Spa, Photo: Courtesy of fotofabrika - Fotolia.com
- Green Lantern Bar & Grill, Photo: Courtesy of Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of johnsroad7 - Fotolia.com