Plan a Winter Escape to the Brainerd Lakes Area

By Katie Dohman

Best known as a summer hot spot for fishing, boating, golfing and relaxing by the lake, the Brainerd Lakes area has a lot to offer winter visitors, too. Sure, there’s snowmobiling and ice fishing, but there are lots of other fun things to see and do when the lakes are frozen over.

Grand View Lodge resort in winter

Grand View Lodge in Nisswa makes for a cozy winter retreat / Grand View Lodge

Luxe Lodging

Grand View Lodge

Grand View does a spectacular job of catering to all comers, beyond the lovely accommodations. For those craving adventure, sign up for a (literally) breathtaking dog sled ride! For a little more R & R, book some time at Glacial Waters Spa and get pampered from head to foot.

Arrowwood Lodge

Just can’t shake the idea of diving into warm water? A stay at the Arrowwood Lodge might be your best bet. Take a dare with the four-story indoor-outdoor waterslide, splash with the kids in the zero-depth pool, or warm up in the hot tub.

Cragun's Resort

Book a two-night romantic getaway at Cragun’s Resort on Gull Lake, where you can get cozy in a fireplace room, dine at any of the five restaurants, and book a spa appointment specifically designed for couples, girlfriends or parents-to-be.

Find more places to stay in the Brainerd Lakes area

Shoe section of Zaisers store in Nisswa

Zaiser's is a quirky gift shop in downtown Nisswa

Surprising Shops & Galleries

Zaiser's

The shopping in Nisswa can’t be beat. While you will enjoy any number of shops up and down the main drag, make sure not to miss Zaiser’s, one of the most varied shops in the state. Packed to the gills with Minnetonka moccasins, kitchenware, children’s books and toys, and surprises around every corner, you can spend hours unearthing treasures that are perfect for gifts—for loved ones or yourself.

Quirks!

This art gallery is anything but small town: Find jewelry, pottery, photography, copper and other metalwork, stained glass, and other mediums from 40 artists from around the state—and beyond. Oh, and handmade notecards and greeting cards to add to a gift.

Lakes Area Frame and Gift Shoppe

Browse original works, canvas giclees, prints and posters—and have your favorite framed then and there, by the experts on staff. Need some smaller gifts or home accents? Lamps, tables, cards, candles and even jewelry await.

All Things Herbal Limited

Original recipe, handcrafted soaps featuring plant oils and house-made infusions—sounds almost good enough to eat. But this shop doesn’t stop at soap—order up lotions, sunscreen, rescue roll-ons, foot care and more for ultimate indulgence. Contact the makers for local pickup.

Outdoor Adventures

Snowkiting

If braving wind chills to drill holes with ice augers starts to become ho-hum, you must be a true Minnesotan. Here’s the good news: You can get some chilly thrills with the Minnesota Surf Co., who gives lessons in snowkiting—the winter version of kite surfing. Hang 10 … in a snowsuit!

Downhill Skiing

Need some downhill thrills? Hit the slopes at Mount Ski Gull, where you can ski, snowboard and tube to your frozen heart’s delight.

Brainerd Lakes Ice Fishing Extravaganza

Ice fishing in the Brainerd Lakes Area

Winter Festivals

Snowfest

In December, hit up Mugg's Snowfest, where you get can get a gander of vintage collectible snowmobiles, plus check out the rally, dealer displays and demo rides, and watch "The World Wahkon Premier" of snowmobile movies.

Ice Fest

January brings Ice Fest to Breezy Point and combines all of winter’s best into one weekend: pond hockey, ice fishing, horse-drawn trolley rides and snow golf, among other activities.

Frozen Fore Winter Weekend

Hop on a shuttle or drive your own snowmobile/vehicle to experience nine holes of winter golf at nine different locations all around Gull Lake. The three-day winter celebration includes a Frozen Flop, tent party, digital scavenger hunt and live music from Boogie Wonderland and Mother’s Hotdish.

Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza

The biggest event of them all, this ice fishing festival celebrated its 30th anniversary in February 2020.

Find more winter events

Culinary Finds

Stonehouse Coffee

Keep it cozy and wrap your mitts around a steaming mug of coffee from the only roastery in the area at Stonehouse Coffee in Nisswa. Don’t miss the Italian Stallion or a homemade doughnut.

The Chocolate Ox

Maybe it’s something sweet you need to eat. Vacations give you all the permission you need to indulge in old-school desserts. Find fudge, taffy and chocolate at The Chocolate Ox, which has two handy locations for wherever you land.

Katie Dohman

Katie Dohman is a freelance writer who loves to tell lifestyle and travel stories. She's also the former style editor for Minnesota Monthly magazine and co-authored "Minnesota 101: Everything You Wanted to Know About Minnesota and Were Going to Ask Anyway." Katie lives in her mid-century home with her husband, three kids and two rescue mutts.