Rich in history and natural beauty, the Mille Lacs area is only a short drive from the Twin Cities and a great spot for a getaway. From water-activities to games of chance, to learning about the history of the area, there are plenty of things to do in the Mille Lacs.
Things to do when visiting Mille Lacs
Explore Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post
The Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post in Onamia tells the story of the area’s first settlers, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, with a variety of interactive displays, exhibits, and learning stations. Exploring the large collection of artifacts and art is a wonderful way to learn more about the history of the area. The Four Seasons Room, which is not to be missed when visiting, is home to dioramas with life-size figures depicting the life for the Ojibwe people through the changing seasons.
Next door, the Trading Post offers a large selection of traditional and contemporary American Indian art and crafts from tribes across North America.
Grab a pack and head out for some outdoor exploration at one of the Mille Lacs area state parks. With 35 miles of trails and a 100-foot observation tower offering spectacular views of Lake Mille Lacs, Kathio State Park near Onamia is a perfect spot to spend a few hours or more. On the southeast shore near Isle, Father Hennepin State Park’s 320 acres includes trails that wind through hardwood forests and along the Lake Mille Lacs shoreline.
Go fishing with McQuoid’s Inn
One of the largest lakes in Minnesota, Lake Mille Lacs has 132,500 acres of stunning waters and is the place to catch four different species of trophy fish: smallmouth bass, walleye, muskie, and northern pike. It is also the spot where I caught my first fish – a walleye, quickly followed by a smallmouth bass! Guess I can check off two of the trophy fish species! Our fishing adventure on Lake Mille Lacs was with McQuoid’s Inn, who offers private and public charters aboard their comfortable, clean boats captained by expert fishermen. Bait, tackle, and equipment is all provided by McQuoid’s Inn – you just bring a camera to capture the pic with your catch.
With 1,500 slot machines, table games, video games, and a bingo hall, there’s something for everyone desiring to partake in a bit of gaming at Grand Casino Mille Lacs in Onamia. For the kiddos, the Grand Arcade has more than 80 arcade machines and when hunger strikes, there are four dining options ranging from coffee and snacks to steaks and seafood.
Shop ’til you drop in four quaint communities
Whether you’re interested in antiques, art, or unique gifts, there’s a wide assortment of quaint shops and boutiques throughout the four communities in the Mille Lacs area: Isle, Wahkon, Onamia, and Garrison. Stroll along main streets, explore specialty shops carrying clothing, gifts, wines and more, and pick up a few souvenirs, art, and local craft items.
Where to stay when visiting Mille Lacs
From campgrounds to resorts, Mille Lacs has a variety of lodging choices. For our visit, we stayed at the recently renovated Eddy’s Resort on Mille Lacs Lake. Cool and eclectic, Eddy’s has stunning lakeside views, comfortable, stylish design, a great restaurant and bar, the Launch Bar & Grill, and is easily accessible to the many activities and attractions throughout the Mille Lacs area.
Disclosure & Disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota and Mille Lacs Area Tourism for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
When I was about 5 or 6 years old my aunt took me fishing. We hauled all the gear out to a small, nearby lake and, upon arrival, she pulled out a can of worms and demonstrated how to put a worm on the hook. There was no possible way I was going to do such a thing, so she did it for me. About 10 minutes later, she explained to me that my constant talking was scaring the fish away. About 10 minutes after that, I’d eaten all of the snacks we’d brought. 10 more minutes – we loaded up the car and, as we headed back to town, she said she didn’t think I was going to be much of a fisherman.
If Eleanor could see me now.
Fishing with McQuoid’s Inn on Mille Lacs Lake
In the land of 10,000 lakes, I think babies are born with fishing poles in their hands, so I’m not sure anyone in Minnesota really believed that I had never caught a fish. But, that was soon to change with the help of McQuoid’s Inn on Mille Lacs Lake.
After stopping by Lundeen’s Tackle Castle for a fishing license, we headed over to McQuoid’s Inn for an afternoon of fishing on beautiful Lake Mille Lacs.
We knew we were going to be in good hands with McQuoid’s Inn, who has offered launch fishing on Mille Lacs Lake for over 70 years. Their boat captains are expert fisherman and McQuoid’s offers both private and public charters on their comfortable and super clean boats. We were joined by a family for the afternoon, and with that, out we headed to fish.
No worries with bait, tackle or equipment – everything is provided by McQuoid’s Inn. Our guide and boat captain, Mike, was terrific. He worked hard to find all the best spots where the fish hide and I never once had to touch the bait, which by the way were leeches – the things they used to stick on people to suck their blood under glass cups!
We listened to 70’s rock (Eleanor definitely would not have approved) while we waited for the fish to find us – and it didn’t take long!
The family that was with us caught a couple of Walleye, then I felt a tug on my line. Mike came running with his net and… Voila! I caught a 14″ Walleye!
How much fun was that! Mike told me how to hold it – it was rather wiggly – and we snapped the photos.
Walleye is a hugely popular fish in Minnesota and found on menus in nearly every restaurant in the state. We even had it for breakfast in a hash one day (it was amazing). However, for the 2016 season on Lake Mille Lacs, Walleye were classified as “catch and release” to rebuild the population at the lake. So, after Mike measured the little guy, off he went back into the water, and it was back to fishing for this now-experienced fisherwoman.
It wasn’t long before I felt another tug and Mike came running again with the net. This time – a 16″ Small Mouth Bass! With the first fish, in my excitement, I’d forgotten what I’d learned from our resident Minnesotan at lunch – when you take the photo, hold the fish out really far, close to the camera and it makes the fish look bigger. Got it the second time!
Speaking of our resident Minnesotan, Caitlin Rick, who had organized the event, was still fishless as the afternoon was drawing to a close. But, we were doubting too soon and it was as if the fish knew she couldn’t go home without a catch. Just before we turned back to shore, Caitlin too got her catch for the day!
What a fun afternoon! If you are in the Mille Lacs Lake area, contact McQuid’s Inn to reserve a spot on one of their charters. The boats are great, the guides are professional and fun, and the lake is beautiful!
Know before you go
McQuoid’s Inn provides the bait, tackle, and expert fishing advice.
You bring your fishing license, camera, food and beverage, and dress for the weather.
Private charters are available for groups of 5 to 85 guests. Bachelor and bachelorette party groups must privately charter launch trips.
Disclosure & Disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota, McQuid’s Inn and Mille Lacs Area Tourism for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
I must confess – when we walked into Eddy’s Resort, it was nothing like what I expected. As we toured the state of Minnesota with Explore Minnesota and arrived at beautiful Lake Mille Lacs, I expected a hotel styled in rustic tones and decorated with fishing memorabilia. Instead, we were greeted by a roaring fire in a red-tiled fireplace, a lobby with boutique-hotel panache, and an eclectic mix of colors and designs.
Fresh off of a huge renovation, Eddy’s Resort has molded its rich history that dates back to 1960 into a fun, warm and inviting resort with a definite cool factor. Huge Jenga games loom on industrial-style tables in the lobby. The walls are covered with reclaimed wood salvaged from the original buildings on the property prior to the remodel. Contemporary metal chairs with bright red fabric are blended with plaid touches and stripes. And, those sitting in those comfortable seating arrangements are treated to amazing lakeside views.
The rooms & suites
The comfortable, stylish design is continued throughout the guest rooms and suites, with splashes of red co-mingling with plaids and industrial accents. Our suite was quite large with a couch, coffee table, flat screen television, desk, coffee pot, mini-fridge, and a microwave. The king-sized bed was outfitted with crisp, white linens, comfy pillows, and good-sized night stands. The bath was spacious, with a free-standing shower, tub, and a long granite vanity.
Rooms on the first floor have walk-out patios, while second and third-floor rooms have walk-out balconies. Our third-floor, lakeside room delivered breathtaking views of the lake.
Dining & beverages at the Launch Bar & Grill
We spent our evening at Eddy’s enjoying dinner and drinks at the Launch Bar & Grill, while watching the lake shimmering lake colors change as the sun as it disappeared for the day.
Starting with cocktails and a tasty Thai Chili Hummus that packed a little punch, we then moved on to awesome walleye sandwiches. The food was great, the service excellent, the atmosphere fun, and the views spectacular.
Things to do at and near the resort
While the hotel has a modern, urban look and feel, one step out the door and you are once again immersed in the natural beauty of the area. A great place for enjoying drinks and conversation, a large patio and fire pit are located just outside the restaurant and bar.
For those wanting to get in a bit of fishing or simply explore the lake by boat, Eddy’s offers launch trips and boat charters. Never fished before? No problem. For first timers, Eddy’s holds a fishing class on Saturdays that is free to hotel guests.
The hotel also has a fitness room on site, a free coffee bar in the lobby, and for some family fun time, a selection of games are available to check out.
For those looking to try their hand at some games of chance, the Grand Casino Mille Lacs is just down the road.
Location: 41334 Shakopee Lake Rd, Onamia, MN 56359
Design: Contemporary eclectic
Rooms: 64 rooms and suites, 1 parlor suite, 4 cabins
Additional services and amenities: restaurant, bar, launch services, fitness center, games
Disclosure & Disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota and Eddy’s Resort for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
As we continued on our journey around Minnesota with Explore Minnesota, we discovered an outdoor paradise in central Minnesota, a beautiful region just a couple of hours north of Minneapolis-St. Paul: Brainerd Lakes! The region has luxury resorts, gorgeous golf courses, fine dining, spas, and an abundance of activities and fun things to do, from zip lining to yacht cruises to amusement parks. And, watching a spectacular Minnesota sunset is a truly amazing way to end the day in Brainerd Lakes.
The Brainerd Lakes area is located in the center of Minnesota and home to multiple cities and several countries. With over 500 lakes and rivers, including beautiful Gull Lake, it’s no wonder that the Brainerd Lakes region is so widely known as a premier vacation destination.
Things to do when exploring Brainerd Lakes
While the list of things to do in Brainerd Lakes is long, there are a few adventures that are “must do” activities and attractions when visiting the area.
Our cruise aboard Destiny Cruises’ luxury yacht was one of the highlights of our time spent exploring Minnesota.
A relaxing afternoon enjoying delicious food and beverages while gazing at the shimmering, blue waters of Gull Lake, it was the perfect way to explore Gull Lake and view the beautiful coastline. The Destiny Cruises crew is fun and provide excellent service, delivering an authentic Minnesota welcome aboard their beautiful boat. While we experienced a lunch cruise, Destiny Cruises also offers happy hour, dinner, brunch and sunset cruises, as well as private charters.
Once you’ve seen Brainerd Lakes from the water, you need to see it from the air.
Ziplining at Brainerd Zip Line Tour is exciting, fun and offers some of the most amazing views you’ll find in the Brainerd Lakes area. With 7 zip lines of varying lengths, a 65-foot suspension bridge, and an optional 50-foot free fall jump, Brainerd Zip Line Tour will have you soaring at top speeds over the trees at Mount Ski Gull, while taking in spectacular, panoramas of Agate Lake and Gull Lake.
Spend a day playing at a lake
Celebrate the natural beauty found in the state of 10,000 lakes with a day of water activities and family fun. Whatever your water sports preference may be – boating, paddleboarding, snorkeling, tubing, water skiing, fishing, canoeing or simply floating on a raft – the crystal clear waters of the Brainerd Lakes region is the place to play on the water.
Hit the links
Nationally recognized by leading golf publications as a top golfing destination, the Brainerd Lakes area is home to courses that are nestled amidst tall trees and set against a backdrop of stunning lakeside landscapes. Emerald greens and fairways, resorts with vast amenities, and a variety of courses playable by all skill levels attract golfers from across the nation to this section of central Minnesota.
Madden’s Resort on Gull Lake is home to four courses, including Minnesota’s oldest 18-hole resort golf course and the top-rated Classics course.
No visit to the Brainerd Lakes area is complete without a visit to see and talk to the legend himself, Paul Bunyan. Greeted by the giant Babe the Blue Ox in the parking lot, a visit to Paul Bunyan Land offers a full day of family fun with 40 amusement rides and attractions, Paul’s petting barn, The Pioneer Village, and of course, the famous 26 foot tall lumberjack with eyes that blink and a head that swivels, that greets you by name as you enter.
Where to stay at Brainerd Lakes
With accommodation options in the Brainerd Lakes area ranging from campgrounds to luxury resorts, there’s a perfect place to stay for every taste and budget. A fabulous choice for the utmost in relaxation and amenities is Madden’s on Gull Lake. From time on the fairway to luxuriating at the spa, to enjoying fine dining, Madden’s is the spot for enjoying all that Minnesota has to offer in peaceful, laid-back luxury.
Brainerd Lakes, Minnesota is approximately 200 miles north of Minneapolis-St Paul in central Minnesota.
Summer temperatures (June-August) in the Brainerd Lakes area range from 76°F to 80°F, with average lows between 52°F to 57°F. January is the coldest month of the year, with average daytime highs of 20°F and average lows of -4°F.
Disclosure & Disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota and the Explore Brainerd Lakes for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
Ready for some high-flying fun in the Brainerd Lakes area? Head over to Brainerd Zip Line at Mount Ski Gull for a few hours of soaring over the treetops while enjoying spectacular views of Gull Lake!
We’d wanted to try ziplining for years, so when Explore Minnesota presented the opportunity to try out the newly built zip line course presented itself, we were all in – and it was a blast!
After signing waivers, we headed out to gear up. Gear is provided by Brainerd Zip Line Tour and includes harnesses, gloves, and a helmet.
After getting into our harnesses and helmets, we selected gloves, which are for braking along the line. Ready to go, we boarded a van and headed to the training course.
Each group has two guides – ours were Hollie and Amanda, who were professional and, it was obvious throughout our adventure, they had been well-trained to have our safety in mind.
Hollie and Amanda helped us gear up and taught us ziplining basics at a training course site. Once we were trained, they sent and caught us, as we moved from tower to tower along the zip line course.
They also were a lot of fun and shared facts about the area and the course throughout the experience.
For anyone that would have any anxiety before ziplining, the training course sets those fears to rest. Amanda and Hollie first explained the basics, like how to hold on and how to brake, and answered any of our questions. Amanda then demonstrated how to zip line.
Next up, we each gave it a try. Low to the ground, the training zip line gives everyone a chance to try out their new skills before encountering heights. Amanda and Hollie took time to make sure everyone was comfortable before moving on.
Training completed, we walked a short distance to the zip lines. Arriving at the course, we climbed up a five-story flight of stairs to the first tower. The reward for the climb – aside from getting to begin your zip line adventure – are the views. From the tower, you can see for miles across Agate Lake and Gull Lake.
Let’s go ziplining!
The Brainerd Zip Line Tour course consists of 7 lines of varying lengths, a 65-foot suspension bridge, and an optional 50-foot free fall jump. Everyone is clipped in during the experience – even while waiting on the towers. Getting things started, Hollie went first to be on the receiving end tower at the end of the line. From there, she guided us as we approached on when to begin braking and was there to catch us and assist with our landing.
Now it was our turn. Amanda secured us, communicated with Hollie on the other side via radio, and when we were clear – away we went! As with repelling when rock climbing, the first step off is the most difficult and then, it is just a blast.
So, what’s it like zipping along above the trees? Check it out…
Navigating the suspension bridge
In addition to the seven zip lines, the Brainerd Zip Line Tour includes a trek across a 65-foot long suspension bridge. Even though it sounds easy, the boards get further apart near the uphill finish, making it a bit challenging – although I did manage to pose for a photo opp…
A 50-foot free fall finale
As our zip line adventure drew to a close, there was just one more thing to do – the optional 50 foot free fall jump!
After arriving at the last tower, there are two ways down. Walk down the stairs or opt for a 50-foot free fall finale. Of course, we jumped. Not a bungee jump, it’s a controlled free fall and a great way to end a fabulous zip line adventure!
Know before you go
Dress for the adventure. Unless lightning or high winds are present, zip line tours are conducted regardless of weather conditions, including rain and snow. Given you will be zipping through the air above the tree line, dress appropriately. Additionally, closed toe and heel shoes and shirts are required. Long pants are recommended because the safety harness straps can irritate your skin. Hair should be tied back.
Mosquito repellent. Even though you don’t think about mosquitos when soaring above the trees, in the training area there were mosquitos, so put on some repellant before going to the mountain.
Age and weight restrictions. Brainerd Zip Line Tour participants must be between 70 and 250 pounds and 10 years old or older.
Photography. While we were allowed to bring our cameras during the experience for this article, guests are not allowed to bring cameras with the exception of a GoPro (which we also used) with a helmet mount, which Brainerd Zip Lines provides. If you do not have a GoPro, Brainerd Zip Lines rents units for $20.
Time. Arrive at least 30 minutes before your reserved time and allow 2 to 2/12 hours for your zip line adventure.
Wait until after your adventure for a beer.
Reservations are recommended. Find out more and reserve your spot for a Brainerd Zip Line Tour on their website.
Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota, Explore Brainerd Lakes and Brainerd Zip Line Tour for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
Nestled amidst a lush forest and bordered by the sparkling waters of Gull Lake, Madden’s Resort is home to world-class golf, stunning sunsets, an excellent staff and a laid-back lifestyle with something for everyone. A true retreat in every sense of the word, Madden’s has an activity to fill every minute of the day or, for those seeking a more tranquil experience, serenity for a quiet, scenic escape.
With four golf courses, delicious dining options, more water activities than you could fit into a week, beautiful accommodations, and a fabulous spa, it is understandable why so many have visited and returned to this wonderful resort over the last 87 years.
On our first visit to the highly acclaimed Midwest resort, we spent our time exploring all Madden’s has to offer, while also taking a bit of time to marvel in the peaceful beauty of central Minnesota.
Madden’s Resort has a wide variety of rooms and locations across the sprawling resort. Our room was in the recently remodeled Voyageur complex on the west side of the resort near the spa. If you love magnificent sunsets – there’s no place quite like it.
In 2015, the Brainerd Lakes area was hit by a massive storm that toppled thousands of trees in the region, with Madden’s taking the brunt of the storm, which destroyed much of the Voyageur building and several others on the property. Fresh off of the renovation, we were among the first to stay in the newly re-opened rooms.
Upon entering the room we were greeted with a welcome note and an assortment of locally made caramels that were spectacular!
The oversized room was immaculate and decorated in neutrals with slate blue accents. With a comfy chair, desk, flat-screen TV, a luxurious bath and a kitchenette, the room was both relaxing and well-equipped. The cozy bed covered with white, plush linens and pillows was incredibly comfortable. Glass doors led to the large private patio with a couple of chairs and fabulous Wilson Bay views.
The resort has 285 guest rooms with varying accommodation types and location options. In addition to Wilson Bay, where we stayed, there are golf villas near Madden Inn & Golf Club, Mission Bay accommodations that are close to the beach and water, and Madden’s offers all-inclusive stays at Madden’s Lodge on the Steamboat Bay side of the resort.
One of the first thoughts I had when we drove into Madden’s was what a spectacular job they’ve done in blending their landscaping and development with the natural environment. Built across 1000 acres, of which, over 600 acres remain undeveloped, the natural habitat is accentuated by colorful plants, fountains, and art. The natural and developed elements blend harmoniously to create an enhanced landscape that celebrates the natural beauty of Minnesota.
Part of embracing natural beauty is protecting it and Madden’s green initiatives for the resort are apparent throughout. Outdoor bars use reusable drinkware, the wine list features & identifies several organic or sustainable wines, guests are encouraged to reuse towels and recycle, the resort has water and energy efficiency practices in place throughout and there’s an on-property chef’s garden that supplies fresh vegetables and herbs for the restaurants.
Madden’s four golf courses
Shortly after checking in, we made our way to the Classic Golf Course, which is consistently recognized by golf publications as one of the best courses in the Midwest, as well as the world. Built in 1997, The Classic at Madden’s meanders over gentle hills and through towering trees, with pristine bent-grass tees, fairways and greens, and stunning views.
Early evening on a course is such a pleasant time of day. As the heat of the day fades and shadows dance across the fairways, a quieter pace permeates. As we made our way around Madden’s Classic course, my thoughts turned back to childhood evenings getting a few holes in with my Dad after he arrived home from work. The unhurried outings where he’d casually correct my stance and we’d take time to practice an approach to a challenging green came flooding back with a smile as we drove along on the cart.
In the distance, just across one of the Classic’s picturesque bridges spanning a pond with lily pads, a foursome shared a laugh as they headed toward their cart en route to the 17th hole.
While the park-like setting of the 6,101-yard Classic course is astonishingly beautiful, challenges await around every turn with water on 15 holes and over 50 bunkers on the par 72 course. And – the Classic Course is actually only one of four courses at Madden’s Resort.
The Pine Beach East course, Minnesota’s oldest 18-hole resort golf course, dates back to 1926 when it was built by James Dalgleish, attracting golfers from the area to the links on the shores of Gull Lake.
Located directly behind the Madden Lodge, Pine Beach East offers 5,944 yards of golf on well-manicured, generous fairways and gorgeous greens. A mix of a traditional layout and modern golfing challenges, Pine Beach East is also home to a rare par 6 hole – the 618-yard sixth hole.
On the southwest section of the resort, yet another first class golf experience is for the taking at the 18 hole Pine Beach West. Narrow fairways and fast greens put the challenge into this wooded 5,070 yard par 67 course.
For the family outing or a quick warm up, the Social 9 course offers eight par threes and one par four in a relaxing atmosphere.
The Spa at Madden’s
A world away from the hustle and bustle of the daily life, the Spa at Madden’s is the perfect place for rejuvenation and pampering. Overlooking peaceful Wilson Bay, the Spa offers a full menu of services including massages, pedicures, manicures, facials, waxing and wraps.
Grab a cup of tea, take a stroll by the lake behind the Spa and admire the J. Kreitz artwork, then indulge in a day of relaxation and watch the stress melt away.
Dining at Madden’s
While at Madden’s we had the opportunity to visit several of the restaurants. Casual & inviting, each restaurant offered fresh, modern dishes, and exceptional service.
The first evening we dined at the Classic Grill, which delivered all the way around – great food, excellent service and marvelous views. We started off the evening with a couple of martinis and then progressed to salads. The Madden’s house salad is amazing with mixed greens, craisins, walnuts, feta cheese, and honey mustard. Next up, I had the Walleye and Greg had the scallops and shrimp. As we often do, we each ate half, then swapped plates. Both entrées were delicious and the sear on the scallops was perfect, with a gorgeous caramelized crust on the outside and tender and sweet on the inside. The service was outstanding and the view was spectacular.
After sunset, we took a walk around the resort, stopping for a glass of wine at Parfecto Pizza, a fun, casual restaurant featuring pizzas, flatbreads, calzones, and salads with items available for takeout or room delivery.
Finishing our wine, we strolled back to our room to the sounds of frogs, surrounded by the beauty of the Minnesota night.
The next morning, we took an early walk around the resort with a stop by Madden Bros. Market for a chai latte and a heavenly donut.
Located in a village of shops across from Madden Inn, Madden Bros. Market is the resort’s version of a general store, with a coffee bar, gift shop, wine shop and practically anything else one may need or want on their vacation from s’more supplies to souvenirs.
Madden’s also has a variety of other restaurants, including The Restaurant at Madden Inn & Golf Club, the Dining Room at Madden Lodge, the 19th Hole & Pool Deck, The O’Madden Pub, and the Lobby Café.
There is no better way to experience the beauty of Gull Lake than from the water. Simply name your sport and Madden’s is there to make it happen. From kayaks, canoes, rowing skulls and paddle boats to water bikes, a banana boat, or stand up paddle boards, it’s on the agenda. If fun on the water includes fishing or a boat ride, fishing boats, a tritoon, pontoons and speedboats are also available at the resort.
Prefer a bit of poolside leisure or perhaps some sand between your toes? Madden’s Resort has three indoor pools, one outdoor pool, an outdoor hot, and three beaches.
Meetings, conferences, and weddings
While exploring, we happened upon several beautiful buildings for hosting events and meetings. With its copper covered tower, Madden’s Town Hall Conference Center is large enough to host 700 for meetings, conferences, and trade shows.
Next to the spa, the newly rebuilt Wilson Bay private venue space is a spectacular location for a wedding set against a backdrop of Gull Lake and room to host a reception and dance with a private bar, casual seating areas and fine dining.
5 things we loved about Madden’s
The staff at Madden’s was helpful and friendly and always quick to answer a question or lend a hand.
The golf courses are lush, not overcrowded and exceptionally well-maintained.
The resort is serene, beautiful and epitomizes approachable, lake-side luxury.
The food is outstanding.
There’s so much to do, with activities of every type, or one can simply take a stroll or quietly relax with a glass of wine and watch the sun set.
Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota, Explore Brainerd Lakes and Madden’s on Gull Lake for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
A couple of hours gliding on clear waters, while enjoying delicious food and a beverage under clear blue skies, makes for one of our favorite ways to spend an afternoon.
When the lake is Gull Lake, one of the largest in the Brainerd, Minnesota area, with 38 miles of picturesque coastline and sparkling waters, and the boat it is the luxury Destiny Cruises yacht, the North Star, the experience is elevated to a superb afternoon of relaxation and leisure.
Destiny Cruises on Gull Lake
Our two-hour lunch excursion aboard the beautiful motor yacht began at the docks at Ernie’s on Gull, about six miles north of Brainerd. Welcomed aboard with a warm, Minnesota welcome, guests have the option of relaxing downstairs in the air-conditioned, glass-enclosed cabin, or opting for the open-air upstairs deck. We headed straight upstairs to bask in the Minnesota sunshine.
The yacht is large – 65 feet long and 22 feet wide – providing guests plenty of room to spread out, get comfortable and enjoy the captivating views.
Custom built by SkipperLiner in LaCrosse, WI for Destiny Cruises, the North Star took a year to build and was delivered in 2014. Now in her third season on Gull Lake, the North Star was the first public cruise vessel to operate on the lake for many years. The elegant boat’s public cruises, which include lunch, brunch, happy hour, dinner and sunset cruises, have been warmly welcomed by the community and visitors to the area. The yacht is also a popular venue for private chartered events and weddings.
With two cash bars, one upstairs and one down, guests can partake of a beverage, as we did, selecting a refreshing cocktail to enjoy as we pulled away from the dock and headed out on the sparkling waters of Gull Lake.
One of the largest lakes in the Brainerd area, Gull Lake is three miles wide and fifteen miles long. Along the way, our captain provided some of the area’s history and facts about the lake itself. Gull Lake is 70 – 85 feet deep in most places and contains most types of fish common to Minnesota’s waters.
As the relaxation and fun continued, we took turns “diving the boat” and I even donned the captain’s cap while at the helm.
Lunch was a delicious selection of BBQ chicken and salmon, baked beans, cole slaw, potato salad and turtle pudding for dessert.
We made our way around the lake, passing Hole in the Day Bay, where an ice fishing championship is held each winter with 20,000 pre-drilled holes created in advance for the competition. On this warm, sunny day as the lake sparkled in a thousand shades of blue, it was hard to imagine it being cold enough for ice fishing a few months earlier. The magic of Minnesota.
There are 19 resorts on Gull Lake, including Madden’s, where we stayed while visiting the Brainerd area, and which we highly recommend. A beautiful, sprawling resort, Madden’s has five restaurants, four pools, two lounges, three golf courses, spa, full-service marina and so much more. If you are staying at Madden’s and would like to schedule a private Destiny Cruise for your group, Destiny Cruise can even pick you up at the resort.
As our wonderful time aboard the North Star drew to a close, we savored the last moments of peaceful relaxation and stunning views on Gull Lake. The entire two-hour cruise was perfect thanks to the beautiful surroundings, the large, elegant yacht, and the excellent crew.
Know before you go
Prepare for changing weather. Except when severe weather conditions are present, cruises depart rain or shine. Wear sunscreen and a hat, and bring a light jacket, especially in the evening or on a cloudy day.
Cruises. Destiny Cruises offers public brunch, lunch, happy hour, dinner and sunset cruises. Private charters for events such as weddings, rehearsal dinners, family gatherings or corporate getaways are also available. Visit the Destiny Cruises website for more information and to book your cruise or private event.
Bring some cash. The crew provides excellent service and gratuity for the onboard staff is not included in the ticket price.
Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota, Explore Brainerd Lakes and Destiny Cruises for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
As you enter Paul Bunyan Land, the famous lumberjack sits directly in front of you, 26 feet tall with eyes that blink and a head that swivels, and he greets you by name. After that, he answers any questions you may have.
We had a few – check out Paul telling us how old he is and what his favorite food is…
Paul went on to tell us about how his dog, Sport, the Reversible Dog, who ended up with his legs upside down. Evidently, Sport accidentally got cut in half and when the nearby doctor sewed him back together he made the mistake. Now sport runs on his front legs, then flops over and runs on his hind legs when he gets tired.
As much as we loved it, children are mesmerized. Watching from a short distance, nostalgia is in the air as parents and grandparents relive their own childhood memories with the plaid-shirted animated giant.
A local attraction and tradition in the Brainerd Lakes Area since the 1950s, Paul and his friends’ futures were looking bleak when the original amusement park, Paul Bunyan Amusement Center, closed in 2002 to make way for a Kohl’s department store. Hoping to obtain a few items from the park as it was sold off, the owners of Pioneer Village, located about 6 miles away, ended up purchasing the entire amusement park. Combining the two attractions, they relocated the rides, buildings, Paul, Sport, and Paul’s ox, Babe the Blue Ox, to their new home on 23 acres, which is now Paul Bunyan Land and This Old Farm Pioneer Village.
The park now has something for everyone, offering a day of fun and exploration for the entire family. Paul Bunyan Land has 40 rides and attractions, a petting barn, and the Pioneer Village is home to 30 buildings filled with the largest one man collection of antiques from the late 1800’s to early 1900’s in Minnesota.
The amusement park
With 40 amusement rides and attractions, the kiddos will be entertained all day – and they can be because all rides are included in the admission price.
There are rides like the Flight Commander and Mini Roller Coaster for the little ones.
For the older family members, the Tilt-A-Whirl, Dodge-em-Cars and Flying Cages provide whirls and thrills. And, for everyone in the family, climb on the ferris wheel or explore the Magnetic Mine.
In addition to the amusement park, Paul Bunyan Land has a candy store and jail, which are conveniently, oh I mean curiously, next door to each other.
Paul’s petting barn
Paul’s petting barn is between the amusement park and the Pioneer Village and a chance to stop by and see the horses, chickens and pigs up close.
This Old Farm Pioneer Village
Thirty buildings await exploration in The Pioneer Village, including a train depot, blacksmith, saw mill, fire station, church, sweet shoppe, log house, fire station and many more.
Each of the buildings are filled with antiques primarily from the collection of Dick and Marian Rademacher, who started the Village, and from other donors who wanted to see their collections enjoyed by the many visitors to the park.
Great care in preserving history is visible throughout Pioneer Village. The Rad’s Groceries building was the actual structure of the store operated about six miles away by Rademacher’s parents. The building was moved from its original location to the Village and then filled with period pieces from the Rademacher antique collection.
The train depot building was actually used in the making of the 1994 movie Iron Will starring Mackenzie Astin and Kevin Spacey. Following the movie, the structure was moved to Brainerd and re-constructed in the Pioneer Village.
Current owners, Lois Moon and Alan Rademacher, work to preserve the massive collection their father built over the years and to share it with the many park visitors. The collection is vast, with thousands and thousands of items ranging from glassware to antique cars to farm equipment.
Donations of items, such as a huge camera collection and the cannon shown below, have made their way to Pioneer Village, with the understanding that, once donated, the items will stay in the Village permanently.
Where to stay
There are a variety of lodging choices in and around Brainerd, but we recommend Madden’s on Gull Lake. A beautiful, luxury resort, Madden’s has stunning water views, two golf courses, a spa, fabulous dining, a beach and so much more.
Know before you go
Admissions. Here’s one parents should love. Admission includes unlimited rides for the day, and entry to the petting barn and Pioneer Village. Season passes are also available and children under 2 are free.
Park hours. The park is open daily 10 am to 6 pm from Memorial Day Weekend to Labor Day. Additionally, the park operates Brainerd Lakes’ largest haunted attraction in October and free admission to the Enchanted Holiday Pioneer Village during the holiday season in December. Visit the Paul Bunyan Land website for hours and dates.
Disclosure & Disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota, Explore Brainerd Lakes and Paul Bunyan Land for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used. Some posts on this website may contain links to our partners’ websites and Chasing Light Media may be compensated by those partners.
It’s not every day that you visit a town and, upon arriving, the mayor and the former mayor meet you and take you on a tour. But then, not every town is Dorset, Minnesota.
There’s a lot happening in this unique little town in north central Minnesota with a population of 22. The self-proclaimed “Restaurant Capital of the World,” Dorset has a newspaper that is published once a year “whether there’s unbelievable news or not” and has elected a three-year old mayor – twice.
The Youngest Mayor in America
When James Tufts became mayor of Dorset in 2015 at the age of three, he stole the record as Dorset’s youngest mayor from his older brother. Two-term former mayor, Robert “Bobby” Tufts, was also elected at the age of three but, with his win, James edged him out as the youngest by two days.
How did a three-year old become mayor, you may ask? In unincorporated Dorset, the mayor is drawn from the ballots cast during the annual Taste of Dorset festival. It’s a buck a ballot and anyone can enter their selection during the process, with the proceeds going to charity.
During their time in office, the Tufts brothers have gained international fame, appearing on the Today Show and Good Morning America and having made headlines in the NY Daily News, the Daily Mirror and countless other news outlets.
After a tour through several of James’ favorite haunts around town, such as the toy section of a local store and the miniature golf course, we stopped to catch some words of wisdom from the pint-sized politician who is quick to dispense sage advice.
And, it appears we are in good company – well, at least famous company. According to the local paper, the Dorset Daily Bugle, all of the presidential candidates have sought the mayor’s advice. James, now at the wise old age of four, provided these words of wisdom, “Be nice and no poopy talk.”
Older brother Bobby, now a Dorset ambassador, seems happy to assist his younger sibling with his mayoral duties. But, if you think he’s completely retired from politics, you may want to think otherwise. It appears from his hat he’s already exploring a 2048 presidential bid.
Finishing up our time with the Tuft political dynasty, we moved on to investigate Dorset’s other claim to fame as the Restaurant Capital of the World.
The Restaurant Capital of the World
With five restaurants serving the 22 residents of Dorset, it does seem the tiny town is worthy of the title of Restaurant Capital of the World.
This actually follows a two-year period when the town was down to only three restaurants. In September 2014, Campaneros and the Dorset House were destroyed by fire after being struck by lightning. Both restaurants were rebuilt and reopened in 2016, restoring the town’s assortment of dining options to five. While in town, we dined at La Pasta, which in addition to a wide selection of Italian delicacies, has ridiculously good breadsticks.
Obviously, most visitors come to the Restaurant Capital of the World to eat but, when visiting, be sure to allow some time in your schedule for shopping as well.
A stroll down Dorset’s main street is a must and will undoubtedly result in a few finds that must make their way home with you. From souvenirs, to home decor to antiques to yes, James’ favorite, candy and toys await.
Things to do near Dorset
Shop Downtown Park Rapids. Only 6 miles from Dorset, Park Rapids has a charming downtown area with numerous shops, boutiques, and restaurants.
Visit Detroit Lakes. Only about an hour away from Dorset, Detroit Lakes is has a wide variety of outdoor activities, events, festivals, shopping, and dining.
We loved visiting Dorset and applaud the 22 residents and the nearby town of Park Rapids for their creativity in promoting this unique little place on the planet. Thank you to everyone who came out to meet us, to La Pasta for hosting us for lunch, and to James and Bobby for our tour of the town.
Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota and the Park Rapids Chamber of Commerce for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
Cover: Mississippi Headwaters, Itasca State Park, Park Rapids, Minnesota
Photo: Caitlin Rick
Article by Kim Hull
Home to the beginning of the Mississippi River, Itasca State Park is a wonderful 32,000 acre park with towering pines, more than 100 lakes, hiking and biking trails, the largest pine tree in Minnesota, the historic Douglas Lodge and much more.
Established in 1891, Itasca is the oldest state park in Minnesota and the second oldest in the United States. It is also the most popular in Minnesota, with over a half million visitors each year. Most come to cross the rocks at the headwaters of the Mississippi, but discover an outdoor paradise and return to park to explore and enjoy it further, with 70% of Itasca visitors being return visitors.
A good place to begin a visit to Itasca State Park is at the Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center.
Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center
We always start a park visit with a stop at the visitors center, so we’ve been to quite a few across the country and the Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center is one of the nicest we’ve visited. Bright and spacious, it is well laid-out, with interpretive and hands-on exhibits, photographs, videos, maps of the area and a gift shop.
The 13,000 square foot center is named after Jacob V. Brower, a writer, historian and land surveyor, who came to the Lake Itasca area in the 1800’s to settle a dispute over the location of the start of the Mississippi. Brower remained in the area and his conservation work to save the pine forests, which were being threatened from logging, ultimately resulted in the establishment of the state park in April of 1891.
Park naturalists and staff are on hand at the center to answer questions and provide recommendations on exploring the park. Maps and information are also available at the center, including an Itasca State Park overview pamphlet.
When planning a visit to Itasca State Park, the park has several lodging and camping options available for your stay, including a hostel, the historic Douglas Lodge, or, of course, camping under the stars.
The historic Douglas Lodge opened in 1905 and has since hosted guests for over 110 years. While having been updated through the years with modern conveniences, the quiet, peaceful lodge retains its historic feel with period furnishings and rustic decor.
Douglas Lodge has three suites that include a bathroom with a shower and four single rooms that share hallway baths. The common area is a warm, cozy living room with a large stone fireplace. The Lodge also has a full-service restaurant available for both hotel guests and park visitors that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Hiking & biking trails
With 50 miles of hiking and biking trails, Itasca has a wide variety of treks ranging from short, easy hikes to longer, more adventurous trails.
The Headwaters Loop Trail & Doctor Roberts Trail near Douglas Lodge are both wheelchair accessible, boardwalk trails that wind through nature. The Headwaters Loop Trail runs from the Mary Gibbs Headwater Center along the Mississippi River to the Headwaters and the boardwalk section of the Roberts Trail runs to Old Timer’s Cabin.
The Itasca State Park Summer Map has a full listing of the park’s hiking trails. Bicycling on hiking trails is prohibited, but 16 miles of bicycle routes run through from the visitor center to the Mary Gibbs Headwaters Center, while also connecting to Douglas Lodge.
One thing we weren’t going to miss when visiting Minnesota was crossing the beginning of the mighty Mississippi River.
Sure we’ve crossed the Mississippi countless times through the years by car in the 10 states it passes through on its journey from Minnesota to the Gulf Of Mexico, but Itasca State Park is the only place on earth where you can walk across it as it begins that path downstream.
If you want to say hi to someone while you are there, give them a call and tell them to go to Mississippi headwaters webcam and they can watch as you make your crossing. Definitely a cool adventure!
Get the book: The Best of Itasca
The Park Rapids Chamber of Commerce provided us with a copy of Deanne Johnson’s book, The Best of Itasca prior to our visit. It is a beautiful, comprehensive book, filled with everything you need to know whether visiting for a few hours or a week.
Itasca State Park location
Itasca State Park is in north central Minnesota a little over 200 miles from Minneapolis-St Paul and 26 miles from Park Rapids.
The center point of north central Minnesota, Park Rapids is abundant with natural beauty, outdoor adventures, and a relaxed charm.
With over 400 lakes in the region, hiking, cycling, numerous events to explore, and its close proximity to Itasca State Park, Park Rapids is a perfect retreat for a few hours or a few days. Add to that an inviting small town ambiance and the good eats found in the area, and you may want to stay even longer.
Things to do in and around Park Rapids
Go shopping in Downtown Park Rapids
Small town America is alive and well in Park Rapids. With a downtown district filled with cute shops and an abundance of friendly locals, Park Rapids is a great spot to spend an afternoon browsing the specialty shops and boutiques filled with gifts, fashion, antiques and more.
One foot in the door at Molly Poppin’s and you know you won’t be leaving anytime soon. The aroma is, well – I bet I gained weight just inhaling. Then you taste the samples and it’s all over, as bags of deliciousness fly into your arms and out the door with you.
Moving down the street, we spent the rest of our time in the quaint town exploring all the shops and dining options, having a throughly entertaining and casual afternoon on one of America’s classic main streets.
Visit Dorset, the “Restaurant Capital of the World”
Every visit to the Park Rapids area must include a lunch or dinner at the nearby “Restaurant Capital of the World,” Dorset, Minnesota. Home to 22 people and 5 restaurants, Dorset lays claim to the title, with the restaurants per capita ratio being 1 restaurant to 5 people.
We dined at Dorset’s Italian option, La Pasta – a lovely lunch and the breadsticks were out of this world.
But, before lunch we had a tour of the town with the mayor, James Tufts, and his older brother and former two-term mayor, Bobby Tufts, who now serves as the town’s ambassador (you may have seen them on the Today Show and in other national news).
While in Dorset, we noticed an awesome bike and hiking path passing through the town.
The Heartland State Trail is a 49 mile, paved multi-use trail reaching between Park Rapids and Cass Lake and was one of the first rail to trail conversions in the United States. The flat trail runs along the abandoned railroad the entire distance except for a four mile segment that uses a roadway north of Walker. 49 miles of paved bikeway? Sweet – we’ll be back.
Cross the headwaters of the Mississippi at Itasca State Park
Itasca State Park is a nature paradise just 26 miles from Park Rapids. The 32,000 acres of soaring pines and over 100 lakes are reason enough to visit, but it is also home to the Mississippi Headwaters. Truly a cool adventure – learn more about Itasca State Park »
Attend Legends & Logging Days each August
Get your plaid shirt ready and head to Legends and Logging Days each August in Park Rapids. A summer festival that includes Lumberjack action, Water Wars, Chainsaw sculptors, music, food and much more, it’s fun in the summer and a celebration of the rich heritage of the region.
Spend some time on one the area’s 400 lakes
No time in Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes (which I hear is actually 11,842), is complete without some time on the water and there are plenty of opportunities near Park Rapids. A wonderful spot for family vacations, the Park Rapids Lakes area offers a chance to explore the pristine lakes of Minnesota and engage in the water sports that abound in the region. Climb aboard a speedboat, kayak, paddleboat or pontoon for a sunset cruise or a spend the day on the water fishing for your own aquatic adventure.
Know before you go
Park Rapids, Minnesota is 186 miles northwest of Minneapolis-St Paul and 85 miles east of Fargo, North Dakota.
July is the warmest month in Park Rapids with average daytime highs of 82°F / 28°C and average lows of 56°F / 13.5°C. January is the coldest month with average daytime highs of 17°F / -8°C and average lows of -21°F / -6°C.
Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota and the Park Rapids Chamber of Commerce for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.