15 Best Things to Do in Detroit Lakes, MN

Detroit Lakes, MN
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The city of Detroit Lakes is located in Minnesota, serving as the county seat of Becker County.

Colonel George Johnston went to Minnesota to choose lands for the New England Colony and founded Detroit Lakes in 1871.

The city's name used to be simply Detroit but was changed in 1927 to avoid confusion with Detroit, Michigan.

Detroit Lakes is a regional destination for summer and winter recreation, drawing many seasonal residents and tourists every year.

As of the 2010 census, its population is 8569; this number swells during summer months, estimated to peak at 13000 by midsummer each year.

The city is ideal for exploring the lakes in the spring, enjoying the sunny summer outdoors, taking leisurely drives out in the Minnesota fall, and embracing the winter cold.

Detroit Lakes has plenty of outdoor pursuits, cultural events, shopping sprees, seasonal festivals, great dining experiences, and heart-pumping activities awaiting visitors no matter what time of year it is.

So if you're ready to make it your next vacation destination, here's a list of the 15 best things to do in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota:

View the Becker County Museum

View of Becker County Museum
Myotus, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1882, the Becker County Citizens decided to tell their community's history for future generations to come, thus forming the Pioneer Settlers Union.

The Union officially became the Becker County Historical Society in 1924.

They established the Becker County Museum in 1943 to preserve and communicate the county's history to everybody.

The museum has 10,500 square feet of exhibits, including Native American and prehistoric history, natural history, early days pharmacy, a textile display, and a military display.

At the museum, see a lake cabin, a pioneer cabin, a logging display, a buggy, a sleigh, a horse-drawn hearse, a two-headed calf, the world's smallest gas station, and other unusual relics.

Their collection is quite extensive, with over 14,000 photographs available for reproduction and over 20,000 artifacts putting together the county's history.

It is a quaint collection that includes an extensive research library holding township and county histories, regional business and home files, family histories, and vital records.

Check out the museum for a taste of local history and admire how the citizens keep it alive.

Shop at SuLaine's Antique Mall

Detroit Lakes is an excellent place for shopping, especially for antiques, souvenirs, and handmade items.

There's a lot to explore here at the largest collectible and antiques hub in the city that has 14000 square feet of display areas and more than 70 antique dealers.

Their best goods are on display at this establishment, and you are sure to find hidden gems that you can't resist.

Go on a treasure hunt through an assortment of clothing, postcards, memorabilia, coins, sports gear, glassware, garden décor, antiques, and many others.

Spot seasonal finds on the shelves, adorn your house with new household buys, scout for pretty furniture, browse the choices in bric-a-brac, and collect a hoard of vintage items to take back home.

The collection is quite gigantic, so before you start browsing the store, be sure to narrow down your ideal finds to a few categories and remember that the staff is always happy to help you search.

Wine and Dine at The Fireside

In Detroit Lakes, The Fireside has become iconic, a fine-dining fixture established in 1948.

They prepare their food with style and flair and pride themselves on their eclectic house-made and hand-cut offerings.

They have a very posh and chic dining room built around an antique open-air charcoal grill where the crackle of delicious food cooking is sure to get your mouth watering.

Consume your meal in elegant ambiance and lighting paired with a staggering view of Lake Detroit as you watch the sunset on the horizon.

They even have outdoor seats if you want to dine beneath the trees and sky while admiring the beautiful lakeside.

First, prime yourself with red and white wines, champagnes, martinis, dessert wines, or specialty cocktails.

Then try their phenomenal food: cheese plates, fish newly-caught from the lake, flavorful steaks, fresh harvest salad, savory sandwiches, and sumptuous desserts are just a few of their offerings.

The Fireside is also available for events and will graciously assist you in making that special occasion just that little bit more special.

Peruse at Shady Hollow Flea Market

Do you have a knack for scouting out shopping bargains?

Shady Hollow Flea Market might have what you need at this flea market open each weekend from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

If you have a taste for antiquing, vintage-hunting, and junk-shopping, head to the flea market with its boutique storefronts and hundreds of vendors operating on 3.5 acres of land.

Search for jewels, fashion items, memorabilia, sports equipment, tools, stereo gear, books, toys, quirky objects, and others, and have a good time hunting up various finds, especially for your family members.

After an extensive spree, you're sure to be hungry, so munch on breakfast and homemade all-American meals at the Shady Hollow Grill or pay the food trucks a visit and score corn dogs, doughnuts, and kettle corn like you're at the fair.

Find out how Shady Hollow Flea Market is a great destination each weekend, not just for the shopping spree but for a fun and eventful day out.

Reel in Your Catch With Baxstar Fishing

Detroit Lakes has over 400 lakes within a 25-mile distance!

With such an extensive array of choices, there are infinite chances to find the perfect spot to cast a line.

Baxstar Fishing is a fishing charter that gives you a reeling experience worth more than a few stories.

Brady Baxter is an expert guide who has been fishing for more than 30 years and might just change your techniques forever after a few hours.

Fish from the comfort of a fiberglass boat or a Pontoon in the summer, or an Ice Castle and portable fish house rentals in the winter.

Here, pursue different lakes and explore many kinds of fishing techniques to help you flourish as an angler as you catch walleye, bluegill, northern pike, bass, crappies, and muskellunge.

Baxstar Fishing will take you to prime fishing spots, and with professional quality gear, go ahead and reel your trophy catches in.

Don't forget to check the Detroit Lakes fishing report to know where the fish are biting when you set out.

Have an amazing session out in the water with intensive tours in the heart of Minnesota's lake county.

Get Athletic at the Detroit Mountain Recreation Area

Are you ready for an athletic rush of adrenaline in Detroit Lakes?

Detroit Mountain Recreation Area is an outstanding complex that will impress you with its expert amenities for your recreational needs.

In the summer, have an exhilarating trip mountain biking at their downhill trails and well-designed cross-country trails, wander around the loops, challenge yourself on their hills and drops, and refine your technical skills.

In the winter, have a blast whirling down the slopes on solid and well-designed tubes and delight in the thrilling downhill rush, then ride the 'magic carpet' lift up the hill to do it all over again!

Go skating, cross country skiing, snow-shoeing, snowboarding, and winter fat-biking on their trails and snowy slopes, which are open to everybody from novices to seasoned athletes.

If you're new to winter sports, take ski and snowboarding lessons from learned instructors, so you're ready to hit the slopes in no time.

And after your moments in the snow, seek shelter at the lodge and have food and coffee to fuel the winter rush.

Watch Flowers Grow at Bergen's Greenhouses

Drop in at Bergen's Greenhouses, a fourth-generation family business that has served the upper Midwest since 1921.

Their mission is efficiently producing, marketing, and then distributing the finest plant material available in the area.

Their specialties lie in bedding plants, perennials, garden chrysanthemums, poinsettias, lilies, and other gardening plants.

They also have recycling and environmental practices that are sustainable and help the planet.

If you have a green thumb, you're in luck, as they have a vast plant selection from which you can treat yourself and efficient staff who can give you a lot of friendly gardening advice.

The greenhouses grow over 200 varieties of petunia and 100 varieties of perennials, sow over 8 million seeds for vegetables and spring annuals and stick over 1.35 garden chrysanthemum cuttings for the fall season.

You might be overwhelmed by the enormity of the Detroit Lakes greenhouse and the beautiful rows of color that meet your eyes!

It's a stunning collection of plants, trees, and flowers of all varieties imaginable, and each visit puts anyone in a positive mood.

Scuba Dive With Tri-State Diving

Minnesota is more than a thousand miles from any ocean, but that doesn't bar anyone in Detroit Lakes from having a scuba diving adventure!

Tri-State Diving is a dive shop that does sales, services, and rental and does charters for any aspiring diver who wants to go out and enjoy the fresh Minnesota lakes.

Detroit Lakes offers some of the best freshwater diving in the world with the number of clear lakes within its vicinity, the wide variety of fish to admire, and the artifacts to discover.

Owner Gary Thompson even goes diving in the wintertime: he explains that when you dive under the ice during winter when the algae die off, you can see 100 to 200 feet in front of you as compared to 20 or 30 feet in the summer.

A passionate diver and an archaeologist by training, Thompson has found tons of historical items in his dives, from wedding rings to buffalo skulls to sunken tools.

Tri-State Diving is a fantastic resource, and you will come out of the experience a better scuba diver than you were at the start.

Play Golf at the Detroit Country Club

Minnesota has been considered a golfer's paradise, and with its rolling green terrain, Detroit Lakes has no shortage of good courses to try out.

The Detroit Country Club is a 36-hole golf facility featuring the par 64 Lakeview Golf Course and the par 71 Pine to Palm Course, both bordered by pretty lakes.

The Lakeview course is unique and picturesque, with large greens and 18 holes bordered by traps, and the golfer will find a treat in the views, especially from the tee area of the 7th hole located at the highest point in the area.

The Pine to Palm course has one of the finest area layouts in Minnesota, with challenging rolling terrain and trees on the fairways.

Both courses have clubhouses offering comforting amenities for golfers and their audiences, and they stock their pro-shop with the most up-to-date golf apparel.

They also offer individual lessons and small group lessons to teach golf fundamentals to any level of aspiring player.

Contact Detroit Country Club for top-quality tee time this side of Minnesota.

Beat the Heat With K & K Tubing

As the Minnesota summer heat sweeps upon you, you might find yourself in need of a break.

K & K Tubing is ready for your needs, offering tubing excursions down the Ottertail River.

Float down the river on an inner tube at a slow but adventurous pace and bask in a relaxing and refreshing two-hour ride.

They offer large comfortable tubes with handles and a cupholder, and if you ask, they might give you a second smaller one as a backrest.

They also offer child-sized tubes with backs and bottoms for your kids' convenience, a free extra tube for your cooler, and shuttle services back and forth from the river.

Keep an eye out for them, and you might see beavers, eagles, and turtles on a good day.

The river is gentle and safe, and tubing is an excellent way to enjoy wild Minnesota outdoors and the calm and lovely scenery.

Take sunscreen and your favorite beverage, and you're set for the perfect afternoon cooling off from the summer sun with your loved ones.

Celebrate Street Faire at the Lakes

Attend Street Faire at the Lakes in the lovely downtown area of Detroit Lakes, an annual outdoor summer event bursting with festivities.

Almost a hundred juried artists set up their top-tier art, whether they be paintings, jewelry, sculptures, or pottery.

Mingle with them, get to know their craft, and even vote for a favorite artist at the local people's choice award.

Take your children for a fun afternoon with the balloons, carnival entertainments, handicrafts, face-painting booths, and barrel rides.

Groove to the live music from the main stage, chill out to bluegrass or classic folk songs, make friends with the musicians on the sidewalks, and make sure to bring along your dancing shoes for the Firefighter's Dance.

And don't forget to indulge in some tempting food from the street vendors!

Remember to support the local downtown businesses while you're at it with their colorful clothing, home décor, and other wares.

Walk through six blocks of crafts, artist booths, live music, a beer garden, food trucks, and children's entertainment in this labor of love by the Detroit Lakes natives.

Rejoice in Summer at the Northwest Water Carnival

The Northwest Water Carnival is one of the longest-running festivals in Minnesota, celebrating sunny weather in the heart of summer.

It features more than 60 water-related events and activities for everybody and is one of the biggest summer celebrations in the lakes area.

For a whole week, join tournaments, crash courses, derbies, races, building contests, pageants, and parades, all of which come with a water theme.

Clap for the water ski shows, participate in record-breaking water fights, make splashes with the water balloon tosses, float fast in the inner tube race, or get your blood pumping in the swimming race.

You might want to help build sandcastles or ships, have breakfast on the beach, bring your cooking skills to a chili cookoff, pedal in a midsummer bike tour, engage in beach soccer, put your strength to a tug-of-war, put in a wallop at sand volleyball, and much more.

Have a great time enjoying live music at Bash on the Beach and march in the Parade of the Northwest as you usher in the summer in true Detroit Lakes style.

Go Birdwatching at the Festival of Birds

Detroit Lakes is in a transition zone in northwestern Minnesota, a place of tallgrass prairie, conifer forest, and northern hardwood ecosystems.

It is also scattered with lakes and wetlands, making it a diverse hotspot to almost 275 species of birds and a prime destination for birders.

Every spring, birders flock to the Festival of Birds, the annual bird migration festival in Detroit Lakes.

Attend the keynote speeches, socials, and morning field trips as people in the know dispense information for avid bird enthusiasts from several states.

Bring your binoculars and hiking boots along for scouting and research excursions as birding experts lead groups on trips to see as many types of birds as possible and identify key species.

Learn identification techniques, follow the guides' tips on unique behaviors and patterns, celebrate spectacular photography, and be amused by nature comics and cartoons.

Trek to key habitat spots to spot endangered bird species, learn about conservation, be entertained by bird mating antics, and admire the birds in their changing landscapes.

You'll have a lot to learn about birds, wildlife, and their environment in this uniquely dedicated festival.

Embrace Winter at Polar Fest

Come winter, Detroit Lakes pulls out the stops to welcome the Minnesota winter season at Polar Fest.

There are tons of frozen fun events for everyone, from outdoor activities to snow sports and crafts to warm dinners and celebratory fireworks.

Play Ice Tee golfing on a frozen course, layer up and race on the lake in the Freeze Your Buns Run, perfect your ice-fishing technique at the Poles N' Holes Fishing Derby, be dazzled by kite flyers at Cool Kites on Ice, and admire fireworks lighting up the winter sky above the City Beach.

Enjoy a hotdish challenge, theater performances, the Polaritaville dance, an ice harvest display, polar exploration demonstrations, skiing on Detroit Mountain, a snowmobile rally, and hockey tournaments.

Reap the chills and thrills of the annual Polar Fest Plunge, where hundreds of costumed jumpers leap into the freezing waters of Little Detroit Lake, raising money for after-school and summer programming in Detroit Lakes.

Celebrate this grand display of ice, snow, and lights in one of Minnesota's most exciting winter festivals.

Other Things to Do Nearby

View Wildlife at Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge

Located 25 minutes northeast of Detroit Lakes, Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge is a premiere spot of tallgrass prairie, hardwood, and pine forests that offers visitors beautiful views of trees, marshes, and wildlife.

It is a 43000-acre oasis defined by serene lakes, rolling hills, woodlands, meadows, marshes, streams, and bogs.

Take along binoculars and a camera and go on a guided visitors' wildlife drive or explore the hiking trails to look at refuge habitats and species in the wild.

Here you will catch glimpses of above 40 mammal species such as black bears, river otters, gray wolves, moose, white-tailed deer, porcupines, foxes, and a lot more.

The spring and fall bird migration at the refuge is immense, and you can see bird species such as the formerly endangered trumpeter swans, elusive ruffled grouse, scarlet tanagers, bald eagles, indigo bunting, warblers, and so many others.

You can fish for the sought-after walleye, largemouth bass, panfish, and northern pike at the lakes.

On the Old Indian Hiking Trail, observe the beauty of the maple basswood forest once inhabited by the Ojibwe people.

Don't forget to contribute to the donation center for conservation projects and educational programming at schools.

Step outside the city for a while and marvel at Mother Nature's diversity at this beautiful nature preserve.

Final Thoughts

This metropolitan city with a green heart at its core holds all kinds of charms for both citizens and tourists.

Make sure to consult this list, and don't miss out on what the city has for you.

You are in for an energetic, adventurous vacation with the attractions that Detroit Lakes holds.