July 1-7 is Clean Beach Week, and boy does the Brainerd Lakes Area have some doozys! Let’s be frank: They don’t call it the Brainerd Lakes Area for nothing. As we get into the dog days of summer, there’s no better time to make use of the area’s namesake. But before you double-check your packing list and apply your sunscreen, take a moment to see which beach might fit your needs. I grabbed my kids and we spent a hot afternoon doing a little research of the area’s best beaches.
Gull Lake Recreation Area
The first thing you’ll notice is the amount of green shaded area surrounding the beach. You’ll notice it even more when offset by the narrow beach area. This is, as they say, a feature of the beach. You’ll be shaded while staying out of the water, enjoying your picnic, or playing a game of volleyball.
If you have only time to go to one beach in the area, this is the beach I would recommend for most. It’s got almost everything you’d like. The positives (shady area, tons of picnic tables, care of shoreline, and access to lots of recreational facilities) easily outweigh the negatives (which are the ridiculously small beach and a large horsefly presence).
Whipple Beach Recreation Area
Whipple Beach is snuggled just west of Hwy 371 behind Best Buy, about a mile. So, if you’re looking for a beach that is close to the cosmopolitan confines of Brainerd, look no further than the surprisingly sandy shores of Whipple.
The new playground There are many things that will draw you to this location and simply because it’s right in our backyard, it will be visited many times, eagerly. There are so many reasons to enjoy this beach. Bike trails run alongside the sand, playground equipment beckons the kids, a picnic pavilion can generously host groups of all sizes, and changing rooms are available. The only downside I can see to Whipple would be due to its location, it’s always going to be busy on hot days. Moreover, if it’s busy, you’ll be forced onto the Sahara Desert, away from the shady area. But, with clear fresh water only feet away, it shouldn’t be too bad.
Crosby has been undergoing a sort of renaissance, one which has allowed the area to be noticed on a national scale. The little town boasts world-class mountain biking, upscale eateries, and has been a fisherman’s paradise for years, and it’s only a matter of time before the region’s best-kept secret starts to draw more visitors from out of town.
The thing you’ll notice first about the beach at Serpent Lake in downtown Crosby, is perhaps how sprawling the park is. On one end of the park, you’ll find a spectacular kids playground, while on the other end, nearly a half mile away is a pristine skateboard park. You’ll find a campground (which you can reserve at only $25 a night), ball fields, band shells, and the largest dragon statue you’ll see this side of Los Angeles.
The thing you’ll also notice is how the park hugs the lake, making use of all the shoreline as a well manicured green space for picnics or sunbathing. This was actually my favorite part, as I could sit comfortably on the grass while dangling my toes into the refreshing water.
This park/beach combo is a jewel in the Crosby area. They should be proud of the commitment needed to keep this place as well maintained as it is. The only negative I could say is that it took me a bit longer to get my kids into the car to leave for the next beach.
Cuyuna Lakes Mine Pits
The Cuyuna region has lived under two separate masks, it would seem. Initially, a hub for iron mining, the lakes area has shifted to a more tourist/recreation based identity. Indeed, the lakes in the Cuyuna region are the remnants of the large scale mining operations in the area. After over 75 years of digging for iron-ore, the last shipment was sent out in the early 1980’s, leaving the area to claim it’s newfound fame as a home to crystal clear lakes.
So, to sum-up our experience, if you’re looking for a unique swimming experience, complete with deep free swimming and crystal clear water, the Cuyuna Lakes Mine Pits are a perfect fit. However, you’ll have to compete with rocky approaches, less than ideal beach conditions (no soft sand to lay on), and the high likelihood of getting lost (as these are NOT maintained by parks departments). Very much worth it, though, in my opinion.
Lum Park has been a staple in the Brainerd area for over one hundred years. It’s a near perfect park with camping facilities, playground equipment that span generations, and green space for miles. Lum Park also features a small beach right on Rice Lake.
When we made our visit, we noticed garbage strewn across the sand, lying in among the weeds that washed ashore. There was a dead fish not ten feet from the dock area and the smell pervaded much further than that. In addition to all this, we found that a “swimmers itch” warning was in effect, barring any fun in the water that day. It didn’t break my kid’s hearts as they simply enjoyed the park in its beauty.
So, in my opinion, come to Lum Park for any other reason than the beach. It does all of that stuff well. The beach on the other hand…well…there are other beaches than these to explore in the BLA.
Pine River Dam Park
The Pine River Dam has been in use for over a century, and it has been used a place of congregation and celebration for nearly as long. Pig roasts, wedding receptions, and more recently, the world famous duck races have all been held near the dam in Pine River. The curved bench area has been a meeting place for decades, and the location has only been getting better over the years.
Hosting sandy beaches, fishing piers, wading areas, picnic tables, grilling stands, and much more, the Pine River Dam Park features everything you’d want for a day on the water.
Sand Beach on Pelican Lake
Following a winding road along the southern end of the Breezy Point golf course, you’ll be able to find Sand Beach, a modest yet elegant beach. If you’re looking for a place to swim, build sand castles, and get your suntan on, you’ll be very happy with Sand Beach on the western edge of Pelican Lake. If you’re looking for a destination beach, a beach with picnic tables, playground equipment, boat launches, changing rooms, or even a lifeguard, you’ll want to keep moving because this only has the sand and the lake. But, what a lake!
The thing you’ll find about Pelican Lake (both Sand Beach and the South Tip beach) is that it is formed for a perfect day in the water. With a lakeshore that will go for hundreds of feet before deepening out, you’ll be sure to find a spot that is right for you and your kids.
The benefits of this beach are many. With a shallow waterline, that is roped in by buoys before the water gets too deep, you can feel relatively secure in the safety of your kids. (Always watch them, though!) If you’re feeling a bit adventurous, there is a deep drop off on the other side of the buoys, but it lasts for only twenty feet before a sandbar reaches up to give a feeling of standing in the middle of the lake. It’s kind of cool. On the downside, this beach doesn’t have the amenities you might be looking for when you’re out swimming. The parking is limited to on-street parking, so be sure to get there early.
Pelican Lake Beach (South Tip)
This is a classic for the Brainerd Lakes Area. Pelican Beach is known to anyone who grew up in the area as the beach to go to if you wanted to walk for miles with your feet in the water and never have the waterline go over your knees.
The hot sand is a small price to pay on a warm summer day, for the purpose of this beach is not the sun tanning or the grilling, but the wading. This beach is perfect for boisterous groups to get their frisbee on. It’s perfect for families that have children. It’s perfect for couples who want to wade through the water and chat.
Do not confuse this, though. There are spots for picnicking (there are even tables right on the beach) and grilling, and there is plenty of sand to pick from if you choose to sunbathe or book read. No, the true feature of this beach is the enormity of the water. You can go, literally, two hundred feet before the water line reaches past your waist. This is so nice as allows the beachgoers to be able to spread out in the water.
As I reviewed my notes on this beach, I had a tough time coming up with any negatives or critiques. Maybe the lack of shaded areas would be one, but that’s kind of a stretch because Pelican Lake Beach is about as perfect as a lakeside beach can be. Clean sand, long water, and wading for miles, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better beach in the area.