Just to the north of Brainerd is a cluster of lakes,
including Gull, North Long, Pelican and the Whitefish
chain of lakes. The villages of Nisswa, Pequot Lakes,
Crosslake and Pine River harbor an array of fun shops
At Pequot Lakes, the water tower looks like a giant
fishing bobber poised above the town. Crosslake has a
shady town square lined with attractive new shops. The
Nisswa Square is another nice spot to take a shopping
break, and there are weekly turtle races in town during the
summer. Down the road at Pine River, weekly duck races,
using floating decoys, have been a tradition for years.
The Brainerd Golf Trail is another top draw to the
area, boasting 17 courses, some designed by the most
respected names in golf. Some of the finest
championship golf courses in the Midwest are found
here, as well as more easygoing courses. Several of the
courses are at upscale, lakeside resorts, some with spas.
Golfers will enjoy the challenges of The Pines, Deacon’s
Lodge, Whitebirch, The Legacy, Whitefish and Golden
Eagle golf clubs and other excellent courses.
The 110-mile Paul Bunyan Trail is paved for biking,
and runs north from Brainerd to Bemidji. It links many
of the small towns in the Brainerd Lakes area, so it’s easy
to make a lunch or ice cream stop. The 54-mile Paul
Bunyan Scenic Byway loops through this lakes area. Both
the trail and the byway are named for the legendary giant
lumberjack whose footprints, according to tall tales,
filled with water and became the area’s lakes.
“Mille Lacs” is French for 1,000 lakes, and the name
gives you some idea of the giant dimensions of this body
of water to the east of Brainerd. It’s 14 miles wide, 20 miles
long, with a shoreline of 86 miles! And for anglers, this is
paradise. A wide variety of fish inhabit these waters,
including walleye, bass, northern pike, perch and muskie.
Fishing launch services, with boats that hold from six to
50 people, furnish bait, tackle and a fishing guide. The
action doesn’t stop when the lake freezes over; several
resorts offer heated ice-fishing houses in the winter. (In
fact, a whole town of furnished ice houses crops up on the
lake each winter.) There are more than two dozen resorts
and campgrounds and several motels along the lakeshore,
Off the water, there’s plenty to do as well. There are
several golf courses in the area, including the Hardwoods
Golf Club and Black Brook. Grand Casino Mille Lacs is
one of the largest in the state, operated by the Mille Lacs
Band of Ojibwe Indians. The Mille Lacs Indian Museum, a
cooperative venture between the band and the Minnesota
Historical Society, features both the traditional and
contemporary life of the Ojibwe. Indian handcrafts are
available at the gift shop, a 1930s trading post.
Father Hennepin State Park, at Isle, is right on the
shore of Mille Lacs and has a great beach. Near the
southwest shore is Mille Lacs Kathio State Park, with
miles of beautiful hiking, skiing and snowmobiling trails
through the forest. Its observation tower has a
spectacular treetop view, especially pretty in the fall
when the woods are ablaze in color. The Soo Line Bike
Trail runs most of the way between the two parks.
Northwest of Mille Lacs is the Cuyuna Range, an
iron mining area decades ago. Former mine pits have
filled with clear water, and several of these deep lakes are
now part of the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area,
popular for trout fishing, boating and scuba diving.
Cuyuna Country is also the site of a new, state-of-the art
network of 22 miles of mountain bike trails, winding
over this rugged terrain. There are several resorts and
campgrounds around the towns of Crosby, Ironton and
Deerwood. Antique shops line Main Street in Crosby.
Aitkin County, north and east of Lake Mille Lacs, is
a prime area for bird watching, fishing, hunting and
snowmobiling. The Rice Lake Wildlife Refuge is a good
area for viewing the waterfowl migration each October.
There are resorts and campgrounds around lakes near
Aitkin, Hill City and on Big Sandy Lake at McGregor.
Savanna Portage is a beautiful state park of lakes and
hardwood forests, with brilliant fall color and scenic
hiking and cross-country ski trails.
Paul Bunyan Bike Trail
Golfing in Brainerd