The Magic of Madden’s on Gull Lake

In the perfectly pristine setting of an upstate Minnesota summer, we left the real world behind for the magic of Madden’s on Gull Lake.

Maddens on Gull Lake
Natural water elements in the Classic’s course design by Madden’s Golf Course Superintendent, Scott Hoffmann

Disclosure: We were the guests of Madden’s on Gull Lake as part of a press trip with Explore Minnesota Tourism, in conjunction with Explore Brainerd Lakes.

After you turn off highway 371, the upstate Minnesota landscape unfolds as part of a shimmering promise. And that promise is: in the space of the few minutes, you’ll leave your real world somewhere back behind you, obscured and protected from intrusion by the perfection only this part of the world can bring. Here is a paradise wrought in a hundred shades of green, in the call of a red-winged blackbird or the glimpse of a firefly. It’s a world of misty sunrises and lingering summer twilight, of sandy beach and sparkling water. Gosh, you say to yourself, it’s so beautiful up here. Such is the magic of Madden’s on Gull Lake.

Madden's on Gull Lake
Water, land and sky at Madden’s

Visitors have been coming to Madden’s on Gull Lake for almost ninety years. They’ve brought their children and grandchildren, and now those children and grandchildren are bringing theirs. Madden’s can hold more than 600 guests at a time in a variety of accommodations: hotel rooms, villas, cottages, and entire houses. “Our philosophy,” says Ben Thuringer, of the third generation to run the resort, “is simply to provide the best that Minnesota has to offer.”

Maddens Resort
A lakeside vista at Madden’s on Gull Lake

To be sure, there are beautiful vistas in other parts of the world; they’re showy and exalted, written and sung about, haughty and prominent. But part of the charm in these parts – north Minnesota lake country – is quiet modesty. “Yes,” this region whispers, with a wink and a conspiratorial smile. “it’s gorgeous here. But shhhhh. Let others make outrageous claims and show off. We know who we are.”

Maddens Resort
Fairway Vista on The Classic Course

Mention Madden’s on Gull Lake and the first thing you hear will be about the golf. Rated in the Top 100 and 5-Stars by Golf Digest, The Classic at Maddens bills itself as Minnesota’s “Signature Course.” Check out the video from our recent visit (click here if you’re in a reader):

Other on-site courses – Pine Beach West and Pine Beach East (Minnesota’s first 18 hole course, dating from the 1920s), as well as the shorter Social 9 – bring the total number of holes at Madden’s on Gull Lake up to 63. No matter your skill level, there will be a fit. Looking to improve your game? Check out the two driving ranges, three pro shops, or arrange for lessons tailored to your needs.

Maddens Resort
This heavenly fairway goes on forever

With 1000 acres to enjoy at Madden’s, there’s more than golf to experience. Vacationers can do just about anything, or soak the woodsy lakeside atmosphere all in by doing as little as possible, if that’s their wish. Guests can get on the water in kayaks, canoes, paddle boats, rowing sculls, SUP boards, pontoons, speedboats, a 12-person “banana boat” tube, and old-school fishing boats with 15hp motors.

Maddens Resort
It’s possible to relax in a big way at Madden’s

Land sports include tennis and croquet, trapshooting, ball courts, traditional horseshoes and shuffleboard, lawn bowling, cycling, and an Adventure Club just for kids. Learn to waterski or hire a fishing guide. Nearby off-site excursions include mountain biking, river canoeing, horseback riding and ziplining.

Maddens Resort
Lofty shade trees frame a fairway

Dining at Madden’s ranges from five-star to casual cafe. On our recent visit, we enjoyed a fantastic meal at the comfortably elegant Classic Grill. Featuring a large patio at which thirsty foursomes could relax with liquid refreshment and a sandwich, the Grill’s dining room overlooks The Classic Course. We started with cocktails and a salmon appetizer and then indulged with tasty steaks. The dessert menu was tempting, but we wisely refrained, contenting ourselves with glimpses of what other diners were enjoying.

Salmon Appetizer
Salmon Appetizer

Breakfast the following morning was equally enjoyable, with the nicest server ever!

Our room at Madden’s on Gull Lake was brand, spankin’ new, located in the rebuilt Voyageur buildings, in the west end of the resort. A year prior to our visit, a super storm with straight-line winds had blown in, knocking out 85 guest rooms and meeting spaces, one of the golf courses, and the resort’s all-important wedding venue. With typical Minnesota understatement, Marketing Director Kathy Reichenbach, told us, “We viewed it as an opportunity to refurbish.”

maddens resort

And refurbish they did. Our spacious king room was designed to take advantage of the breezes and a serene view of Gull Lake’s Wilson Bay. Even though the last thing a visitor might want to be is connected to a digital device while on vacation, we appreciated the fast internet speed, convenient desk and counter space, as well as the handy wet bar with coffee, microwave and refrigerator. Our sparkling ensuite bathroom was outfitted with quality toiletries and fluffy, oversize towels. We fell asleep like babies to the sounds of lapping waves and singing frogs, on one of the most comfortable mattresses we’ve ever experienced.

Maddens Resort
Twilight on Wilson Bay

Adjacent as our room was to the Spa at Madden’s, we regretted we did not have time to choose something from the full complement of stress-reduction services offered for women and men: massage, facials, wraps, waxing and nail services are available a la carte and in packages suitable for couples and group getaways. This spa is the only one located right Gull Lake. Girls’ weekend away, anyone?

Maddens Resort
Water feature on the Classic course

Other amenities at Madden’s on Gull Lake include 4 swimming pools (3 indoor and 1 outdoor), a full-service marina, 5 restaurants and 2 lounges, a coffee bar and gift shop, and an art gallery featuring painting classes.

Maddens Resort
Local color
The Inn at Maddens
The Inn at Madden’s

Madden’s on Gull Lake offers a variety of package rates based upon your interests and favorite activities. In addition, special events such as holiday weekend getaways, a renowned Food & Wine Event, and seasonal opening and closing parties enable you to choose a memorable way to play and stay.

Vintage vibe coffee and ice cream shoppes
Vintage vibe coffee and ice cream shoppes

Romance and reunion packages can include spa services and group lodging options. Golf packages range from classic to deluxe.

Maddens Resort
Shooting the breeze with a pro at Madden’s

Tips and Practicalities: Madden’s is located on Gull Lake, outside Brainerd, Minnesota, between two and three hours northwest of the Twin Cities. Open seasonally between April and October. Rated 53rd Best Resort in the World and Top 10 Resort in the Midwest by Conde Nast Traveler Magazine.

Maddens Resort
Serene scenery

Fun Adventures in Central and Northwest Minnesota

fun adventures minnesota

With summer brings the opportunity for a variety of fun adventures in Central and Northwest Minnesota on land and water, and even in the air!

adventures in central and northwest minnesota

Summer fun adventures in Central and Northwest Minnesota abound for all ages! We recently rediscovered this region with new eyes after an absence of several years. Active enthusiasts will be amazed at all the options, no matter how you roll. There is no more perfect environment than a Minnesota summer to get your groove on! Come along and be inspired as we count some of the ways!

Disclosure: We visited Central and Northwest Minnesota on a press trip with Explore Minnesota Tourism, and were the guests of its business partners.

Fun adventures in Central and Northwest Minnesota on the Water!

Fishing: Dropping a line in has always been foremost when visitors to Central and Northwest Minnesota contemplate their choices. Anglers of all ages and abilities will discover that they can enjoy an experience tailored just for them on any number of the plentiful lakes for which this region is famous. Numerous private guide services using all kinds of watercraft are available.

We had a fun-filled fishing adventure on Lake Mille Lacs with Mike Verdeja and his crew from McQuoid’s Inn. Located on the southeast side of this enormous lake in the lovely little town of Isle, McQuoids offers condos, cabins, hotel rooms, and conference facilities.

But the real story at McQuoid’s is their guided fishing experiences. Signature red and yellow launch-style boats are comfortable and spacious for groups. Mike and his crew know all the best spots to fish for walleye, crappie, perch, bass, and even muskie on this enormous lake, which is larger in area than several Minnesota counties. If you’re at all squeamish, they’ll even bait your hook and net your catch.

Fun Adventures in Central and Northwest Minnesota - fishing with McQuoids

If you are or know a senior citizen, military veteran, or person with a disability who doesn’t have a means to get on the water easily, the Let’s Go Fishing program is ready to help. We spent a wonderful evening on Big Detroit Lake with Detroit Lakes Area Chapter (phone: 218-847-5670) skipper Dave Hochhalter and other volunteers.

Regaling us with Ole and Lena and Lutheran jokes on our sunset pontoon ride, our hosts downplayed their chapter’s impressive statistics: over 600 trips in eight years serving 5,600 people and over 100 organizations. Last year, the chapter made 131 trips during May – September at no cost for participants. LGF’s pontoon boats are safe, handicap-accessible and come equipped with life vests, fishing gear and bait, refreshments and a volunteer guide.

fun adventures in Central and Northwest Minnesota
Photo Credit: Let’s Go Fishing Detroit Lakes Chapter

Paddling: The Crow Wing River, east of Park Rapids, has long been a watery highway. Ojibwe and Dakota Indians used its high banks for gatherings and religious ceremonies. Hudson Bay Company representatives met native and voyageur trappers at boat landings with ox carts; evidence of the landings and ox cart trails still exists.

Today, the Crow Wing River State Water Trail will provide both flatwater and gentle whitewater paddling opportunities for couples, family and group trips. Abandoned logging settlements and “dead heads” (logs which were sunk or wedged to create passageways for lumber to float downstream for milling) can still be seen in its crystal clear waters.

Plan your Crow Wing River outing with Huntersville Canoe Outfitters, who provide long-term parking, personal attention geared toward your experience level, delivery and pickup shuttles, aluminum canoes, kayaks, tubes, life preservers and cushions, rain and camping gear. Groups of 12 or more can take advantage of a full canoe and camping package for as little as $22 per person.

Cruising: We happen to think sometimes the best exercise is that of hand to mouth!There is absolutely no shame in shaping your active water experience to include a luxury cruise! On beautiful Gull Lake, outside of Brainerd, Destiny Cruises offers a day of great cuisine and scenic perfection, viewed from its new multi-deck yacht, the North Star.

Our excursion was made all the more enjoyable by the custom libations expertly poured by General Manager Michele Baker and pithy commentary from the North Star’s captain. Our group hung out on the sunny top observation deck and enjoyed a fabulous gourmet meal. Other passengers had a wonderful experience in the spacious indoor salon below us, as well.

fun adventures in central and northwestern Minnesota
Destiny Cruises General Manager Michele behind the top deck bar
fun adventures in central and northwestern minnesota

Fun adventures in Central and Northwest Minnesota on Land!

Golf: Minnesotans love their golf! This can surprise visitors who think the majority of the year here is spent under snow and ice. But in fact, according to Golf.com, Minnesota “exudes golfiness.” More golf is played per capita in Minnesota than any other state. Even more impressive: Minnesota is the only state to have hosted every one of the 17 separate U. S. Golf Association championships over the past 100 years (beginning with the 1916 U.S. Open).

Near Lake Mille Lacs: The Minnesota National Golf Course, designed by famous architect Joel Goldstrand, is an 18-hole course covering over 600 acres, surrounded by a wilderness of dense forests and wildlife habitat. Resort courses include Izatys, Northwood Hills and Fiddlestix Golf Clubs by Appeldoorns, and Ruttger’s Bay Lake. Other courses open to the public include Stones Throw, Spring Brook, Emily Greens and Cuyuna Rolling Hills.

Near Brainerd Lakes Area: More than 24 public courses feature affordable summer fees, and award-winning championship courses designed by famous names such as Robert Trent Jones, Jr. and Arnold Palmer Design Group. Resorts such as Cragun’s, Grand View Lodge, Breezy Point, and Madden’s on Gull Lake (see our separate review here) offer distinct options to serve all handicaps.

fun adventures in central and northwestern Minnesota
The beautiful 11th hole at the Classic Course at Madden’s on Gull Lake

Near Park Rapids: Headwaters Golf Club offers a par 72, 18 hole course; Eagle View Golf Course (tel. 218-732-7102) is a par 64, 18 hole experience. Resort options are Bears Den at Timberlane Resort and Blueberry Pines Golf, Dining and Event Center.

Near Detroit Lakes: Numerous options to play 9 or 18 holes include Detroit Country Club, Ironman, Wildflower, Forest Hills, and Maple Hills.

Biking: A variety of options draw biking enthusiasts throughout Central and Northwestern Minnesota. The multiple use, paved Heartland Trail covers 49 miles between Park Rapids and Cass Lake, linking Park Rapids, Dorset, Nevis, Akeley and Cass Lake mostly along abandoned railroad lines. This affords a level biking experience, part of which has parallel grassy surface for horseback riding and studded snowmobiling in winter.

The Paul Bunyan Trail goes from Brainerd to Bemidji along 120 paved miles, connecting diverse communities along former railway lines. Additional trails, such as Mi-Gi-Zi and Itasca Wilderness, feed into the system.

Detroit Mountain Recreation Area is unique in offering 15 challenging mountain bike downhill segments along with 4 gravity trails. Contour and downhill flow trails along with skills courses designed to teach technical proficiency, as well as an Adventure Zone for younger riders are offered. This is one of Detroit Lakes’ newest attractions, the result of unique, cooperative fundraising efforts.

Adverse weather prevented our planned biking experience at Detroit Mountain, but we were impressed by the culmination of efforts to make this a go-to destination for adventure-seekers throughout the year.

fun adventures in Central and Northwestern Minnesota
Fat bikes lined up for rent at Detroit Mountain
fun adventures in Central and Northwestern Minnesota
Photo Credit: Detroit Mountain

Northern Cycle, with locations in Park Rapids (tel. 218-732-5971) and Bemidji (tel. 218-751-2453) offers mountain and cross bikes, trail-a-bikes, child trailers, tandem and recumbents, and road bikes (all including helmet) at hourly, daily and weekly rates.

Hiking: North Country National Scenic Trail‘s Laurentian and Itasca Moraine segments are part of the overall 4,600 mile hiking route which runs from New York to North Dakota.

Trails at Itasca State Park range from 200 feet to just under 10 miles in length. Self-guided, accessible and interpretive options.

Additional trails in the Detroit Lakes area can be found at Maplewood State Park, Buffalo River State Park, the Pine to Prairie Birding Trail, Dunton Locks County Park, Sucker Creek Preserve, and in the vicinity of the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge.

Fun adventures in Central and Northwest Minnesota in the Air!

If you had suggested I’d spend my 62nd birthday ziplining and undertaking a rope bridge suspended over 50 feet in the air, I’d have said you were crazy. Except now that I have, I heartily recommend you try it! Facing my fear of heights head on was exhilarating!

Both Pete and I had a great time at the Brainerd Zip Line Tour from Minnesota Zip Lines and Adventures. Their Brainerd location includes seven zip lines, a 50ft. suspension bridge and an optional 50ft free-fall. You’ll spend a couple of hours in the company of experienced guides who will train and assist you. Check out our video and photos below!

Outside Park Rapids, Trust C4 Character Challenge Course offers a high ropes course, zip line, high low challenges and team building programs for families and teams from schools, colleges, corporate and faith-based environments. Custom adventures are geared toward trust, teamwork and leadership.

Where to Stay: Your fun adventures in Central and Northwest Minnesota can be planned around a variety of accommodations ranging from small resorts to 4-star all-inclusive to branded hotels. From this recent trip, we can recommend the following:

Eddy’s Resort – Established in 1960 as a place to stay with handcrafted launches for guided fishing on Lake Mille Lacs, Eddys has been completely refurbished by its current owners, the MLCV (formerly the Corporate Commission of the Lake Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe).

Eddys has 64 guest rooms, including suites and four separate cabins. Our luxury lake view suite came equipped with a spacious seating area, free wifi, coffee service and refrigerator, and 42″ flat screen TV. The ensuite bath had a separate shower and soaking tub.

Fishing with experienced guides on Eddys signature launches and small boats is available for groups ranging from two to 45 people. The Launch Gastropub at Eddys serves up a variety of craft beers, cocktails and a tasty menu with signature appetizers, sandwiches and entrees.

Eddys Collage

Madden’s on Gull Lake is a classic choice for visitors in the Brainerd Lakes area. See our full review here: The Magic of Madden’s on Gull Lake.

In Detroit Lakes, we stayed at Holiday Inn on the Lake, a three-star property with private beach, restaurant and beach bar and grill. Our king jacuzzi suite overlooked the lake. Holiday Inn on the Lake bills itself as the entertainment and sports hub for Big Detroit Lake, featuring DJ and karaoke on Friday nights, and a multi-tiered outdoor patio with fireplaces.

fun adventures in Central and Northwest Minnesota
Our jacuzzi room at Holiday Inn Detroit Lakes

Disclosure: We were the guests of Explore Minnesota Tourism, Lake Mille Lacs Area Tourism, Eddys Resort, McQuoids Inn, Brainerd Chamber of Commerce, Madden’s on Gull Lake, Destiny Cruises, Brainerd Zip Line, Visit Park Rapids, Let’s Go Fishing Detroit Lakes, Detroit Mountain, and Holiday Inn on the Lake on this fun-filled trip.

Although we’ve long been familiar with Central and Northwest Minnesota by virtue of being life-long Minnesotans, we hope you’ll be inspired by the wealth of activities available to active summer adventure-seekers.