by Lisa Meyers McClintick
Excitement quickly builds when you arrive at Grand View Resort, with its postcard-perfect lodge and Gull Lake glittering through Paul Bunyan-sized pines. Almost a century old, the lodge’s dark logs and white trim make it one of Minnesota’s most photographed and legendary destinations.
It also defines a classic “Up North” summer vacation, with activities like splashing in Gull Lake, learning to wakeboard or waterski, perfecting dives into the water, fishing for walleye, playing tennis, horseback riding through the forest or sliding into the pool.
Summer kid’s programs also mean mom and dad can try one of the championship golf courses carved into woods and wetlands, relax in the luxurious spa or dine at Cru, the resort’s wine cellar and small plate restaurant.
There’s also elegant dining at the historic lodge that spills warm light from its vintage windows and draws guests in with a homey whiff of wood smoke from a crackling fireplace, along with a lobby that glows with the burnished tones of old-growth trees.
The backside feels even grander, with a canopy of pines, generous flowers and an inviting walkway that leads to the beach on Gull Lake, the most popular of the Brainerd area’s more than 400 lakes. Grand View generally feels more polished and updated than Gull Lake’s other big four-season landmark, Cragun’s Resort.
Grand View began in 1916 as a place to house parents who dropped their children off at the nearby Camp Lincoln and Camp Lake Hubert. The timeless camp (boys on one lake, girls on the other) still draws kids from across the nation.
The main lodge includes nice upstairs hotel rooms, but families will want more room. The resort offers plenty of options throughout its sprawling property, which borders more than one lake, winds around golf courses and even extends across Gull Lake, to a resort that’s solely comprised of reunion homes for large family gatherings. Small families can pick from spacious cabins and beachfront condos along Gull Lake, golf course villas and luxury homes on Roy Lake.
If you have younger kids, stick to the beachfront cabins and stay closest to the action — especially if you book an all-inclusive vacation and want to be near restaurants, activities and the ever-popular sweets shop.
While there is plenty to do, the best moments may be the ones that aren’t planned, such as catching a sunset or fireflies while sitting around a campfire, listening to a northern Minnesota lullaby of loons echoing across the lake.
Our Editor Loves
- Pinewoods setting on Gull Lake
- Beach, indoor pool and water sports
- Children's programs for ages 3 to 11
- Water Sports
- Children Programs
- Game Room
- Onsite Dining
Find the Best Price for Your Stay
The resort encompasses more than 210 lodging units, ranging from hotel rooms for couples to super-sized cabins that can sleep more than 30. Given the number of lodging choices and the sprawling property, it's wise to call the resort directly for the best lodging fit.
In general, rates are higher for cabins and homes near the main lodge and its hub of family activities, plus the indoor pool, beach and playgrounds. You can save money staying further away, either near Roy Lake and The Pines Golf Course about a mile north of the main lodge or three miles south on Gull Lake. There is a shuttle that circulates throughout the property, and can be especially handy for anyone staying on the north side of County Road 77.
Most units have flatscreen TVs. Rollaways are available, but there may be extra charges for additional adults or kids beyond each unit's base rate.
Grand View Lodge Cabins
These 65 cabins boast the best location and size for families because they're near the pool, kid's club and main lodge. They're also scattered along the Gull Lake shore, many of them right on the beach. Smaller options include a one-room unit with a wet bar and two queen beds or a two-bedroom cabin with four queens and a full kitchen. The largest two-story unit includes eight bedrooms and eight bathrooms with 16 queens.
Each cabin is different, and most are older than the rest of the property, but guests can request a more updated one. These are especially ideal if you have younger children and want to stay put and be able to stroll to breakfast, dinner and activities.
Grand View Lodge Rooms
While the lodge is close to a century in age, the dozen hotel-style second-story lodge rooms have only been winterized and available since the 2000's. They're charming and comfortable, but work best for couples or a single parent and child.
Homes on Nokomis
These new luxury lake homes, built in 2012 and 2013, feature upscale kitchens with granite countertops, stone fireplaces and outdoor patios, a porch and a deck. They can be rented as four-bedroom units or divided into two two-bedroom units and a studio. The two-bedroom units include one master bedroom with a king bed and a second bedroom with two queens. These also are within walking distance of Grand View's lodge, beach and spa.
Roy Lake Lodging
More lodging can be found on Roy Lake, a mile north of Grand View's main lodge. The lake here is smaller and quieter, and lodging isn't far from the Pines Golf Course. Roy Lake has boat access to Gull Lake and others on the eight-lake chain.
The red Roy Lake cabins come with one or two rooms, making them ideal for small families craving modern amenities such as master bedrooms with king-size beds and soaking tubs, a den with two bunk beds, kitchens with granite countertops, and living rooms with leather sofas and a fireplace, plus a deck outside.
Roy Lake Cottages are luxury lake homes that range from two to four bedrooms, with screen porches, fireplaces, recreation rooms in spacious basements, gas grills and a deck. A three-bedroom home has three rooms with king beds and children's twin beds in the loft.
Villas and Clubhouse Suites
The condo-like units a mile north of the lodgeï¿½"golf villas, townhomes, clubhouse suites and Roy Lake villages--tend to be more masculine and geared toward golf lovers. Studio units have a wet bar while regular villas include full kitchens. A two-bedroom golf villa, for example, has four queen beds, a fireplace, pool table and a sofa sleeper. Roy Lake Villas have three bedrooms and lofts facing Roy Lake.
by Steve M
This was our first time at any big historic northern Minnesota resort and we loved this place. The room rates were reasonable during the off season and accommodations were varied and very much available. Since this was a birthday celebration for long-time married couple, we chose a small free-standing cabin with one large bedroom, a tiny second bedroom with bunk beds that we didn't use, two bathrooms (one quite large with two separate sinks, a large soaker both and a separate shower stall.) and a large great room with fully stocked kitchen, natural gas fireplace, and large sliding glass doors with beautiful views of a lake about ten feet from our cabin. There are several of these cabins available, the resort calls them the Roy Lake cabins. These cabins are isolated from the resort and this delightful isolation is increased by the fact that cars cannot be brought up to the cabins themselves. There is a nearby parking lot, and a well designed cart to carry things to the cabins. Our cabin was almost the farthest away from the parking lot, and I would say we had about a 300 foot haul, not too bad.
WiFi was available and we encountered no difficulties using it to stream videos from Netflix and other services.
The rest of the resort's facilities were wonderful and the staff was extremely helpful and seemed to be enjoying their work. I much prefer to stay at a place where staff seems to be happy and appreciated, and the Grand View Lodge fit this preference.
The entire facility also had a very subtle since of class to it. It's hard to describe this in more detail, except to say that everything seemed well looked after with careful attention to design as well as function. The feel is by no means ostentatious, just really comfortable.
The off-season visitor needs to be aware that some of the amenities available during the crowded summer months may not be available at all during the winter, or available only on weekends. This is true of the excellent restaurants and some of the other shops on the resort grounds. Before making reservations to stay at the resort, be sure any amenities that are important to you will actually be available during your stay. For us, we shifted from a planned Monday-Thursday visit to a Thursday-Monday visit so we could take advantage of the weekend-only opportunities.
In summary, we were surprised how much we enjoyed our stay. Resorts had never been our kind of lodging choice before, but we are definitely rethinking that. We pretty much never left the sprawling grounds of the resort and were happy with everything we encountered during our stay.
by Whitney P
We got married at Grand View Lodge last weekend and it was absolutely perfect! We fell in love with the Grand Staircase after visiting and knew this is where we wanted our ceremony to be held! Everyone was so accommodating to us and helped make it the best day ever. We stayed in one of the cabins on Nokomis and it was great. The look of these cabins inside and out are incredible. We had the perfect view of the beautiful woods and got to see some deer. I know so many people who came for our wedding stated this is a place they HAVE to come back to again!
The hub of activity on any summer day can be found along the 1,500-foot sandy beach on Gull Lake. Young children will be more than happy playing in the sand, splashing in the water, trying to hook a fish off the dock or exploring the nearby playgrounds. If the weather is cold or rainy, kids can play at the indoor pool with a 150-foot slide and a few fountains, or make S'mores at the outdoor bonfires.
It's mandatory to get on the water at Gull Lake, Minnesota's busiest "social lake" north of the Twin Cities. Get ready to wave hello to the bustle of sailboats, antique wooden boats and fishing boats, and look for coves to explore and restaurants with sail-up parking.
If you don't have a boat or want to rent one, sign up for daily pontoon cruises for fishing, stargazing or sightseeing, or try out waterskiing and wakeboarding. The resort staff offers a waterski and wakeboard school for $20 per person. The resort also has complimentary canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards.
Anyone serious about fishing -- especially for coveted walleye, northern pike, trout or bass -- should consider hiring a fishing guide who knows the best spots and bait to use. Walleye Dan is one of several guide services, and posts fishing updates in the lodge lobby (218-839-5598; walleyedan.com).
Grand View is known for its championship courses, including the par-72 The Preserve in Pequot Lakes, and The Pines, a 27-hole course connected to the Grand View property. The course closest to the Lodge, The Garden, offers a family-friendly course with six-inch cups and kid's tee boxes. Guests ages 6 to 15 can take free hour-long lessons on Sundays during the summer, then take advantage of the complimentary round of golf starting at 1 p.m. A Rookie Golf Clinic Tuesdays and Saturdays helps adults, along with juniors.
Look for seasonal horseback trail rides into the Pillsbury State Forest. In the winter, family weekends often include horse-drawn sleigh rides and clip-clopping through the resort's wooded property.
Within a few miles of the resort, the 112-mile Paul Bunyan State Trail, along a former railroad track, beckons bikers with a paved ride through woods and past lakes. Our suggestion: tackle the seven-mile stretch from Nisswa to Pequot Lakes. You'll know you're there when you see Paul Bunyan's fishing bobber (that doubles as the town water tower). Each town offers rest stops, restaurants and shopping. Another tip: Sign up for Nisswa's free turtle races -- a 50-year-old tradition -- on Wednesdays in the summer.
Grand View, which has some complimentary bikes, also offers weekly mountain biking excursions to exhilarating trails at Cuyuna State Recreational Area, a hilly landscape where open-pit mines are now crystal-clear lakes. It's also groomed for winter cross-country skiing.
For parents craving time alone or kids who want to be with peers, the seasonal Kid's Club offers half-day or full-day programs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday. Activities include a blend of nature walks, arts and crafts, scavenger hunts, games, and time on the beach. The program is open to potty-trained kids ages 3 to 11. Kid's Night Out sessions on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evenings during the summer offer similar activities, while weekend Kids Zone sessions have supervised fun from fall through spring.
Skiing and Snowshoeing
There are groomed cross-country ski trails on The Pines Golf Course, plus occasional cross-country ski clinics for newcomers to the sport. Grand View rents both cross-country skis and snowshoes for guests who want to blaze their own trails through the woods. Winter packages often include lift tickets for Mount Ski Gull, which is less than 10 miles away and offers downhill ski runs, a terrain park for snowboarders and a tubing hill.
Dogsledding and Sleigh Rides
Winter family weekends may include a horse-drawn wagon or sleigh ride through the property and a chance to take a short but exhilarating dogsled ride through the woods. Moms and dads also can book a private romantic sleigh ride.
Grand View plows rinks on both Gull and Roy Lake for skating, pond hockey and broomball, but guests have to bring their own skates. Guests also can rent an ice house to stay warm while trying their luck at ice-fishing. Snowmobiles, which can be rented nearby, zip by on the lake and connect to more than a hundred miles of trails through the woods or on the Paul Bunyan State Trail.
Grand View packs in the activities during the weeks of Thanksgiving and Christmas, including breakfast with Santa and Santa's elf tuck-in at night. Other special events include MN Ice Daze in late January with a fishing derby, family Olympics, snowmobiling and watching the Superbowl; and Gull Lake Frozen Fore in late February with pond hockey, golfing on the lake and food vendors on Gull Lake's Hole-in-the-Day Bay.
Several of these eateries are only open during the summer (Memorial Day through Labor Day), when all-inclusive vacations tend to be popular, so reservations are recommended. Two of the year-round restaurants are in the historic lodge -- an idyllic place to be on a winter's night.
Kids will beeline to this seasonal shop that's filled with chocolates, nostalgic candies, jelly beans, gourmet sodas and ice cream cones that are two-for-one on Wednesday evenings in the summer.
Grand View's year-round restaurant caters to wine lovers and foodies, with 25 wines by the glass and 2,000 bottles filling an illuminated cellar that runs the length of one wall. Diners can sample an eclectic array of small plates, such as pistachio-crusted lamb chops with mint spaetzle, blue crab and watermelon salad, Thai sliders, or an asparagus flatbread.
Grab a seat on the patio for cheese-stuffed burgers, black bean burgers, hot dogs and brats at this eatery overlooking The Pines Golf Course.
Painted a cheerful yellow, with generous windows and flowers, this seasonal eatery caters to family gatherings by offering a family-style dinner. That may include a starter, such as garlic pizza and tomato mozzarella salad; entrees, such as lasagna, shrimp and scallop pasta, and salmon with a blood-orange balsamic glaze, and roasted red pepper slaw and polenta; plus dessert.
Lodge Dining Room
Enjoy an elegant evening among burnished log walls and vintage photos while lining up for a hearty breakfast buffet or ordering dinner. Its signature entree brings together pan-fried Minnesota walleye with wild rice and sweet corn risotto. Other temptations include duck with apricot syrup and a wild-rise waffle, venison wild rice meatloaf, the bison burger and ribs braised in locally brewed ale.
Loony's Beach Hut
Think upscale snack bar with this seasonal eatery, located near the beach and pool. You can get the usual kid's meals, but also more grownup fare, such as walleye tacos with chipotle cream and pineapple salsa, a watermelon salad with grilled chicken and feta and cilantro vinaigrette, a vegetable platter with hummus and pita bread, and BLT's with avocado.
A best bet for families, this is a more casual version of Grand View Lodge's upstairs restaurant, with a lovely shaded patio on the lower level facing toward Gull Lake. Start with a summertime Caprese salad, a cool-weather bowl of walleye chowder or herb risotto fritters with wild truffle cream sauce. Sandwiches range from walleye with lemon caper Remoulade on ciabatta, to grilled ham and brie on cranberry wild rice bread. There's also a burger worthy of Paul Bunyan, with two beef patties, four cheeses, bacon and more.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
Resort reservations can be made as lodging only or inclusive. The inclusive plan includes a daily breakfast buffet, dinner at resort restaurants, the kid's club for ages 3 to 11 and unlimited golf at The Garden, a nine-hole executive course.
At this time, the resort doesn't offer babysitters for kids under 3.
If you prefer action to lazing along the beach, greet the day with an organized lake swim, Zumba class, nature hikes, paddle boarding and yoga. There is also a fitness room with 10 stations.
Grand View's Glacial Waters Spa draws guests with a babbling brook, heady fragrances and its cozy Arts-and-Crafts cottage beneath the pines. The full line of services includes steaming baths and skin treatments, plus muscle-reviving massages. Call a few months in advance for summer appointments and Saturdays in the winter. A spa cabin lets groups of friends bring food and drinks for socializing between treatments.
The Art of Smart Timing
Summer -- roughly mid-June through mid-August -- is the busiest and most expensive time to visit, followed by holidays. It's best to book four to six months ahead. It's also wise to make your reservations at that time for dinners and key activities, such as Kid's Club, so they don't fill up. Guests also can use the new digital concierge system to sign up for golf, spa treatments and activities.
Summer rates drop $20 to $100 per night if you book early to mid-June and in late August. The trade-off: bigger risk of rainy weather and cooler lake temperatures. Spring and fall can be even cheaper if you have the flexibility to travel (especially on weekdays) when school is in session.
Look for special family weekend getaways throughout the year -- including long winter weekends and themed weekends for Halloween, Christmas and New Year's Eve.
Expect to pay more on the busy July 4 weekend when Grand View opens to the public with Party at the Pines, which includes a rock band, kid's activities, beach volleyball, burgers and hot dogs, a beer tent, and fireworks over the lake.
The two biggest area events are Brainerd International Raceway's Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in August, and the Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza on Gull Lake in January. The sight of 10,000 holes drilled into the ice can be a wonder to behold, but it's not an ideal event for young kids (or parents) who may need an outhouse when it's 10 degrees below zero.
Fly into Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and rent a car, or catch the Lakes Express shuttle (218-855-6973). There also are flights to Brainerd's Crow Wing Regional Airport, and a $50 per trip Grand View van shuttle.
Most road-trippers take the Interstate to Minneapolis-St. Paul and head north. It's about 2.5 hours to drive from the Twin Cities to Grand View Resort. Take Interstate 94 to Highway 25 and exit at Monticello. Head east, just over three miles, cross the Mississippi River and connect with US Highway 10 as you reach Big Lake. Follow Highway 10 north for 60 miles until the highway splits. Stay right and follow Highway 371 to Brainerd and continue north to Nisswa. Grand View Lodge and registration is about four miles west on County Road 77. Allow extra time if you leave on a Friday afternoon or return on a Sunday during summer's "cabin traffic" on Highway 10 and I-94.
For Mom and Dad
The summer kid's club and Kid's Night Out or the off-season's weekend Kid's Zone offer parents some alone time year-round. The best bet date-night dining? Cru or Grand View Lodge Dining Room. Just be sure to make reservations early. Other ideas: couples' massages at the spa, a sunset paddle or boat cruise on Gull Lake, tennis and golf lessons, mountain biking on the stellar Cuyuna Trails in Crosby, live music at Northwoods Pub, wine pairing events, or a peaceful walk without whining ("Are we done yet? When do we get ice cream?").