32 Things to Do in the Brainerd Lakes Area on Your Summer Vacation
If you’re planning a vacation to the Brainerd area and you’re looking for attractions, events, and outdoor recreation, this list is for you. You’ll find so much to do here, you’ll need to plan a return trip just to fit it all in.
#1) Paul Bunyan Land
When you’re in the Brainerd Lakes Area, visit Paul Bunyan Land—this iconic amusement park is just 8 miles east of Brainerd, MN (located on This Old Farm). Your kids will be in awe of the 26-foot tall talking Paul Bunyan who greets them by name, which has been a tradition since 1954. Although Paul Bunyan Land moved locations that many of us remember from our childhood, chances are you’ll feel a wave of nostalgia when seeing the Paul Bunyan and the amusement park, too. Paul Bunyan Land has 27 rides, a Pioneer Village, and a campground.
#2) Safari North Wildlife Park
Your family will go WILD for the animals at Safari North Wildlife Park. They can feed a giraffe, ride a camel, mingle with parakeets in the landing exhibit. Hop on the safari train expedition to see lions, monkeys, antelope, and zebras. You’ll also find amusement park rides and other hands-on exhibits.
#3) Northland Kart Kountry
Kart Kountry is the perfect place to make summer family memories for the whole family. Challenge each other to a race around the go-kart track. Fastest kart wins! Fastest kart wins! Kids will love the batting cages, bungee bounce, and water wars. New this year is VR Action World, which is a new virtual reality attraction. Enjoy 10 different simulators and hundreds of games and challenges.
#4) Whistling Wolf Mini Golf
Challenge your family to a friendly competition while in Crosslake. Whistling Wolf & Dark Moon Mini Golf is walking distance from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers campground—a fun and convenient camping activity. Open daily throughout the summer.
Bonus: If you make your final shot into the “outhouse”, you win a free game. Celebrate your victory with an old-fashioned treat from the Candy Den. Or grab a doozie ice cream cone from Lake Country Crafts and Cones—bet you can’t eat it all!
#5) Pirate's Cove
Argh, matey! Head to Pirate’s Cove and Billy Bones Raceway for a swashbuckling good time. With two 18-hole courses and three go-kart tracks, you and your band of pirates will find adventure and legends at every turn. Open May to mid-October.
#6) Brainerd International Raceway
If you’re in to fast action, Brainerd International Raceway (BIR) will get your adrenaline pumping. BIR has racing events throughout the summer—from drag racing, superbike racing to the BIR Performance Driving School where you can drive a race car 130 mph around the race track. BIR offers amenities on-site (camping, lodging, restaurant, and live music) for race fans.
#7) Brainerd Zipline Tour
Get a birds-eye view with Brainerd Zipline Tour. You’ll see 15 mile views of Gull Lake and surrounding forest like you’ve never seen it before. You’ll find the 7 ziplines and the optional 50-foot free-fall drop thrilling—something you and your family will talk about long after the adrenaline rush wears off.
#8) Gull Lake Cruises
Cruise in style aboard Gull Lake Cruises’ North Star luxury yacht (docked at Cragun’s Resort). Once onboard, you don’t have to lift a finger—just sit back and enjoy a sightseeing or dining cruise. Some cruises are themed with live music. Cruises are open to the public or you can book a private event.
#10) Brainerd Ski Loons
On the banks of Lum Park in Brainerd, you’ll see the talented and gravity-defying Brainerd Ski Loons. The Ski Loons hit the water and put on an entertaining waterski show with pyramids, ballet lines, kids ski lines, doubles, and trios. It all leads up to the high flying stunts off the ski jump. Bring chairs and enjoy concessions. Admission is free!
#11) Brew & Spirits Tour
We’re becoming well-known for our hub of tap and tasting rooms. Our breweries and distillery will satisfy your taste buds. Each has several types of beers and craft drinks that change seasonally. All the area breweries are family friendly and have outdoor patios.
#12) Stars & Stripes Days
Celebrate our nation’s independence in Pequot Lakes at Stars and Stripes Days. You’ll find food vendors, music, games, a parade, and fireworks. On July 3, try your hand at the bean bag tournament, listen to live music , and stay for the fireworks.
On July 4, Pequot Lakes is a hub of activities with a craft fair, kids’ games, and the Stars & Stripes Day parade!
#13) Bean Hole Days
Join in the historic Bean Hole Days, which goes back to 1938. Pequot Lakes area bankers asked local farmers to come in town for the day, and they served the farmers beans that baked overnight in the ground as part of a community event.
You don’t want to miss when the beans come out of the ground! Trailside Park in downtown Pequot Lakes is teaming with people visiting craft vendors, playing games, and enjoying free beans.
#14) Nisswa Turtle Races
Downtown Nisswa is known for its quaint shopping and charming small-town appeal. If you’re vacationing in the Brainerd Lakes Area, you’ll want to spend an afternoon in Nisswa. Time your visit right and you can race turtles. The Nisswa turtle races have been a family tradition for 56 years. Turtle races are held every Wednesday throughout the summer.
#15) Lakes Jam
Here, you’ll get the ultimate concert experience with a stellar line up and a variety of on-site activities.
#16) Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals
Come to the NHRA Nationals and you’ll feel the rumble of the horsepower. You’ll experience the world’s best drag races, the fastest cars, and the world-renown track at BIR. All tickets come with pit passes so you can watch teams rebuild their cars. Along Nitro Alley, you’ll find all kinds of merchandise, food, and interactive displays. Camp out in The Zoo and listen to the bands, or stay in the reserved family camping, if you like quieter nights.
If you love biking, the Brainerd Lakes Area is a top biking destination. The Paul Bunyan Trail is the longest continuously paved trail in Minnesota. You can bike as little—or as much of it—as you want. The Paul Bunyan Trail goes through several Brainerd Lakes Area cities, including Brainerd/Baxter, Nisswa, and Pequot Lakes. These cities make the perfect rest stop to grab a bite to eat, shop, or just to enjoy the scenery!
If you’d like a more fast-paced adventure, the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area is one of the top mountain biking destinations in the state. Here, you’ll find an exhilarating rush as you traverse the miles of winding red dirt. You don’t need to be an expert rider, though. Trails range from beginner to expert.
We have some of the best fishing in the state. With hundreds of lakes all within a 30 to 40-mile radius, you’ll find lakes with healthy populations of walleye, large-and small-mouth bass, musky, crappie, and panfish. If knowing which lake and how to fish it is overwhelming, local fishing guides Walleye Dan, Nate Berg from Nate Berg Fishing Guides, and All-American Fishing Guide Service offer guiding packages.
If hitting the links is a summer vacation must-do, we have courses that will fit your budget and your style of play. Many of our courses are nationally recognized. And did you know that the Brainerd Lakes Area has more golf holes than lakes?!
Being among nature is a great way to disconnect with the everyday craziness. Fortunately, we have miles of trails for you to do just that. Head to the Northland Arboretum for 12 miles of hiking right in the heart of Brainerd and Baxter.
Crow Wing State Park has over 18 miles of trails through the woods and along the Mississippi River with historic landmarks. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time walking on the boardwalk of the old town of Crow Wing.
Fritz Loven Park is a great place to spend an afternoon, if you’re in the Nisswa or Lakeshore area. Hiking trails, a creek, playground, and picnic pavilion makes Fritz Loven Park a paradise for nature lovers.
If you’re in Pequot Lakes, the Mayo Lake Nature Preserve is a tranquil place to take in the scenery, hike the recreational trails, have a picnic, and lookout over Mayo Lake.
While we’re known for our boating culture, paddling a kayak down a river or around a lake is a relaxing way to take in the sights and sounds of nature. You can rent kayaks, paddle boards, and lake floats from Crow Wing Kayaks. They’ll transport rentals to your location. They even offer full service kayak river trips down the Pine River.
You don’t need a lake cabin to get on the water. Lake access is easy for any recreational activity—fishing, watersports, or just a leisurely cruise. You can rent a boat, if you don’t have one. Or if you’re staying at one of our area resorts, you’ll find pontoon rentals on-site or guided boat tours.
Boat and Jetski rentals:
#23) Crosslake Dam
Get an up-close look at a historical engineering marvel at the Pine River dam near the entrance of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers campground. Walk across the dam and watch the rushing water will mesmerize you. Your kids will enjoy casting a line from shore nearby. The dam and campground offer a great place to have a picnic.
#24) Crosslake Historical Village
Right across the street from the campground is the Crosslake Historical Society Museum with its interactive and informational tours. See how early pioneers who settled in the Crosslake area lived at the turn of the century.
#25) Nisswa Historical Society
Get a glimpse of life in the early 1900s with a self-guided tour of the pioneer village—with artifacts and other memorabilia. Kids love to climb on and see the county’s first railroad depot and caboose.
#26) Pequot Lakes Historical Society
If you’re in Pequot Lakes, visit the Cole Museum, which was part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal and is registered on the National Registry of Historic Places. Here, you’ll see exhibits from the 1930s and 1940s.
#27) Downtown Brainerd
Downtown Brainerd has an eclectic mix of clothing shops, bath and body goods, furniture stores, a bakery, and restaurants. Spend an afternoon checking out all of the small businesses who look forward to welcoming you!
Walking Nisswa’s charming downtown while meandering in all the distinct shops is a fun way to spend an afternoon. You’re guaranteed to find a treasure (or two) to bring home. Take a break from shopping to enjoy lunch and a beer on an outdoor patio or cool off with a cone.
If you’re vacationing near Crosslake, you can find everything that you need in town. You’ll have fun walking through the shops in Town Square. There are also cute shops along the main road through town. Crosslake is very walkable, so take some time to explore and find those one-of-a-kind souvenirs, clothing, and home goods.
#30) Pequot Lakes
You’ll find fun shops in Pequot Lakes! Whether you’re getting groceries to stock up for your stay, grabbing a donut and a gourmet coffee, or shopping for Minnesota “Up North” apparel, you’ll find it all in Pequot Lakes!
#31) Lakes Area Music Festival
You don’t need to visit a big city to hear and see classically trained musicians and singers. The Lakes Area Music Festival brings nationally acclaimed and world renowned artists to Brainerd’s Gichi-ziibi Center for the Arts. Concerts and events are throughout the summer, and most are donation-based for admission.
#32) Crossing Arts Alliance
If you’re walking downtown Brainerd, be sure to find the You Betcha mural on the exterior of the Crossing Art Alliance’s building. It makes for a great selfie backdrop to share! The Crossing Arts Alliance regularly offers exhibits and adult and kids’ classes and events. You can even purchase work by local artists.