In the Land of 10,000 Lakes, it’s plenty easy to find a stretch of water to relax in, but Minnesota's Brainerd Lakes region combines aquatic fun with small-town charm—and a plethora of lakeside resorts in the area. Where else can you win a meat raffle and pamper yourself at a spa one day, then watch a turtle race and go zip-lining the next?
In the winter, it’s a small ski slope (and by "small," we mean small) but in the summer, Mount Ski Gull transforms into a zip lining course. On the tour, guests will spend two and a half hours weaving around Mount Ski Gull on seven different lines. You’ll have expansive views of the Brainerd Lakes Area that few get to see. For a much shorter, but still thrilling experience, try the Drop: a 50-foot free fall at the end of the course.
It might sound boring at first glance, but hundreds of participants join in on turtle-racing fun every Wednesday during the summer. The racetrack is set up in the Nisswa Chamber of Commerce parking lot and picking a winning turtle is the luck of the draw. Registration starts at 1 p.m. and each racer must pay a $5 entry fee. The day’s races last for approximately two hours with more than 300 turtles crossing the finish line every hour.
Go Shopping in Town
Downtown Nisswa may not be huge, but there are dozens of stores to visit. Visit one of the many gift shops like CoCo & Co. or Meg’s Cabin to bring a piece of Nisswa back home. Or head to Quirks!, a local art gallery featuring works from 40 Minnesota artists.
With services ranging from a golfers massage to a hot stone pedicure, Glacial Waters Spa has something for everyone. If you’re in the mood for something extra luxurious, spring for The Indulgence body treatment. You’ll get a full-body scrub, then soak in a jetted tub to melt stress away. After the soak, it’s time for a massage, followed by a wrap and facial. It’s three hours of pure bliss.
Started from the Main Lodge, Camp Lake Hubert for Girls, and Camp Lincoln for Boys, Grand View Lodge has been a vacation destination for nearly a century. During the summer you can take a sunset pontoon cruise and sail around the lake, hop on a banana boat, or just lounge on the beach. In the winter, you can cozy up to a fire and catch the annual ice fishing tournament held on Gull Lake. Golfers will love the two award-winning courses on the property and nature lovers have plenty of bike and walking trails to explore. If you want the perfect blend of lake life with modern luxuries, book a stay at the new North Hotel on the property.
Enter a Meat Raffle
A meat raffle is exactly what it sounds like. People flock to bars around Minnesota and buy tickets to win packages of raw meat. It may sound odd, but it's a popular thing to do at Minnesota dive bars. The type of meat available to win is unpredictable ranging from steaks to whole turkeys. If you're interested, the Nisswa American Legion has a raffle every Friday at 4:30 p.m. But if a meat raffle is too weird for you, try another popular bar activity: pull tabs. Pull tabs is a betting game where you buy a card and pull on perforated tabs to reveal a symbol underneath. If you have a winning combination of symbols, you win a cash prize. Oftentimes bars will also show how many winning tickets are left before you buy. Pull tabs are available at almost every bar in the area but Ye Olde Pickle Factory is a favorite for great bar food and electronic pull tabs.
Enjoy a Lakeside Meal
Oenophiles should head to Cru, a restaurant with a 2,000-bottle, glass-walled wine cellar at Grand View Lodge. But for a more casual dinner on the lakefront, head to Dock 77 at the Quarterdeck Resort. Wherever you dine, make sure to try some walleye, Minnesota’s state fish. For dessert, head to The Chocolate Ox. It is the premier candy and ice cream shop in the Brainerd Lakes region with locations in downtown Nisswa and Grandview Lodge.
Enjoy a Sunset Cruise on Gull Lake
There's nothing quite like a panoramic sunset seen from a boat and sunsets on Gull Lake are absolutely gorgeous. Set out with Gull Lake Cruises for a two-hour sunset dinner cruise. You'll learn a little about the lake and enjoy a full meal. Beverages aren't free but if you win a ring toss game you can get a complimentary drink. Keep an eye or an ear out for the loon, the state bird with a distinct call, during your cruise.