For the last couple of years, my family has been going up to Nisswa, Minnesota. Each August, we take time off from work to enjoy a week at Grand View Lodge. It’s been a summer staple for us as we lay low in a cabin or cottage and enjoy everything that the resort has to offer. As you’ll see from the link above, I’ve already written up a review of the lodge.
This time, however, I wanted to extend it to Nisswa and the surrounding area. I was able to do much more exploring on this trip, which is why I wanted to create another post for my blog, in case one of you Minnesota travelers (or visitors) stumbles upon my blog looking for things to do in the Brainerd Lakes area.
Grabbing a coffee in the morning and driving around Gull Lake was one of my favorite things to do. It has a pretty route on the west side of Gull, where you’re following winding roads as you follow the shoreline. Make sure you take the time for it, though. The lake is so big that it will take 45 minutes to drive around it!
If you don’t want to do the full drive around Gull, you should at least head to the southwest side of the lake. This is where you can access Pillsbury State Forest. My favorite entryways were Beauty Lake Road and Pillsbury Forest Road. They’re both a pretty route through tree-covered gravel roads. And while you’re driving, now and then you’ll come upon a pristine forest lake which makes for a beautiful photo op.
The last route you should try the Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway. There are a few loops you can drive. The byway will take you on a tour of small lake towns like Breezy Point, Crosslake, and Manhattan Beach. If you want a map to reference, a simple Google search will do the job.
Lake Towns To Check Out
I’m going to be honest off the bat when it comes to lake towns to check out. I’ve never found Brainerd to be intriguing. We say the ‘Brainerd lakes area’ all the time, but it’s never Brainerd where people are heading to for a long weekend. It’s the smaller lake towns that make the area charming and are the final destination.
First things first: Head to the main street in Nisswa once you get into town. It’s a cute area full of different types of shops, breweries, and boutiques. To get there, you’ll turn onto Nisswa Avenue from Highway 371. Then turn right onto Lower Cullen Road, and you are now on the main drag. From here, find a parking spot and start walking around. A few local favorites include:
- Meg’s Cabin
- Loide’ Oils & Vinegars Tasting Bar
- The Chocolate Ox
- Zaiser’s Gift Shop
- StoneHouse Coffee & Roastery
If you’re a history buff, walk over to the Nisswa Area Historical Society that’s near the main street. There’s a pioneer village that you can walk through and a museum you can check out.
If you’re a biker or love long walks, you can also pick up the Paul Bunyan trail in town.
Did you know? The Paul Bunyan trail is approximately 120 miles long, making it the longest biking trail in Minnesota. It starts in Brainerd and goes all the way up to Cass Lake.
If you drive the Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway, you’ll likely make your way up to Crosslake. It’s a charming town nestled next to, believe it or not, Cross Lake. It’s a beautiful area in the summer as it features 14 interconnected lakes via the Whitefish Chain of Lakes. The winding road that follows the shorelines through town will have you stopping at places like:
- Lake Country Crafts + Cones: Stop in for artisan crafts, locally-roasted coffee, and ice cream. It’s a great pit stop on a hot day. They also have a drive-through that you can use to grab refreshments and sandwiches.
- Whistling Wolf Mini Golf: This is a whimsy mini-golf course that the kiddos will love. You’ll feel as though you’re mini-golfing through the woods. It’s complete with an old-fashioned candy shop.
- Curious Belongings: If you’re looking for the cutest little antique shop, you’ve found it. I drove past it the first time and quickly decided to turn around and check it out. So if you love digging for old treasures, you’re going to want to add this place to your list.
Things To Do In The Area
- Okay, okay, if you want one reason to head to Brainerd, it would be for Pirates Cove Adventure Golf. It is the best place. Every time we go up to Nisswa, it’s a must for us to stop at Pirates Cove. They have two courses with 18 holes each. Fun for both adults and kiddos.
- If you really want to give Brainerd a chance, you can stop at the colorful You Betcha mural. You’ll find it in the alley next to The Crossing Arts Alliance building.
- Another great way to explore the area is by horseback. Outback Trail Rides does horseback riding through the forests and wildflowers meadows near Pillsbury State Forest.
Did you know? Pillsbury State Forest is the oldest State Forest in Minnesota, with over 14,000 acres of pristine trails.
Places To Eat
If you’re looking for a good list of places to eat while in the Brainerd Lakes Area, below are restaurants I’ve personally been to (**) or were recommendations by others:
- Main Street Ale House**: A brewery that is located on the main street of Nisswa. For an appetizer, make sure to order their honey and cheese board.
- Bar Harbor Supper Club**: Located on a channel that is connecting two lakes, this dinner place is accessible by a car or a boat. It’s an American restaurant with chops, seafood, cocktails, and more. There’s a great outdoor that’s perfect for happy hour and to watch the boats sail by.
- Sherwood Forest: This rustic old lodge serves modern American gastropub cuisine with wine and cocktails. You’re going to love the gigantic stone fireplace, which I can only imagine would be wonderful sitting by in the wintertime.
- Stonehouse Coffee: If you’re looking for locally-brewed coffee, make sure to stop at this roastery in downtown Nisswa. They get their beans from all over the world but roast them right here in Minnesota. I hear that they also have great scones!
- Crust Pizza**: This is the cutest pizza joint If you dine indoors, you’ll be eating under pretty string lights. If you dine outdoors, you’ll get to bask in the gardens on the rear deck.
- Roundhouse Brewery: An industrial taproom with outdoor seating space. They don’t serve food, but they do have good beer. You can bring in your own food though.
Grand View Lodge
If you’re staying at the lodge during your time up north, make sure to check out my original Grand View Lodge post that includes a thorough overview of everything you can do at the resort. But if you want the TL;DR version, you should:
- Rent a boat and spend the day on Gull Lake. Psst! There’s a sandbar on the south end of the lake.
- Head to the beach and grab a paddleboard. Guests can use them for free.
- You can also have a campfire right on the beach. Don’t forget the s’mores.
- Bring your racket and sneakers and have a friendly competition on the tennis courts.
- If you’re in more of a low-key vibe, book an appointment at the spa.
If you are planning a Nisswa getaway for a girls weekend, family trip, or a solo refresh, I hope you find this blog post helpful as you research things to do in the Brainerd Lakes area. I’ve been up there a few times now, so I feel like I have a good sense of what you should check out and what you can skip. But if I completely missed a hidden gem, please comment and share it with us in the comments section below.
Let’s go places,
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What is your favorite thing about the Brainerd Lakes Area of Minnesota? Share your experiences with us in the comments section below.
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