This Idyllic Destination Is Called 'Minnesota's Playground' — and It's One of the Best Places to Buy a Lake Home in the U.S.

Small-town charm, beautiful lakes, and excellent vacation homes await in Brainerd Lakes, Minnesota.

As the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Minnesota is a dream for travelers seeking idyllic waterfront views, cool breezes, and plenty of water sports. And with some of the largest and best resorts in the Midwest plus the state's most beautiful lakes, the Brainerd Lakes area is a vacationer's haven. 

Located about a two-hour drive north of Minneapolis, the area is dotted with hundreds of crystal-clear lakes, about a hundred miles of rivers and streams, hiking trails, and lush forests. A year-round destination, Brainerd Lakes also lives up to its moniker of "Minnesota's playground," with amusement parks, top-notch golf courses, mountain biking, charming waterfront communities, and excellent ice fishing, catering to travelers of all ages.

Aerial view of lakes and trees in autumn color near Brainerd, Minnesota

Willard/Getty Images

The region's pristine nature and plethora of recreational activities have made it one of the top places to own a vacation home, both for personal enjoyment and as an investment. 

"The Friday afternoon drive to the lake, kids splashing at the beach, leisurely afternoon boat rides, and s'mores around the campfire have been the draw to the Brainerd Lakes area for generations of Minnesota families," Brad Wadsten, a broker at Edina Realty, told Travel + Leisure. "As seasonal cabins become year-round lake homes, and the work-from-home evolution finds a new work from a front deck overlooking the lake norm, life in the Brainerd Lakes Area is evolving as well."

Scenic view of lake with boat dock against sky during sunset, Brainerd, Minnesota

Dave Peruzzini/500px/Getty Images

Despite high interest rates and a nationwide housing downturn, demand for real estate in Brainerd Lakes hasn't stopped. According to data from Redfin, in November 2022, home prices were up 15.5 percent compared to the same time the previous year, with homes selling after being on the market for only a couple of weeks. One of the reasons Brainerd Lakes is so popular among second home buyers is that residences here are relatively affordable — the median sale price stands at $229,990, per Redfin's findings. It also offers good cap rates — around five percent for homes in popular communities such as Pequot Lakes, Nisswa, Emily, and Crosslake, according to vacation rental company Evolve.

Though Brainerd Lakes is made up of hundreds of bodies of water, the most sought-after neighborhoods are located around lakes such as the Gull Lake chain, Mille Lacs Lake, and North Long Lake.

Wadsten advises his clients to choose their vacation homes according to three main criteria: Pick the lake first, the exact location second, and the home structure third.

"The number one objective that every buyer has is that they want to be on a good quality body of water — good water quality, good water clarity, and a good, family-friendly beach where the kids or grandkids can play in the summertime," he explained.

Brainerd and Baxter are home to many water parks, green spaces, and family-friendly facilities, while Gull Lake, Crosslake, Rice Lake, and Pillager Lake have public sandy beaches, picnic areas, and playgrounds. Gull Lake, which is part of eight lakes boasting 13,000 acres, is also a popular spot for cruises. In the winter, it hosts the largest ice-fishing contest in the world, The Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza, which draws thousands of participants.

And while most travelers come here craving a taste of Minnesota lake life, some vacationers prefer to get an adrenlaine rush on land.

"There's another big draw to our market, which is mountain biking. There's a whole new industry in Crosby, Minnesota, where homebuyers are seeking properties based on this recreational sport. We've also seen a great deal of interest in Walker, Minnesota, which is about 50 miles north of Brainerd Lakes," said Wadsten.

Unsurprisingly, as people spend more time in Brainerd Lakes, their second home eventually becomes their primary residence.

Wadsten explained, "While the draw to the beauty of our lakes area, for boating, fishing, swimming, biking, golf, and all outdoor activities is still front and center, many weekend residents are finding that the excellent shopping, entertainment, and medical services available support their lifestyles beyond the weekend, and many are planning to spend their retirement years here."

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles