For many Minnesotans, the Brainerd Lakes area is an awesome place to get away with so many amazing things to do. Brainerd is located only two hours from the Twin Cities making it the most ideal place for a quick weekend getaway or a week-long family fun vacation.
We love visiting the Brainerd Lakes area for this very reason. So close to home yet so far away to get away from all the hustle and bustle life brings. Brainerd has an abundance of nature and lakes with plenty of things to do for the entire family.
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Directions to Brainerd
You can fly straight in at the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport and you are right there for all the fun. Getting to Brainerd is an easy drive. Below are directions on how to get to Brainerd from its close vicinity.
From Minneapolis/ Saint Paul
From the Twin Cities, take Interstate 94 west to the Clearwater/Annandale exit (#178). Turn right through Clearwater and Clear Lake. In Clear Lake, take Highway 10 west past St. Cloud and Little Falls to Highway 371 Brainerd. Stay on Highway 371 to Baxter.
Take I-35 south to Highway 210 exit (#235) toward Carlton/Cromwell. (0.3 miles). Turn right onto Highway 210 west (55.4 miles). At the stop sign, turn left onto US-169/Highway 210 to Aitkin, MN. Continue through Aitkin on Highway 210 to Deerwood. Go straight through Deerwood. (Hwy. 210 will turn to the right but go straight to save 4 miles. Watch for the sign that says Brainerd 16 miles.) At the stop sign turn left, reconnecting with Highway 210/MN-6. Continue to follow Highway 210/MN-6 west through Brainerd to Baxter. Turn right (north) onto Highway 371.
Head east on US 10 E for approx. 114 miles, turn left on MN 210, continue east approx. 20 miles, then turn left onto MN 371 N.
Are you ready to plan your trip? Here’s the ultimate travel guide to Brainerd, Minnesota!
When Is The Best Time To Visit Brainerd MN
The Brainerd Lakes Area is truly a year-round destination. You cannot go wrong with visiting Brainerd at any time of the year. But if you are looking for the best time to visit with the most ideal weather, it would have to be between May 21 to September 30 according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Springtime in Brainerd, you will still see snow on the ground. The temperature starts to climb up from the cold in the winter months.
- March temperatures average a high of 37.9°F (3.3°C) and a low of 14°F (-10°C).
- April temperatures average a high of 54°F (12.2°C) and a low of 28.9°F (-1.7°C).
- May temperatures average a high of 69.1°F (20.6°C) and a low of 42.1°F (5.6°C).
Summer is the PEAK season here in Brainerd. Schools are out and the weather is nice and warm. The busiest month is August so be sure to check all these out and book your trip way in advance if you plan for August.
- June temperatures average a high of 77°F (25°C) and a low of 51.1°F (10.6°C).
- July temperatures average a high of 81°F (27.2°C) and a low of 55.9°F (13.3°C).
- August temperatures average a high of 79°F (26.1°C) and a low of 53.1°F (11.7°C).
The weather starts to turn crisp and cooler with the changing of the leaves’ colors. This signifies the end of summer and the start to the cooler/ colder month. September marks the start of autumn and is still a very pleasant month
- September temperatures average a high of 69.1°F (20.6°C) and a low of 42.1°F (5.6°C).
- October temperatures average a high of 55.9°F (13.3°C) and a low of 30.9°F (-0.6°C).
- November starts to feel brisky with the temperatures average a high of 37°F (2.8°C) and a low of 18°F (-7.8°C).
The winter months in Brainerd are very cold in the sub-zero numbers.
- December temperatures average a high of 23°F (-5°C) and a low 1.9°F (-16.7°C).
- January is the coldest month of the year with a temperature average high of 19°F (-7.2°C) and low of -7.1°F (-21.7°C).
- February temperatures average a high of 26.1°F (-3.3°C) and low of -0.9°F (-18.3°C).
Popular Places To Visit
These are some very popular places to visit in Brainerd. Something for everyone, these great attractions are bound to be loved by all and create some memorable family fun.
Paul Bunyan State Trail
Visit the Paul Bunyan State Trail. It is Minnesota’s longest state trail and the longest continuously paved trail in the country at approximately 115 miles long. This does not include a couple of on-road connections in the cities of Baxter and Bemidji. With its multi-purpose trail, there are plenty of things to do on the trail with the whole family.
Safari North Wildlife Park
Are your kids in love with all things animals? Well… the Safari North Wildlife Park is the place for them. They can get up close and personal with the animals such as the petting zoo, feeding the giraffes, or go on a camel ride. Once they are done engaging with the animals, there is a playground that they can enjoy.
Paul Bunyan Land
Located 8 miles east of Brainerd on This Old Farm, this iconic amusement park has been putting smiles on kids and families’ faces since 1954. As with their tradition, Paul Bunyan stands at 26 feet tall and greets your kid by name. Imagine how amazing that is to see that Paul Bunyan knows your name! Creating that ultimate childhood memory.
Brainerd International Raceway
Race fans! Do not miss out on Brainerd International Raceway (BIR). It has almost 5 decades of racing excellence bringing you race events all summer long. Races include drag racing and superbike racing.
If you want to shift yourself from a race fan to a race driver, the instructors at BIR Performance Driving School will teach you all the fundamentals of high performance driving.
North Central Speedway
Another favorite for race fans, the North Central Speedway provides great racing events for all ages. During race nights, North Central Speedway features great races on the dirt track.
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Northland Kart Kountry
Northland Kart Kountry is the perfect place to make summer family memories. With over 14 attractions, there are definitely options for all ages. There is so much more than just race karts here. Looking for a challenge? Then race with each other at Can-Am Go Karts. For adults and older kids, if you like the adrenaline of drag racing, maybe a stop at the Nascar simulator would help get your adrenaline pumping or a race at Indy Racing Karts (Licensed drivers only).
Looking for some family fun with some mini-golfing? Pirate’s Cove is here for you. There are two 18-hole courses with a beautiful landscape of taking you into the world of 18th-century pirates, you and your family will be sure to enjoy the most ideal family fun.
Brainerd Ski Loons
The Brainerd Ski Loons put on an amazing show on the waters that will be sure to entertain the entire family. Enjoy an evening by the water with this free show. There you will see ski pyramids, skiers launching off a jump and barefooting.
Gull Lake is one of the largest lakes in the Brainerd Lakes Area and is one of the most popular lakes for vacations and recreation. It is highly developed with residential and recreational interests, this is the place to be. From lake homes to cabins to resorts along the shores of Gull Lake, lodging on the lake will be sure to bring some beautiful family memories.
Brainerd Zip Line Tour
Brainerd Zip Line Tour must be the best way to see the Brainerd Lakes Area. Get a birds-eye view from the top of Mount Ski Gull. Experience the two and a half-hour guided zip line tour which consists of 7 zip lines, a suspended sky bridge, and ending it with an optional 50-foot free fall jump.
Mount Ski Gull
While events are happening year-round at Mount Ski Gull, it is best known for its winter activities. Mount Ski Gull offers tubings, ski, and snowboarding for all the winter enthusiasts.
Northland Arboretum is located in the heart of the Brainerd Lakes Area. Uniquely, its 500 acres of beauty is shared by two cities, Brainerd and Baxter. Your family can enjoy beautiful gardens, sit on the gazebo, and trails. The arboretum offers about 12 miles of trails for hiking and cross-country skiing. It was designed specifically to be able to accommodate everyone, the trail has become one of the best trails in Minnesota.
The trails are open year round from sunup to sun down, and offer many activities such as walking, hiking, fitness trail, and cross country skiing. Bikes are prohibited on these trails.
Gull Lake Cruises
Escape onto Gull Lake on the luxury yacht, the North Star, and unwind for a day or evening cruise. What makes this one of the top-rated things to do on Gull Lake the experience on the cruise. The cruise includes fine cuisine, two full bars, and the majestic views of the Brainerd Lakes Area.
Mille Lacs Lake
Mille Lacs Lake is Minnesota’s second-largest lake offering anglers acres of multi-species actions and making this lake the most popular lake for fishing, both in open waters and on ice.
Mille Lacs Indian Museum
Explore the story of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe through museum exhibits, objects, demonstrations, and tours. Shopping for locally made Native American arts and crafts in the restored 1930s trading post are the perfect way to bring home some beautiful souvenirs.
Grab a nice cold beer and relax. The area has five breweries and a winery. It has recently become recognized as a hub for some well-known taprooms. If you are into craft beers, these are great options for you. While there, dine inside or outside on their patio for some great food as well.
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For the outdoor enthusiast, the Brainerd Lakes Areas has so many activities to choose from, there is bound to be something for everyone.
There are miles and miles of hiking trails for you to choose from to be able to enjoy nature and disconnect from the world for a bit. The Northland Arboretum has 12 miles of trails to enjoy as well as the Crow Wing State Park has over 18 miles of trails.
If you love biking, you have come to the right place. The Brainerd Lakes Area is a top biking destination with many bike trails to choose from such as the Paul Bunyan Trail. For the more adventurous ones or thrill-seekers, the top mountain biking destination is located here as well at the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area.
There is not only an abundance of lakes to fish in but there is plenty of fish in the lakes. Fishing is a great pastime for any family. If you are new to fishing or need assistance for the best fishing experience, consider booking with a guide for some awesome family fun that will be sure to last a lifetime.
Did you know that the Brainerd Lakes Area has more golf holes than lakes? More than 450 golf holes in dozens of golf courses… Making it the area known for the high concentration of top-rated golf courses in close proximity. If you are looking to hit the links while on vacation, there are plenty of golf courses here for you to do that. There are courses that will not only fit your budget but your style of playing as well.
Paddle boarding has been the latest trend in outdoor recreation and it is taking the Brainerd Lakes Area by storm. Along with paddle boarding, your family can also try out the kayaking and canoeing on the lakes.
The area is best known for its boating culture. There are many places to launch your boat or you can rent one if you don’t have your own. If you stay in one of the many resorts on the lake, you can rent a boat or pontoon through them and enjoy a leisure ride on the water.
Best Places To Eat In Brainerd
Aside from having a fun time in the sun, the food is also the highlight of any trip. Staying in a cabin or resort typically means you can make your own meals. But when you do not want to cook or have time to cook, dining out is the next best thing.
No matter what your taste is, Brainerd has plenty of great places to eat to go around. Here are some of the best places to eat.
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Best Places To Stay In Brainerd
There is no shortage of lodging in the Brainerd Lakes Area. There are hotels, vacation rentals, cabin rentals, resort living, and camping. There is definitely something for everyone and the budget.
If you want to enjoy lake living with all the amenities that comes with, check out some of these popular resorts. The resort options in the Brainerd Lakes Area are as endless as the sunsets here. It does range from size and choices of amenities. We have stayed in many of these places throughout the years and loved them all.
Looking to learn about the history of the area? Vacation and education go hand in hand for us. So what better way to do that than a visit to a museum or iconic destination with a story.
The Crosslake Dam is located in the Pine River 18 miles above the junction of the Pine and Mississippi rivers at the outlet of Cross Lake. It was constructed between 1905 and 1907 to what it looks like today. The structure is 233 feet long and consists of reinforced concrete supported on timber piles with 13 sluiceways.
Crosslake Historical Society Museum
Learn how early pioneers settled in the Crosslake area lived at the turn of the century at the Crosslake Historical Society Museum.
Nisswa Area Historical Society
Take a self-guided tour of the village and take a glimpse of a quieter more peaceful life. Yet hard working at the turn of the century. Once you are done with your tour, be sure to stop at the small gift shop filled with art and crafts from local artisans. These items are unique and sold only in their gift shop.
Pequot Lakes Historical Society
Learn how early pioneers settled in the Pequot area with exhibits showcasing life in the 1930s and 1940s at the Cole Memorial Building.
Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum and Library
Learn about Crow Wing County’s history here with so much information dating back from 1927. The museum is 3 stories packed with exhibits highlighting life during those early years. Take a guided tour of the original Crow Wing County Sheriff’s residence from the late 19th century.
My Final Thoughts On Things To Do In Brainerd MN
So there you have it! The most amazing things to do in Brainerd, MN with your family on your next vacation. With it being a year-round destination, there really is no wrong time of year to visit. There is an abundance of things to do, places to eat and places to stay.
What is your favorite thing to do?
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