1 . Cragun’s Resort and Hotel

Brainerd, Minnesota

CALL DIRECT: +1 (866) 835 - 0564

WEBSITE

The presents have all been unwrapped. The last of the honey-glazed ham has been placed in the freezer. And as you gaze out over your wrapping paper-strewn living room and remind your little one that Mommy’s best china isn’t for throwing, a horrifying thought works its way into your head: school doesn’t resume for another week.

You could spend the next seven days chasing your sugar-fueled tots, assigning time outs and ignoring desperate pleas for anything but holiday leftovers. Or, you could pack up the crew and head on over to our No. 1 pick, Cragun’s Resort and Hotel. Overlooking Gull Lake’s frozen shores, this Brainerd resort promises a family vacation that’s sure to banish mid-winter blues – and restore some much-needed peace and quiet to your lives. Santa’s sleigh may be just a twinkle in the starry Minnesota sky, but you’ll be hearing sleigh bells ring all winter long at Cragun’s Resort and Hotel. The resort’s Clydesdale team eagerly paws the ground, their frosty breath leaving miniature icicles on the tips of their whiskery noses, as you and the kids bundle up for a horse-drawn trolley ride along Gull Lake’s shores. Plunk a couple of marshmallows into a steaming cup of hot chocolate, gather ‘round the campfire and toast to another successful Brainerd family vacation!

Highlights

The Brainerd Lakes Ski Area is only eight miles from Cragun’s Resort and Hotel.

Related Onsite Offerings

Gull Lake is also great for ice fishing and Cragun’s places convenient ice houses along this Minnesota lake’s best fishing holes.

Fun facts

Not only is Cragun’s Resort and Hotel a fun-filled winter getaway, it’s also one of the best vacation values in all of Northern Minnesota!

2 . Grand View Lodge

Nisswa, Minnesota

CALL DIRECT: +1 (866) 758 - 4381

WEBSITE

Our No. 2 pick also hails from Gull Lake’s shores, but the similarities end there. Where Cragun’s wholeheartedly embraces family fun, Grand View Lodge adds a touch of luxury and indulgent pampering to your Up North experience with the Glacial Waters Spa.

Babe the Blue Ox’s massive hooves may take credit for forming northern Minnesota’s lakes, but the real masses behind these fish-filled waters were ancient glaciers – and thus, the Grand View Lodge’s rejuvenating spa was born. This Brainerd spa may call its signature hydrotherapy treatment a Soak in the Sea, but if you’re expecting to be dunked in a metal tub full of chilly Gull Lake water and scrubbed behind both ears with a coarse bar of soap, think again. The spa’s exclusive seawater, rich in minerals and healing powers, is the natural elixir behind this Brainerd Lakes spa treatment, which culminates in a generous hour-long massage. And no visit to Grand View Lodge would be complete without a stay (or two) in the cozy comfort of the Main Lodge. Built in 1919, this historic Brainerd lodge serves as the literal and figurative centerpiece of the entire resort property, and offers convenient access to everything from ice fishing on Gull Lake to Minnesota-made dishes in the Grand Dining Room.

Highlights

The Grand Dining Room serves Minnesota delicacies like walleye and wild rice soup.

Related activities

More than 20 kilometers of groomed Pines Golf Course trails are perfect for cross country skiing and snowshoeing.

Related Onsite Offerings

The Glacial Waters Spa offers massage, facials, manicures, pedicures and wraps in addition to its hydrotherapy treatment.

3 . Kavanaugh’s

Brainerd, Minnesota

CALL DIRECT: +1 (866) 562 - 8458

WEBSITE

The pine trees are all but hidden beneath a heavy layer of ice and snow. Three feet of powdery white blankets the northern Minnesota landscape. And a quiet hush settles over the Brainerd Lakes area, broken only by the occasional sounds of a woodpecker taking flight or a doe nibbling on a stray strand of birch bark.

By all accounts, most traveling past would think Brainerd’s seasonal dwellers had packed their bags and flown south for the winter – unless they happened upon our No. 3 pick, Kavanaugh’s. You see, while other northern Minnesota resorts board up their doors at the first sign of frost, this Brainerd resorts catches a second wind in winter months. Sure, the recreation may take on a slightly different form, but once you’ve switched out your wakeboard for cross country skis and traded your board shorts for thermal long underwear, you’ll soon be ready to get in on the Brainerd Lakes winter action! If cross country skiing on the snow-blanketed Minnesota landscape just can’t compare to the heart-pounding action of racing your snowmobile across tightly-packed powder, you’re in luck. More than 137 kilometers of groomed snowmobile trails on the Gull Lake Lighted Trail are easily accessible from your Kavanaugh’s condo or cottage!

Fun facts

Nearby Nisswa offers some of the best shops and dining in the state!

Related Onsite Offerings

With lodging ranging from cozy one-bedroom cottages to spacious three-bedroom condos, Kavanaugh’s has plenty of space for your Brainerd winter or group vacation.

Highlights

Looking to bring some life back into your icy fingers and toes? Try a dip in Kavanaugh’s heated indoor pool or whirlpool.

4 . Quarterdeck Resort

Nisswa, Minnesota

CALL DIRECT: +1 (800) 950 - 5596

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While we’ll admit that Minnesota winters can be downright unpleasant, any true fisherman knows that a foot of snow (or two) and a few below-zero temperatures shouldn’t get in the way of good, clean winter fun. And if our Brainerd winter vacation includes a whole stringer of fish to clean, we find it worth eluding frostbite’s icy grasp!

Let’s face it: the fish don’t hibernate and neither should any self-respecting fisherman – or woman. Besides, you know last summer’s fish tales have gone a bit stale by fall, and you’re definitely pushing it if you expect stories of your warm-weather catches to last a minute beyond Christmas. So where does an angler turn when he’s itching for the big one but the lake’s gone all frozen? Why, our No. 4 selection – the Quarterdeck Resort, of course! What better place to try your ice fishing luck than at a Brainerd resort that counts the Gull Lake chain among its greatest amenities? We found one thing that stays green despite Minnesota’s winters – the money up for grabs at the annual Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza! We hope you’ve been practicing your jigging skills and have your tackle in working order, because with more than $150,000 in raffles and prizes on the line, it’d be a shame to lose your Brainerd Lakes lunker over a silly snag.

Fun facts

Gull Lake is rated one of the top 10 fishing lakes in all of Minnesota.

Highlights

The neighboring Boathouse Eatery and Bar serves up everything from rib-sticking burgers with all the fixins’ to pasta dishes and Minnesota-caught walleye dinners.

Related Onsite Offerings

Quarterdeck also offers cozy vacation homes and villas on Gull Lake.

5 . Daggett Brook Rentals

Crosslake, Minnesota

CALL DIRECT: +1 (218) 692 - 4828

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If you shudder at the thought of spending an entire weekend sleeping on back-breaking bunks, breathing in propane fumes and sharing cramped ice house quarters with the likes of a minnow bucket, our No. 5 spot will have you sighing in relief – although we still can’t do much about your husband storing his precious bait safely inside!

Then again, you’ll find plenty of room inside Daggett Brook Rentals to store just about anything you like. And when you step inside these beautifully-appointed Brainerd villas and vacation homes, you may even be so overcome with gratitude that you generously set aside a special place for his shiners, fatheads and wax worms. Forget about stuffy motels; these villas offer all the comforts of home – and then some – on your Brainerd winter vacation. In fact, these northern Minnesota accommodations are so far from your typical hotel room, we’re tempted to grant them their own zip code! Tucked along the shores of the ever-popular Whitefish Chain, Daggett Brook Villas step out onto Crosslake’s frozen waters and into prime ice fishing territory. And the nearby Bait Box Marina is your one-stop-shop for all things fin-related, from fishing licenses and tackle to bait and beer. And nothing says welcome home after a long day of fishing like Daggett Brook’s hot tub and cozy beds.

Fun facts

The Brainerd Lakes Area is home to as many as 465 lakes!

Highlights

Each Daggett Brook villa comes complete with fireplace, cable television and full kitchen with access to an indoor pool, hot tub, sauna and boat slip.

Related Onsite Offerings

Looking for a space big enough to hold your Brainerd family reunion? Daggett Brook’s private home features 3,200 sq. ft. of living space, a private boat dock, a swimming area, picnic shelter and even a playground for the kids.

6 . Birch Bay Resort

Grand Rapids, Minnesota

CALL DIRECT: +1 (218) 326 - 2370

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If you’re anything like us, you treat a vacation as a means of escape. A chance to get away from the hectic pace of daily life, to push responsibilities to the back of your mind and dive wholeheartedly into the present moment. And if you’re anything like us, you’ll agree that northern Minnesota is the perfect place for just such an occasion!

We know what you’re thinking. Sure, an escape sounds nice, but not to some backwoods pine shack with no plumbing, no electricity and virtually nothing to do. But what if we told you that your Brainerd winter vacation includes a cozy lakefront cabin with a full kitchen to whip up a romantic dinner for two, a gas fireplaces to snuggle up in front of and even a piping hot outdoor hot tub for some spectacular Up North stargazing? And what if we told you that all this romance, comfort and wintry splendor could be yours at one unbelievably low rate? Chances are you’d be interested – and chances are we’d have already beaten you to Birch Bay Resort’s doors! A Brainerd winter vacation like this at a price like that is simply too good to pass up, especially when you throw in ice fishing on Agate Lake, pairs skating on Nisswa’s charming skating rink and winter-themed festivals nearly every weekend – all within minutes of your cozy Birch Bay cabin.

Highlights

All of Birch Bay Resort’s cabins overlook Agate Lake and open out to Birch Bay Golf Course in their backyards.

Fun facts

Guests of Birch Bay inn are treated to a hearty breakfast bar daily, while the resort’s cabin guests are welcomed with a full breakfast the Monday of their arrival.

Related Onsite Offerings

Hiking trails, croquet, babysitting, a playground, a swimming raft, a game room and 700 ft. of Agate Lake shoreline are all yours to enjoy at Birch Bay Resort.

7 . Beacon Shores

Crosslake, Minnesota

CALL DIRECT: +1 (800) 950 - 5907

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There’s an old saying that we’re fond of repeating and it goes like this: take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints. It certainly rings true in today’s eco-friendly age, but even more so at the No. 7 pick on our Top 10 Brainerd Winter Vacations list. Pack your Nikon and your hiking boots – there’s plenty of Up North terrain to explore!

Like a beacon in the veritable darkness of Minnesota winters, our Beach Shores Resort promises to shed new light on tried and true Brainerd winter vacations. In fact, part of what we most admired about Beacon Shores was its ability to offer most Brainerd Lakes activities regardless of the season. You may need to swap out your tackle and drill through a few inches of icy barrier, but you’ll still find the same walleye, perch and other Minnesota fish lurking beneath Whitefish Lake’s frozen surface. And you may have to toss on a few more layers, but Itasca State Park’s trails are no less beautiful when dusted with snow. It may sound counterintuitive, but there’s no better time for a Beacon Shores bonfire – complete with s’mores and hot cocoa – than December. And we’d be foolish to suggest a boat ride at this time of year, but snowmobiles, cross country skis and snowshoes are wintry alternatives for crossing Crosslake’s glassy waters.

Related Onsite Offerings

Beach, playground, game room, laundromat and grocery store.

Highlights

Beacon Shores cabins come equipped with cooking utensils, bed linens, coffeemakers, grills, picnic tables and screened porches.

Fun facts

Select cabins feature knotty pine interiors and log beams for a true taste of Minnesota on your Brainerd winter vacation.

8 . Breezy Point

Breezy Point, Minnesota

CALL DIRECT: +1 (800) 432 - 3777

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For those who are too impatient to pass their Brainerd winter vacation jigging for jumbo perch, the No. 8 pick on our Top 10 Brainerd Winter Vacations offers a few more intriguing ways to play in this year-round Minnesota playground.

We have two words that are going to make your vacation: winter golf. But don’t pack your bags and jet off to Florida just yet; we’re talking about snow golf – Breezy Point Resort’s wintry twist on traditional tee times. This Brainerd resort boasts an astonishing nine-hole course on Big Pelican Lake, including groomed “greens,” tree lined fairways and a few trouble spots that are sure to challenge all levels of play. And no need to worry about losing your pearly white golf ball in a sea of similar-hued snow – snow golf is smartly played with tennis balls! You don’t have to be a golf pro to love Breezy Point Resort. The resort’s tubing hill is the perfect stomping ground for good-natured snowball fights (and a bit of sibling rivalry) on Brainerd family vacations. Those looking for a less hands-on way to partake in Minnesota’s wintry fun will flip – literally – for Breezy Point’s lighted skating rinks.

Related Onsite Offerings

Breezy Point Resort offers a wide range of Brainerd-area hotel suites, condos, vacation homes and retreats on Big Pelican Lake.

Highlights

Join the fun at Breezy Point Resort for the annual Ice Fest, where all ages go crazy for ice sculpture, snow golf, sleigh rides, bonfires, fireworks and much more.

Fun facts

Breezy Point Resort now encompasses 3,000 acres with two 18-hole golf courses, a complete boat marina and approximately 350 lodging units in Breezy Point, Minnesota.

9 . Campfire Bay

Brainerd, Minnesota

CALL DIRECT: +1 (866) 618 - 1613

WEBSITE

We found a place where the Twin Cities skyscrapers are replaced with towering pines that reach for the sky. A place where you can breathe a little deeper and the lake waters are a little cleaner. A magical place where the closest you’ll come to a daily commute is joining the queue of boats meandering through the channel.

They call it Brainerd, Minn., but our No. 9 pick calls it home. While Campfire Bay is a ready-made Brainerd Lakes getaway in all four seasons, this northern Minnesota resort really shines in wintertime. With a name like Fish Trap Lake, you can guess what awaits you in the frozen waters outside your Campfire Bay cabin’s doors. Bald eagles and the cherished loon may rule these waters in warmer months, but come winter, the real leaders of this underwater kingdom are Minnesota’s walleye. And with 1,305 acres of pristine Fish Trap Lake waters at your fingertips – er, hook – the hunt for this elusive prey has never been stacked higher in your favor! Truth be told, there are plenty of Campfire Bay activities to keep even the most hard-to-please busy for hours, days and even months. But that’s just the idea – once this Brainerd resort gets you hooked on winter, it’s only a matter of time before you and your family turn up on Campfire Bay’s doorstep in all four seasons!

Fun facts

Campfire Bay offers daily activities all summer long, including sandcastle building, tie-dying, fishing competitions, arts and crafts and pontoon rides.

Related Onsite Offerings

Pine Ridge Golf Club and two Brainerd-area horseback riding stables are both within three miles of Campfire Bay Resort.

Highlights

Campfire Bay hosts scrapbooking, quilting and crafting retreats inside its deluxe Willow, Tamarack, Poplar and Pine Beach cabins.

10 . Cozy Bay

Nisswa, Minnesota

CALL DIRECT: +1 (866) 694 - 9012

WEBSITE

We expected some fairly cozy accommodations from our No. 10 spot – after all, its name virtually promises it. But what we weren’t expecting was to get all the creature comforts this Brainerd resort had to offer at a rate that didn’t break the bank. For affordable Brainerd winter vacations, our pick is Cozy Bay Resort!

We’ve been there: the kids are unpacked, the car is unloaded and then, all of your winter vacation dreams are dashed by a drafty cabin and frozen plumbing. You’d do well to banish this vacation nightmare from your psyche, and Cozy Bay Resort’s charming cabins should erase any last traces of creaky, cobweb-strewn cabins. These Brainerd cabins feature authentic knotty pine interiors and all the comforts of home, including a kitchen for easy snack and meal prep. But the real highlight of Cozy Bay Resort’s cabins is the sparkling Minnesota lake each overlooks. The entire resort fronts Lake Edward, but you’ll find plenty of shelter from the winter gales inside the bay that shares its name. And this Brainerd-area lake is known for its fabulous fishing conditions, so you’d be well-advised to drop in a tip-up or two before gliding across its frozen surface on a pair of ice skates or cross country skis.

Related Onsite Offerings

Cozy Bay Resort offers Brainerd-area campsites with water and electric hook-ups, plus bonfire pits, during warmer months.

Highlights

Summer offerings at Cozy Bay Resort include grilling, swimming, kayaking, boating and fishing.

Fun facts

Cozy Bay Resort’s weekly rates include launch and docking for your boat, and the resort even offers discounted rates on Brainerd winter vacations.

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