Featured Photo by Explore Minnesota

The Best Outdoor Experiences Near The Brainerd Lakes Area!

Brainerd, MN

Minnesota is full of amazing outdoor experiences from the beautiful North Shore of Lake Superior to charming river towns on the Mississippi River. One area in Minnesota that has the best of both worlds is the Brainerd Lakes area, near Brainerd, Minnesota. Located right on the Mississippi River in central Minnesota, Brainerd, Mille Lacs, and the surrounding areas are also home to the Brainerd Lakes, making it a hub for wildlife, outdoor recreation, and water sports.

The Brainerd Lakes area has some of the state’s biggest lakes, world-class golf destinations, and endless outdoor recreation opportunities. It is an ideal destination all year long for summer getaways and winter vacations. Here are a few of the best outdoor experiences the region has to offer.

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If you ever find yourself in Minnesota, making time for a lake excursion is always a must. Being the land of 10,000 lakes, there are plenty of options to choose from, but the Brainerd and Mille Lacs areas in central Minnesota are a great place to start. More than 500 lakes make up the Brainerd Lakes, providing you with endless opportunities for boating, water skiing, canoeing, kayaking, and paddleboarding. If you’re a fisherman, the lakes also provide great waters for fishing, including species like bass, perch, northern pike, muskie, crappie, and walleye. The Brainerd Lakes are perfect for a bright summer day, foggy fall morning, or brisk winter weekend, so you can plan a visit all year long.

In the summer months swimming and relaxing may be more your forte, if so you don’t need to look any further than North Long Lake, Pelican Lake, or Lake Mille Lacs. These lakes feature popular public beaches, especially at Father Hennepin State Park in Mille Lacs. Visitors can also experience the lakes on a cruise, like those offered by Gull Lake Cruises on Gull Lake and the Breezy Belle on Pelican Lake. Gull Lake also houses some of the state’s largest resorts along its shore and connects to seven other lakes, making it the perfect spot to stay during your central Minnesota vacation.

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Along with water recreation, Brainerd Lakes has become a haven for other outdoor activities, especially with the many designated recreational areas and trails throughout the region. Bicyclists are in for a treat as the area features a variety of trails including paved trail experiences, mountain biking, and state forest trail experiences. Head to Paul Bunyan Trail to ride on the longest continually paved bike trail in Minnesota and cruise through popular tourist destinations like Nisswa, Pequot Lakes, and Bemidji. Or you can seek out more thrilling rides at Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area and Pillsbury State Forest for miles of mountain biking fun at varying levels.

All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) riders can also enjoy the Brainerd Lakes area on various trails in Mille Lacs. One option for riding is the Soo Line North Trail, which serves as the ultimate ATV trail connector in Minnesota. You can enjoy 48-miles of flat and easy riding on your way to other trails in the area including the Rabey Line Trail, Blind Lake Connector and Loop, Hill City Trail, and Lawler Loops. For more difficult riding, you’ll want to head to the Red Top Trail. Here you’ll find 25 miles of more challenging terrain for riders of all skill levels.

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Most commonly known for its lakes, the Brainerd Lakes area is also known for being a golf destination with its acclaimed golf courses that draw avid golf enthusiasts. If you can imagine the beautiful scenery from the North woods acting as a backdrop, it’s no surprise these golf courses are known for their design as much as their experience, which is one reason for their popularity. The area is also well-known because nowhere else in Minnesota can you find over 20 affordable, playable, and accessible golf courses so close together in one spot. With a variety of resort-style courses and 7 championship courses, there’s a course for everyone in the Brainerd Lakes area.

Some popular acclaimed courses you might want to check out are Madden’s On Gull Lake, Cragun’s Legacy Courses, Grand View, Breezy Point, and Ruttger’s Bay Lake Lodge. These courses are an experience in and of themselves with the beautiful views of the lakes and guarantee an enjoyable round of golf by yourself or with a group. If you are traveling with kids, the Brainerd Lakes area also offers some fun miniature golf experiences such as Pirates Cove and Northland Kart Kountry.

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With all of the lakes and forests in the area, Brainerd Lakes is the perfect spot for bird lovers to spend some time in beautiful Minnesota outdoors and birdwatch. While you may catch a glimpse or two of a variety of birds while enjoying other outdoor recreation in the area, the best way to view them is by going birding. Bird watchers will see bald eagles and loons, among many other varieties of birds, and can enjoy viewing them in their natural habitats.

To have the best time bird watching, you can book a tour with MN Backyard Birds and local guide and bird expert Judd Brink will help you have the best bird viewing experience. MN Backyard Birds offers a variety of tours depending on which species you’d like to see. However, if you would rather go out on your own or with your own group instead, some great places to go birding are Crow Wing State Park and the Northland Arboretum.

Content Writer and Social Media Coordinator. I paint, listen to music, and play with my dogs a lot. When I’m not doing all that, I love to read and try new things.

Maeve Miller

Writer, River Travel Magazine