brainerd-3There is just something special about going “up north” for the weekend. Minnesotans all have their favorite getaway spot. Some people are lucky enough to have their own cabin and some have friends/family with cabins where they can go play. For the rest of us though, going up north requires a little bit of planning.

One excellent option for a long weekend getaway is to head up to Brainerd. It’s about a 2hour drive northwest of the Twin Cities, making it close enough that the little ones can make the trip without much trouble and yet far enough away that you can feel like you’re out on vacation. The actual town of Brainerd has all the essential stores just in case you forgot something at home and then once you get outside of the town you’ll quickly get that “up north” feel. There are some great smaller towns around the Brainerd area.

Our Brainerd trip lasted for four days; Wednesday – Saturday.  I wanted to go up mid-week when you can find better deals on hotels. The first two nights we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express with the Three Bears Waterpark. The hotel was nice, and the waterpark was perfect for my young children. There were plenty of things for the kids to do, and it wasn’t very busy during the week.  We chose to go to a different hotel for our last night because that hotels get much more expensive on the weekends; also with so much to do in the Brainerd area two days at the waterpark hotel was enough for us.

Here are some of our favorite spots in the area:

  • Treasure City – North of St. Cloud, in the small town of Royalton, you will find a kids paradise – Treasure City. As the name implies, it is a treasure city full of toys and other stuff kids find irresistible. It made for a great stop to break up the trip.
  • Nisswa – Nisswa is a great small town. The main street has a large selection of shops and there are some good kid friendly restaurants. When we got to town we headed directly to Nisswa because we were too early to check into the hotel. Wednesdays are a special day in Nisswa. Every Wednesday in the summer, Nisswa hosts Turtle Races. I never knew watching turtles’ race could be so much fun!
  • Paul Bunyan Land – A visit to Brainerd isn’t complete without a visit to the iconic Paul Bunyan Land. I believe every Minnesotan kid should hear Paul Bunyan announce their name as they walk in! Paul Bunyan Land has moved locations since I was a kid, but the sense I got was that they literally picked everything up and moved it to the same location. I’m not recommending Paul Bunyan land because it is shiny and new, or even particularly wonderful. It is kind of cheesy and run down, but that is part of its charm.
  • Northland Arboretum – The Northland Arboretum is beautiful. We happened to be there during the Annual Country Sampler Picnic, which was a wonderful family friendly event. In 2015 the picnic is on July 15th.
  • Zorbaz on Gull Lake – We had to hit up Zorbaz for dinner one of the nights. Zorbaz is a Brainerd Lakes area classic. The menu is huge, almost guaranteeing everyone will find something they like. The atmosphere is so relaxed and fun that I can almost guarantee you will have a good time. After dinner we spent a long time resting on the grass while the kids played in the sand of the volley ball courts (there were no games going on and all the kids were in there!). We even caught an amazing sunset over Gull Lake.
  • Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway – One of the challenges of travelling with small kids is that the day is always interrupted by their much-needed naps! I hate the thought of laying them down in the hotel room when on vacation so I found a great option for nap time in Brainerd – the Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway. The Byway is 54 miles of country roads, travelling through beautiful Minnesota lake country. While my girls napped, I drove and enjoyed the scenery. It was a win-win! Of course this option only works if your kids are good car nappers!
  • Whipple Lake Beach – The one complaint I have about the Brainerd area is that I mistakenly assumed there would be public beaches all over, but that is not the case! We did however find a wonderful public beach at Whipple Lake in Baxter. The sand was nice, the water clean, and was plenty of shade accessible when we needed a break from the sun.
  • Munsinger Clemons Garden – On the way home we stopped in St. Cloud at the Munsinger-Clemons Gardens. Like Treasure City, it was a great stop to break up the trip. I would consider the gardens a must see. They are absolutely gorgeous and even the kids enjoyed running around the different paths and seeing all the beautiful flowers. The gardens are free to the public and street parking is easily found.
  • Safari North Zoo – Recommended by one of our fellow sKIDaddlers, this outdoor zoo is reasonably priced with tons of animals to see.

There are so many fun things up in the Brainerd area. To see a more complete listing of adventures, try searching “Brainerd” in our activity directory.

If you are looking for a cost effective way to relax, enjoy some time Up North, and get away from it all, then a hotel in Brainerd fits the bill!


Do you want some help planning your next weekend getaway? Leave the planning to us! sKIDaddlers offers a Weekend Getaway Planning Package. 

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  1. Kacey T

    There is also an outdoor zoo in Brainerd Mn. Safari North Wildlife Park. Reasonably priced and tons of animals to see.

    1. s·KID·addlers Listing Owner

      Thanks so much for the tip, Kacey. We love recommendations!! I’ve added it to our blog so others don’t miss this one. Have a great day!