15 Best Things to Do in Brainerd, MN

Brainerd, MN
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Brainerd is a city in central Minnesota, on the banks of the Mississippi River.

Brainerd along with Baxter, known collectively as "Brainerd" or the Brainerd Lakes Area, is the region's economic hub.

Brainerd, a thriving town amid the pines, provides something for everyone.

Known as Paul Bunyan's birthplace Brainerd also cemented its place as Minnesota's Vacationland.

An outdoor lover's dream, Brainerd and the surrounding area in Minnesota has over 500 lakes and several rivers to explore.

It has beautiful woods and immaculate parks to explore, coupled with many things to do in the hotter months.

Meanwhile, winter also presents a roster of activities to enjoy when snow covers the city.

It's a shopping area, a service district, a hotel district, an eating and events district, a historic downtown district, a public park, and a beach district.

Here, you'll find all you need with only a short drive from everything the city has to offer.

Check out our list of 15 best things to do in Brainerd, MN:

Fish at Mille Lacs Lake

Sunset at Mille Lacs Lake
Myra Horner / Shutterstock.com

Mille Lacs Lake is Minnesota's biggest lake, covering more than 132,000 acres.

This lake covers three counties: Mille Lacs, Crow Wing, and Aitkin.

It's known as one of Minnesota's best fishing spots, as it teems with muskies and other panfish.

Fishing at Mille Lacs Lake
Randall Runtsch / Shutterstock.com

One of the greatest places in the country to catch smallmouth bass may be found here.

Even if you don't like fishing, the lake's surrounding hiking, biking, and ATV paths are worth checking out.

You may also enjoy a portion of its coastline from Brainerd.

Swimming in the lake is one of the best activities things you can do all year long.

Explore Safari North Wildlife Park

This privately-owned zoo also serves as a conservation center.

The Park has the objective to be a great educational environment for all.

It promotes preservation and wildlife conservation through enjoyable, safe, and affordable activities.

Here, you will see hundreds of animal species, from mammals to birds to reptiles.

You will also find sections dedicated to animals native to each continent of the world.

Some of the most popular animals to see include black bears, grizzlies, eagles, giraffes, hyenas, kangaroos, white Bengal tigers, and leopards, both spotted and black.

There's both a gift store and an ice cream stand in the zoo to satisfy your hunger while exploring.

Hit the Gas at Brainerd International Raceway

Brainerd, Minnesota, is home to the largest racetrack in the northern Midwest, in case you didn't know.

There is a dragster and road track at the Brainerd International Raceway, a huge racing complex.

A drag strip that’s a quarter-mile long, a 2.5-mile road course, and a 3.1-mile road course are all located within the racecourse.

The facility has a kart track as well.

The track was first used in the 1960s and has been in continuous use ever since.

A wide range of motorsport events has taken up residence there throughout the years.

These include anything from classic car exhibitions to drifting and autocross races to road racing and drag racing.

The facility has a lake where watercress as wells as snowmobile racing takes place.

In August each year, you may watch the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, the most anticipated racing event in the region.

Trek the Paul Bunyan State Trail

A Sign in Paul Bunyan State Trail
Tony Webster from Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Paul Bunyan and Babe, his blue ox, are well-known figures in American folktales.

According to the folklore, Paul Bunyan is supposed to have been born and raised here.

Walking down this recreational rail trail, the longest one in the state, is an excellent opportunity to pay tribute to this hero.

This paved rail trail runs from Lake Bemidji State Park.

Meanwhile, it ends at Crow Wing State Park in north-central Minnesota.

A Sign in Paul Bunyan State Trail
Stacey Welu / Shutterstock.com

It is not only the longest state trail in Minnesota but also in the whole country.

Throughout the year, you can take advantage of the stunning displays of color provided by the trees, as well as the plethora of animals that call the area home.

With many of the outdoor enthusiasts flocking to the area throughout the warmer months (spring through fall), it becomes even more vibrant.

Snowmobiling on Minnesota's typically fresh, fluffy snow is a popular winter activity on the route throughout the winter months.

Watch Musical Performances at Brainerd’s Tornstrom Auditorium

Brainerd's Tornstrom Auditorium hosts world-class performances as part of the Lakes Area Music Festival, which is free or donation-based.

Over 200 world-class musicians from the world's most prestigious orchestras and opera companies play in a variety of genres throughout the season.

These include chamber music, symphony orchestra, opera, and ballet.

It also offers a wide range of educational activities, especially to young, aspiring musicians, such as week-long day camps for kids and opportunities for youth to participate in the orchestra.

Join Gull Lake Cruise

Brainerd's Gull Lake is a must-see attraction on its own but taking a cruise at Gull Lake is something else.

It's impossible to beat the views from the yacht's observation deck, which offers panoramic views of the surrounding countryside and, on certain occasions, an amazing summer sunset.

Spend the day or evening on a luxurious boat, eating and taking in the views as you cruise around the lake.

Take a cruise aboard the elegant North Star and choose from several itineraries.

In addition to brunch and dessert cruises, it offers lunch and dinner cruises while being entertained by live music.

Private charters are also available for special occasions, allowing you to have the ship all to yourself.

North Star can carry 116 passengers in total and can cater a seated meal for up to 62 people on the main deck.

Meanwhile, its upper deck can cater to up to 36 chairs.

Take a Trip Down Memory Lane at Paul Bunyan Land

A Sign and Bikes in Paul Bunyan Land
Mykl Roventine from West Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Founded in 1954, this roadside entertainment park has become a popular destination for residents and visitors to the Brainerd Lakes area.

It has several carnival-style rides, such as the Ferris Wheel and Merry-Go-Round.

Visit Pioneer Village that features one of Minnesota's greatest antique collections.

Here, you may see historical recreations from the late 1800s and early 1900.

Visitors to Paul Bunyan Land may expect a fun-filled day of activities, rides, and learning about Minnesota's history.

Get Your Heart Racing at Three Bear Waterpark & Craguns Laser Tag

Fighting with your buddies and trying to protect your base will get your heart pumping in this arena at Three Bear Waterpark & Craguns Laser Tag.

In this state-of-the-art arena with new gaming rooms, take on an energetic, fun challenge for the whole group complemented by thrilling music and lighting.

The experience will surely be a blast for kids and adults alike!

You may reserve a slot for a certain day and time at the Front Desk, and they will walk you through the whole process.

Laser Tag costs ten dollars per participant and lasts for half an hour.

Play Golf With Your Kids at Pirate's Cove Adventure Golf

Pirate's Cove Adventure Golf always has families together for a fun-filled afternoon.

Spot the splashing waterfall in turquoise and the pirate ship along the highway, and you'll see it immediately.

The family-friendly golf course transports guests back to the 18th century, the time when pirates controlled the seas.

Skull-shaped caves and pirate dungeons complement its pirate theme.

Your little golfers will enjoy its pirate ship mini golf course and its waterfall mini-golf course.

Additionally, you may try the Billy Bones Raceway, a go-cart complex with bends and dips across the courses.

The Park now has more than 20 locations across the United States, including this one in Brainerd.

Get to Know the Brainerd’s History at Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum and Library

Outside of Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum and Library
Myotus, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum and Library is a must-see if you're in downtown Brainerd.

The museum has been open for over a century and features three levels of exhibits about Brainerd's history.

Investigate the local industries, such as logging, railroading, and mining, in greater depth.

There's also a restored early 20th-century house where you may go inside.

Books, pictures, and maps from the area's history are among the other things on display in the museum.

Look at the early Brainerd newspapers on microfilm at the museum for more information about the past.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Wander Around Northland Arboretum

This non-profit conservation area and arboretum is located at Baxter, approximately a mile outside of downtown Brainerd or just a six-minute drive.

The arboretum has made it a priority to educate and engage the local community about important environmental issues.

In addition to having trails for tranquil walks, hiking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing, the arboretum also offers stunning nature displays throughout the year.

During the summer, the arboretum hosts weekly nature presentations where you may learn about the environment and how to take care of it.

You will also have the chance to participate in a fun treasure hunt and win prizes if you can locate the fabled golden rock.

Conquer Your Fear of Heights With Brainerd Zip Line Tour

Are you afraid of heights?

One way to beat what scares you is to expose yourself to your fears.

The Brainerd Zip Line Tour is located on the coast of Gull Lake, 23 minutes away from downtown Brainerd.

This adrenaline-pumping, high-flying zipline tour takes you on seven distinct journeys across the forest.

It also holds unique events, such as the Fall Full Moon Night Ziplining and the Fall Colors Ziplining.

Aside from the seven ziplines, you may opt to experience the heart-stopping free fall at the height of 50 feet while seeing the splendid views of the lakes.

Family and friend groups will enjoy the trip, which lasts 2.5 hours in total.

Take note to make a reservation and don’t bring children under the age of 10.

Pamper Yourself at Glacial Waters Spa

Glacial Waters Spa, located at the Grand View Lodge Spa & Golf Resort in Nisswa, is a 20-minute drive away from Brainerd City.

What makes this spa unique is that it uses mineral-rich water right from the sparkling Gull Lake.

This crystal-clear lake is believed to have restorative and therapeutic effects.

The locals think the lake’s water can help restore one's body, mind, and soul into harmony.

The Deep Tissue massage and the Moroccan Ritual body treatment are two examples of soothing and revitalizing therapies you may choose from.

Grand Relaxation Massage incorporates aromatherapy and is meant to ease muscular stress.

Meanwhile, Neuromuscular Therapy focuses on trigger points and muscle cramps, making it one of its most unique services offered.

Go Skiing at Mount Ski Gull

Located just 25 minutes away from downtown Brainerd, Mount Ski Gull is a wonderful ski resort that makes Minnesota winters more bearable.

Mount Ski Gull in the Pillsbury State Forest is the closest mountain to Brainerd.

The goal of the ski resort is to make skiing accessible to all.

Believe it or not, this is a non-profit ski resort.

Once winter is over, it transforms into a premier destination to snowboard, ski, and go tubing.

There's also a lovely lodge with gear rentals and warm spots in the resort area, where you can curl up and read while sipping a steaming cup of hot chocolate.

The activities on Mount Ski Gull are relatively consistent throughout the year.

It also offers fitness courses and a children's camp along with jogging, walking, and hiking routes.

Celebrate Bean Hole Days in Pequot Lakes

If you’re around Pequot Lakes downtown in the middle of July, join the annual Bean Hole Days, featuring activities dating back to 1938.

Meanwhile, if you’re in Brainerd, just drive around 26 minutes to reach the area.

As part of a communal celebration, local bankers in the Pequot Lakes area invite farmers to spend the day in town and offer them beans that had been baking in the ground overnight.

On July 16, the Burying of the Beans ritual kicks off, which follows a community picnic.

The following day, the beans will be pulled from the ground and given out free of charge to everyone who wants them.

You can stop by artisan merchants, engage in recreational activities, and sample the city's famous free beans.

Final Thoughts

Brainerd, Minnesota, and its surrounding areas are filled with natural and man-made attractions that would seem overwhelming—that is, if you haven’t planned your itinerary.

The attractions in our list are only the tip of the iceberg, so keep your mind open to possibilities.

You’re up for an adventure!