32 Things to Do in the Brainerd Lakes Area on Your Summer Vacation

7 Things To Do with Family in Brainerd
July 1, 2021
Tips on Booking Lodging
July 6, 2021


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.


Area Attractions


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. Open daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day.


2) Safari North Wildlife Park


If you’re looking for a way to sneak in some education while on vacation, check out Safari North Wildlife Park. Your kids will love seeing and engaging with the animals. They can feed a giraffe, ride a camel, mingle with parakeets in the landing exhibit. You’ll love that your kids are learning about conservation and animal behavior in a fun environment. Once you’re done checking out all the animal exhibits, head to the play area and kids can try mining for treasure. Open daily May–September.


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! Adults will love the NASCAR simulator. Kids will love the batting cages, bungee bounce, and new virtual reality attraction. You’ll easy find Kart Kountry off Hwy. 371. Open daily Memorial Day to Labor Day.


4) Whistling Wolf & Dark Moon 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 pirate 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. The Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals brings in the best drag racers and the fastest cars on the world-renown BIR track. BIR offers amenities on-site (camping, lodging, restaurant, and live music) for race fans.


7) Brainerd Zip Line Tour


Get a birds-eye view with 15-mile views from the top of Mount Ski Gull. You’ll see 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 Lakes Cruises


Cruise Gull Lake in style aboard the North Star luxury yacht. 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.


9) Brainerd Ski Loons


The Brainerd Ski Loons Water Ski Show Team puts on a highly entertaining show that your whole family will love. Shows have a theme (this year’s show theme is Toy Story), and you’ll see ski pyramids, barefooting, and skiers launching off a jump. The shows are free, too, so you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy a beautiful evening by the water. Shows are at Lum Park in Brainerd.

  • Sunday, July 14 at 5:00 p.m.
  • Sunday, August 4 at 5:00 p.m.
  • Sunday, August 11 at 5:00 p.m.
  • Wednesday, August 14 at 6:30 p.m.


10) Brewery Tour


We’re becoming well-known for our hub of tap rooms. If you like craft beers, we have enough breweries to satisfy your taste buds. Each brewery has several types of beers on tap that change seasonally. All the area breweries are family friendly and have outdoor patios. What’s better than beer and sunshine?!




11) Stars and 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 toss, listen to live music performed by the band LOLAH, and stay for the fireworks. On July 4, come to Pequot Lakes for the all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast, craft fair in Trailside Park, kids’ games, and parades!


12) 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. The Burying of the Beans ceremony begins on July 16, followed by a community picnic. You don’t want to miss July 17 when the beans come out of the ground and there are free beans for everyone. Trailside Park in downtown Pequot Lakes is teaming with people visiting craft vendors, playing games, and enjoying free beans.


13) 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 (June 5–August 21, 2019).


14) Lakes Jam


If outdoor concerts are your jam, you’ll want to come to Lakes Jam—the area’s largest country and rock music fest! Lakes Jam is held at Brainerd International Raceway (BIR). On-site and get the full Lakes Jam experience and join the bean bag tournament, watch watercross, and enjoy pre-Jam parties.


15) Paul Bunyan Extreme Race


Are you up for a challenge and to conquer your fears? The Paul Bunyan Extreme race is held at Mount Ski Gull July 27 and is an annual fundraiser for Mount Ski Gull, which is a nonprofit. This is a family friendly event with obstacles from Mother Nature to man made. You can register as an individual or get your family together and race as a team. You’re guaranteed to have a good time and earn some bragging rights.


16) Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals Races


Come to the NHRA Nationals August 16-18 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.


Outdoor Recreation


17) Bike


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.


18) Fish


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 and Nate Berg from Nate Berg Fishing Guides offer guiding packages.


19) Golf


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?!


20) Hike


Being among nature is a great way to disconnect with the everyday and technology. 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.


21) Paddle


While the Brainerd Lakes Area is known for our boating culture, paddling a kayak down a river or around a lake is growing in popularity. Wind, Water, and Wheels and Cycle Path & Paddle offer kayak rentals, if you want to try kayaking before committing to purchasing. They also can transport kayaks to your paddle destination. You can take a kayak tour with Wind, Water, and Wheels down the Pine River, too.


22) Boat


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.




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 Society Museum


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 Area 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


If you’re looking for local charm and history while vacationing here, head to downtown Brainerd. Downtown Brainerd has revitalized and reinvented itself with an influx of cute, specialty shops and restaurants.


28) Nisswa


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 on an outdoor patio.


29) Crosslake


Crosslake’s Town Square is the perfect place to find that one-of-a-kind souvenir, grab a bite to eat, or enjoy a free concert every Saturday night.


30) Pequot Lakes


Check out the shops in downtown Pequot Lakes. You’ll find places with cute, custom décor, upscale clothing stores, Minnesota Up North apparel, and specialty stores with one-of-a-kind goods. A shopping trip wouldn’t be complete with out a delicious cupcake or macarons from Sweet Life Bakery!


Arts and Culture


31) Lakes Area Music Festival


You don’t need to visit a big city to hear and see classically trained musicians, theater actors, and singers. The Lakes Area Music Festival brings world class performances to Brainerd’s Tornstrom Auditorium that are either free or donation-based. They have concerts and events all throughout the summer—check it out!


32) The Crossing Art 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 Art Alliance regularly offers exhibits and adult and kids’ classes and events. You can even purchase work by local artists.