Brainerd Lakes, Minnesota, USA

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.

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

Brainerd Lakes Photo Gallery

Brainerd Lakes Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Dammed

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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