Brainerd Lakes, Minnesota, USA

Welcome to the ultimate guide for history, statistics, local fun facts and the best things to do at Brainerd Lakes.

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Brainerd Lakes visitor and community guide

Lake Locations: USA - Midwest - Minnesota - Central -

One of Minnesota’s most famous vacation wonderlands is the Brainerd Lakes. Located about two hours northwest of the Minneapolis-St Paul metro-plex, Brainerd is the perfect distance for a weekend or a lifetime enjoying these pristine lakes. And, although most people have a specific lake in mind when talking about the Brainerd Lakes, in reality there are scores of glacial pot-hole lakes large and small in the area. Most are natural lakes, created during the last glacial period, but some have been augmented by dams to control flooding and improve navigation. Located near the headwaters of the Mississippi River, these lakes have drawn trappers, fur traders, loggers and adventurers to the Brainerd area for nearly 200 years. And as is usually the case, they found Native American tribes had preceded them to these lakes teeming with fish and forests filled with game. When loggers spotted the lakes during their labors, they quickly determined the many lakes would make ideal Northwoods retreats and quickly built cabins and fishing lodges. The Brainerd Lakes area was well on its way to becoming a ‘destination’, and soon multitudes took advantage of it.

There is no strict definition of what constitutes the Brainerd Lakes. The community is made up of many small villages and dozens of lakes. The area considered Brainerd Lakes is roughly 25-30 miles around the City of Brainerd. It encompasses most of Crow Wing and Morrison Counties. That circle contains at least three major lake chains and dozens of other lakes, including three that are very large. The largest lake, Mille Lac Lake, usually isn’t included in the Brainerd Lakes definition, although it certainly is as close as some of the others. At 132,516 acres, it is the largest lake in the area and well-known for its fishing and boating opportunities. Its fame leaves Mille Lac Lake standing alone. Both Gull Lake and Pelican Lake are considered within the Brainerd Lakes area, covering 9,418 acres and 8,253 acres respectively. Pelican Lake is a natural lake, while Gull Lake has been augmented by a dam that raised water levels and facilitated travel along the Gull Lake Chain of Lakes. Other lakes in the Gull Lake chain include Upper Gull Lake, Nisswa Lake, Spring Lake, Love Lake, Round Lake, Bass Lake, Steamboat Bay, Wilson’s Bay, Roy Lake, Margaret Lake, and Spider Lake.

This isn’t the only chain of lakes in the Brainerd Lakes area, however. the Whitefish Chain of Lakes includes Upper Whitefish Lake, Lower Whitefish Lake, Big Trout Lake, Clamshell Lake, Hen Lake, Island Lake, Little Pine Lake, Arrowhead Lake, Bertha Lake, Cross Lake, Daggett Lake, Lower Hay Lake, Pig Lake, and Rush Lake for a total of 13,660 acres. Finally, the Cullen Chain of Lakes rounds out the major chains, with Upper Cullen, Middle Cullen, and Lower Cullen Lakes. The Cullen Chain alone covers over 1300 acres of water. All three chains are navigable to smaller boats, and all receive large numbers of fishermen and pleasure boaters.

All of the lakes in the area are noted for their clear waters and great fishing. Champion walleye and northern pike join bluegill, cisco, crappie, largemouth bass, sunfish , yellow perch and rock bass just waiting for the properly baited hook. So highly-rated is Brainerd Lakes fishing that there are several local guide services that direct visiting fishermen to the best ‘hot spots’, and a large number of the vacation resorts cater to fishermen year round. In fact, winter fishing and sports is a big part of Brainerd Lakes’ year-round appeal. The larger lakes and chains have marinas and boat rentals available to facilitate a great day on the water. Public boat ramps are plentiful as are places to stay.

Not all of the lakes are a part of a chain; some connect via channel to another lake or two. Many of the stand-alone lakes are very popular resort destinations. Fish Trap Lake, Cedar Lake, Bay Lake, Big Pine Lake, North Long Lake, South Long Lake, and Pelican Lake are only a few of the popular recreation lakes in the Brainerd Lakes area. Some of the lakes are mostly privately-owned with cottages and year-round homes lining the shores. Others have a number of resorts, housekeeping cabins and lodges providing every possible type of lodgings overlooking the water. Small motels, bed-and-breakfasts, condos, campgrounds and timeshares can all be found around Brainerd Lakes. Here visitors and residents alike enjoy pontooning, water skiing, canoeing, kayaking and jet skiing. The entire Brainerd Lakes area is well-supplied with restaurants, local ‘watering holes’ and amusements to keep visitors occupied and happy. All basic shopping and services are available, both to occasional visitors and property owners.

The Brainerd Lakes communities try to out-do each other with festivals and events guaranteed to put a smile on any visitor’s face. The action is non-stop, from summer-themed festivals and fairs to winter carnivals. Fishing tournaments, parades, boat races, fireworks, craft shows and special-interest events are always going on somewhere in the area. Many lakes have community or county parks to allow public access to swimming beaches, picnic areas, playgrounds and hiking areas. Winter is nearly as lively, with ski slopes, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails around many of the lakes. Year-round resorts rent fish houses and hold ice festivals with outrageous and humorous activities which engender a party atmosphere. Also nearby are thousands of acres of public lands open to hunting in season and wildlife viewing year-round.

Brainerd Lakes’ proximity to Duluth and the Twin Cities make it a highly attractive place to own or lease a seasonal cottage. The large number of private properties in the area assures there is almost always desirable lakefront real estate somewhere here. If you’ve ever yearned for lazy days on the water, a bonfire on the beach and a hammock in the shade, then Brainerd Lakes area is for you. So come spend a weekend or a week in the Brainerd Lakes area. You’ll quickly be hooked, and so will the fish.

* There is no true count of the number of lakes included in the area or their combined acreage.

Custom Brainerd Lakes house decor

Read our full review of these personalized lake house signs.

Things to do at Brainerd Lakes

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Fishing Tournaments
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Jet Skiing
  • Water Skiing
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Picnicking
  • Cabin Rentals
  • Hiking
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Playground
  • Shopping

Fish species found at Brainerd Lakes

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Bluegill
  • Cisco
  • Crappie
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Northern Pike
  • Perch
  • Pike
  • Sunfish
  • Trout
  • Walleye
  • Whitefish
  • Yellow Perch

Best hotels and vacation rentals at Brainerd Lakes

The Brainerd Lakes map shown above is a simple and stress-free way to search for trip accommodations. But if you want to take a deeper dive to find the ideal waterfront home, cabin, condo, hotel or resort, visit our favorite lodging partners by clicking the buttons below.

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Brainerd Lakes photo gallery

New photos coming soon!

Brainerd Lakes statistics & helpful links


Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Dammed

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