13 Best Things to Do in Nisswa, Minnesota

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Aerial view of Boats in Nisswa

Nisswa, Minnesota, is one of my favorite towns in all of Minnesota, and it’s no wonder it’s consistently ranked the best small town in Northern Minnesota. It’s a haven.

As native Minnesotans, we are excited to provide a full list of all the top things to do in Nisswa — my partner and I both grew up coming to Nisswa for turtle races in the heat of summer.

While summer is a great time to visit, the fall and winter are even better. Fewer people, more culture, and gorgeous views. Nisswa is a town that we find ourselves returning to again and again, every season because there are just so many places we love to see.

TL;DR

Category Activity
Outdoor Spot Paul Bunyan Trail
Shopping Downtown Nisswa
For Family Fun Nisswa Family Fun Center
Best Lake Gull Lake

Things to Do in Nisswa, Minnesota

Here are some of the best things to do in Nisswa, Minnesota. Whether you enjoy old-town Minnesota antique shopping, outdoor activities, or finding a good restaurant, there is something in Nisswa for every personality. We recommend staying for at least four days to get the experience. But a weekend getaway works just fine, too!

1. Go Out on (any) Lake

Sunset Over Gull Lake in Minnesota

There are so many gorgeous lakes within minutes of Nisswa it is hard to choose. It’s called the great Brainerd Lakes Area for a reason.

The most popular lake is Gull Lake, complete with a Zorbaz bar (tons of fun) and more. But there are several less-traveled lakes that you can visit to experience the beauty of the true untouched north.

  • Lower Cullen Lake is less traveled than Gull Lake but has a resort and plenty of boat rentals.
  • Upper Gull Lake is an excellent spot if you want to experience Gull Lake but keep it calmer. This small area of Gull Lake is connected to Roy Lake and Nisswa Lake, which are primarily residential.

You can rent paddleboats, pontoons, speed boats, canoes, and paddleboards out on the lakes. If you are at a resort, you can probably rent from them for free.

Or bring your kayak and venture off into the wilderness. These lakes become an emporium for ice fishing, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing in the winter.

2. Stay at the Grand View Lodge

Grand View Lodge with gorgeous windows.

Address: 23521 Nokomis Ave, Nisswa, MN 56468

The Grand View Lodge in Nisswa is a staple. Large wooden beams, warm, cozy fires, and a basement bar perfect for (escaping from) the family. If you want a relaxing experience, this is the place for you.

They have a spa onsite and plenty of golf in the early morning. There are hundreds of rooms and dozens of cabins for rent, and staying at the Grand View is like staying at the ultimate cabin. These are just some of the reasons it makes our list as one of the best resorts in Minnesota.

The Grand View Lodge is incredibly kid-friendly, featuring plenty of lake gear to rent for fun on the water. Additionally, a short drive into downtown Nisswa makes it the perfect getaway.

See Related: Best Hotels in the Midwest

3. Go Dog Sledding like a True Northerner

Dog Sledding in Northern Minnesota

Address: 60587 Osprey Ave, Swatara, MN 55785

Dog sledding is a family-fun activity and a great way to experience the outdoors when it is cold and snowy. Dog sledding is popular near Nisswa as the area turns into a winter wonderland and is so scenic! Large trees, frozen lakes, and fluffy snow make the perfect dog-sledding atmosphere.

You will find Suomi Hills Kennel, just a short drive from Nisswa. The kennel offers a few different tours, including one-hour rides and even rides across the lake!

We highly recommend the Dog Sledding For Dinner Tour. This one-hour-long tour stops at the Corner Club for a meal at the end of your run, which is a great way to warm up after your time with the dogs.

See Related: Best Cabins in Minnesota to Rent

4. Hit the Craft Brewery, Big Axe

Big Axe Brewery and Burger

Address: 25435 Main St, Nisswa, MN 56468

Nisswa is home to Big Axe Brewing, and their beers are worth venturing out of your way for. We recommend coming to Big Axe for their Oktoberfest celebration.

They have live music, beer specials, hammerschlagen, and more. Grab classic Minnesota food like cheese curds or bar snacks to pair with an ice-cold ale.

The beer at Big Axe is worth bringing a growler home. Their red ale and coffee stout are our favorites, and the food is always delicious.

See Related: Best Breweries in Duluth, Minnesota

5. Spend a Day at Mount Ski Gull

View of Mount Ski Gull in Minnesota
Mount Ski Gull / Facebook

Address: 9898 County 77 Southwest, Nisswa, MN 56468

Mount Ski Gull is one of my favorite attractions in Nisswa. It’s an excellent destination that offers year-round activities for the whole family.

When I visited during the winter months, I had the opportunity to hit the slopes at this charming ski area. Though the slopes may be smaller, they offer a pleasant skiing and snowboarding experience for enthusiasts of all skill levels. The ski and snowboard areas make it a lovely spot for families, friends, and solo adventurers.

One of the things that caught my attention was Mount Ski Gull’s transformation during the summer months. Their thrilling zip-lining course spans over two and a half hours and includes seven lines throughout the area. This adventure was exhilarating, offering breathtaking views and an exciting way to explore the surrounding natural beauty.

Regarding food, there are multiple nearby options for grabbing a bite to eat or drink after spending time at Mount Ski Gull. One of my favorites is Valeri Ann’s Family Foods, a cozy pub just a mile away.

6. Have a Steak at Bar Harbor Supper Club

Bar Harbor Supper Club, Nisswa, Minnesota
EMILE D / Tripadvisor

Address: 8164 Interlachen Rd, Lake Shore, MN 56468

The Bar Harbor Supper Club is known for its awesome summer patio and steak dinners. Their patio is mf favorite spot for al fresco dining in the summer. Located right on the lake with ample boat parking, Bar Harbor is easy to get to and hard to leave.

The patio is much more casual than the dining room, offering guacamole and other summer nibbles. Garlic cheese curds? Sign us up!

See Related: Best Mexican Restaurants in Minnesota

7. Wander Around Main Street

Main Street of Downtown Nisswa

Nisswa is a small town located in northern Minnesota, just a few hours from the Twin Cities. The town is best known for its main shopping street, lined with local businesses and unique stores that have been around for decades.

The main street of Nisswa is also a great place to grab a classic Minnesotan gift for friends or extended family. If you are looking for experiences in Nisswa, this area is definitely the place to start.

Martin's Shop in Nisswa

There are so many amazing gift shops and local stores in downtown Nisswa that it’s challenging to pick and choose which ones to tell you about. For the best Nisswa experience, we recommend just walking the main street and popping into every store.

The main street is not too long, and every shop offers something unique. And when you need a break, there are plenty of food options.

See Related: Things to Do in Minneapolis

8. The Chocolate Ox

Chocolate Ox Turtle Fudge

Address: 25452 Main St, Nisswa, MN 56468

This shop is located right in the heart of the main street and is a must to stop in. The Chocolate Ox is Nisswa’s long-standing fudge and candy shop.

They have an inventory of vintage candies and homemade fudge that is exceptional. Our favorite fudge is cookies and cream or peanut butter. Grab a couple of little pieces and share with some friends or keep them to yourself.

See Related: Things to Do in Hudson, Wisconsin

9. Shop for Scandinavian attire at Lundigrans Clothing

Clothes at Lundigrans Clothing
Lundigrans Clothing / Facebook

Address: 25521 Main St, Nisswa, MN 56468

Okay, we did say it’s hard to point out specific stores worth stopping in, but Lundigrans deserves a mention. This is the ultimate northern clothing store.

You’ll find the best Nordic clothing in our very cold state right here. Cozy jackets, fluffy sweaters, wooly socks, and warm everything. Lundrigan’s is made for those who like to be outdoors. Stop in and get ready to find your next winter piece.

Pro tip: Buy out of season for the best deals!

See Related: Best Minnesota Family Vacations

10. Paul Bunyan Trail

Bikers ta Paul Bunyan Trail
CraftBeers / TripAdvisor

During one of my visits to Nisswa, Minnesota, I enjoyed exploring the Paul Bunyan Trail, a fantastic recreational opportunity for locals and visitors. The trail extends 115 miles from Crow Wing State Park to Lake Bemidji State Park, making it the country’s longest continuously paved rail trail.

As an avid cyclist, I was thrilled to bike along the trail’s southern half, which passes through the charming towns of Nisswa, Pequot Lakes, Pine River, and Hackensack. The picturesque scenery, with its wooded areas, lakes, and rivers, provided a peaceful and enjoyable experience. The trail is also suitable for hikers and inline skaters.

Aside from cycling and hiking, I discovered that there are over 1,000 geocaches hidden along the 120 miles of the Paul Bunyan Trail. This added an exciting treasure hunt aspect to my adventure, making the journey even more memorable.

Paul Bunyan Trail offers groomed trails for snowmobiling and cross-country skiing during winter. Though I didn’t have the opportunity to try these activities, I can imagine they would provide a great way to experience the beauty of Minnesota in a different season.

11. Enjoy the “World’s Best Pizza” at Rafferty’s

Rafferty's Pizza

Address: 25457 Main St, Nisswa, MN 56468

I have a confession. We came to Rafferty’s and ordered one of everything on the menu, and we were not disappointed. Calzones, pizza, salads, cheesy bread, wings, sandwiches, and more. And all of it is GOOD! (and yes, they offer gluten-free crusts!)

Our favorite thing on the menu at Rafferty’s is the baked potato pizza or a pepperoni calzone. We also really liked their boneless wings. And their cheesy bread. Don’t believe us? Just check out that crust!

Rafferty’s even has a patio to sit outside when it is nice, and they have cold beer on tap. Honestly, can you ask for anything else?

See Related: Things to Do in Alexandria, Minnesota

12. Turtle Racing at the Chamber of Commerce

Aerial view of Nisswa Chamber of Commerce
Nisswa Chamber of Commerce / Facebook

Address: 25532 Main St, Nisswa, MN 56468

One of the most popular things to do in Nisswa in the summer is to participate in turtle races. Every Wednesday, kids aged 1 to 100 wager their turtle; at the official call, let them free! Prizes range from gift cards to take-home souvenirs.

Turtle race days are very busy in downtown Nisswa. Plan to get a parking spot early and stop at one of the local establishments for some snacks and drinks.

See Related: Best Breakfast in Minnesota

13. Visit Pequot Lakes

The calm reflective waters of Sibley Lake in Pequot Lakes, Minnesota
MH Anderson Photography / Shutterstock

When I visited Pequot Lakes, I found one of the top attractions: Wildwedge Golf, Mini Golf & Maze. I enjoyed the tucked-away location in the woods, which gave a unique ambiance.

While in Pequot Lakes, I also visited Water Wars, an amusement and water park specializing in water-based activities. The park has an excellent time for people of all ages, with water slides, splash buckets, and lazy rivers, among other things.

At one point, I stopped by Ye Old Pickle Factory, a bar with an exciting atmosphere and great food. It had the dive bar feel but was nicer than nearby dive bars. I’d recommend it if you’re searching for a fun night out with friends.

Of course, visiting Pequot Lakes wouldn’t be complete without trying some traditional fare. I also tried Main Street Ale House and Lucky’s Tavern, which gave me positive impressions.

Nisswa, Minnesota History & Overview

Nisswa History Town

Nisswa is a northern Minnesota town with historic charm. The city was founded in the late 1800s and became known as the “Smiley” stop off the railroad. The town quickly grew when the invention of the automobile brought people from the cities up to the north to relax in the summer.

When you visit Nisswa, you can see the old railroad stop and even an old rail car. Kids (and adults) can climb into the old railcar and see what it’s like to be a conductor. Across the street is a small town built like the houses in the late 1800s for the whole family to explore.

Nisswa is known for its Oktoberfest, Christmas, and summer turtle races, bringing Minnesotans from all over up north. It’s the perfect place to visit if you’re looking for a festive atmosphere and plenty of things to do. You’re sure to have a great time no matter when you visit.

Places to Stay in Nisswa

1. Good Ol Days Resort Top Recommendation

Looking for a place to get away from it all? Look no further than Good Ol Days Resort! Set in the beautiful town of Nisswa, this resort offers everything you need for a relaxing vacation. With free bikes, free private parking, and a shared lounge, you'll have everything you need right at your fingertips. Plus, the hotel is located just 1.2 km from Nisswa and 6.7 km from Pauls Seaplane Base - making it the perfect spot for exploring all that this area has to offer!

2. Modern Nisswa Escape with Deck Near Gull Lake!

Looking for an unforgettable escape in the beautiful Nisswa area? Look no further than this modern gem, situated right on the water with gorgeous views of Gull Lake! This 5-bedroom vacation rental home is perfect for large families or groups of friends, with plenty of space to spread out and relax.

3. Alluring Nisswa Cabin on Gull Lake with Fireplace!

If you're looking for a cozy and Alluring Nisswa Cabin on Gull Lake with Fireplace!, then this is the perfect spot for you! With free WiFi and lake views, this cabin provides everything you need for a relaxing getaway. The holiday home features 3 bedrooms, a kitchen with a dishwasher and a microwave, a washing machine, and 3 bathrooms.

Nisswa is one of the best small towns in Minnesota. There is no shortage of things to do, no matter the season. In the summer, visitors can enjoy hiking and biking trails, swimming and paddling on one of the many lakes, golfing at one of the five courses, or shopping in the quaint downtown area. The fall brings beautiful colors and outdoor activities like hunting and fishing.

Winter transforms the town into a wonderland with snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and ice fishing. And springtime is perfect for enjoying the slightly warmer weather and returning to the lakes. No matter what time of year, Nisswa is a great place to slow time down during a weekend getaway.

Get away from the daily hustle and bustle while experiencing true northern Minnesota culture.

FAQs

What is Nisswa, Minnesota, Known For?

Nisswa, Minnesota, is a charming town tucked away between lakes and giant trees, popular for its quaint downtown area filled with shops, restaurants, and recreational activities. It’s part of the Brainerd Lakes Area, making it an excellent family-friendly destination for aquatic fun, outdoor adventures, and a relaxing vacation or weekend getaway.

What are the top attractions in Nisswa?

Some top attractions I recommend checking out in Nisswa include Paul Bunyan Nisswa Family Fun Center, Mount Ski Gull, and the Nisswa City Park.

Where are the best places to stay in Nisswa?

The best places to stay in Nisswa are the Grand View Lodge and Cragun’s Resort & Hotel. These properties offer luxurious accommodations (with options that fit hotel-style or cabin-style rooms), beautiful views of Gull Lake, and access to great outdoor activities.

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Kyle Kroeger
WRITTEN BY

Kyle Kroeger

Kyle Kroeger is the Founder and Owner of ViaTravelers.com. He is a full-time traveler and entrepreneur. Kyle started ViaTravelers.com to help travelers experience a fully immersive cultural experience as he did initially living in Italy. He's a converted finance nerd and Excel jockey turned world wanderer (and may try to get lost on purpose). After visiting 12 countries and 13 national parks in a year, he was devoted to creating and telling stories like he'd heard.

Plus, after spending more time on airplanes and packing, he's learned some incredible travel hacks over time as he earned over 1 million Chase Ultimate Rewards points in under a year, helping him maximize experiences as much as possible to discover the true meaning of travel.

He loves listening to local stories from around the world and sharing his experiences traveling the globe. He loves travel so much that he moved from his hometown of Minneapolis to Amsterdam with his small family to travel Europe full-time. Read more about his portfolio of work.

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