Summer is quickly approaching and it’s time to plan for some nonstop excitement in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, this summer. The recreational area is one of the state’s most popular destinations during the season, where visitors can go fishing, swimming, hiking and more. Whatever activity you’re looking to do, you’ll find it right here in beautiful Detroit Lakes. In fact, the area is so breathtaking that the name derives from a French Catholic priest who camped out by the lake and looking at the sandbar between Little and Big Detroit lakes exclaimed, “What a beautiful dètroit!”, which translates to “strait” in his native language. Get ready for the best summer of your life! Here are 10 things to do in Detroit Lakes this summer.
Detroit Lakes has tons of fun amenities very near its mile-long, sugar-sand city beach, such as playgrounds, picnic shelters and a band shell in the City Park, where family-friendly concerts are frequently scheduled. The Recreational Center and Washington Ball Park are located a block from the beach, so you can conveniently access the facilities and beach within a short walk. Head toward West Lake Drive to Peoples Park and you’ll find beach volleyball courts, pickleball and a skateboard park. Come on a Tuesday or Saturday to stock up on the freshest produce in Peoples Park during its Lake Area Farmers Market.
During the weekend, get a personal experience of what’s living in the bottom of the lakes through Discovery Scuba Dives, where you’ll receive a guided tour and equipment rentals. There, you’ll find some of the finest inland diving offered in the region. Or, soak up the sun by going tubing on the Otter Tail River, east of Detroit Lakes.
During sunset hours, head toward Big and Little Detroit Lake. There’s a sandbar between the two lakes that makes for a spectacular spot to watch the sky change colors.
Detroit Lakes is home to mountain bike trails that go past lakes, lush wildernesses and marshlands. Suggested areas to explore on your mountain bike include Maplelag Resort, Detroit Mountain Recreation Area and Mountain View Recreation Area. If you’re looking for a more challenging adventure that includes a full workout, consider riding a fat bike down the snowy trails in the winter. If you’re bringing younger kids along, Dunton Locks County Park has a shorter bike trail and shelters for a picnic. Other trails to explore outside of Detroit Lakes include Itasca State Park as well as the expansive Heartland Trail to the east.
Aside from biking, hiking is a fantastic way to get outside and explore nature in the Detroit Lakes area. North Country National Scenic Trail, the nation’s longest hiking trail at more than 4,600 miles, has up to 60 miles of backcountry pathways for you to take advantage of. Start in Becker County to hike along the trail that runs through Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge, which is home to a wealth of wildlife like foxes, raccoons, porcupines, deer, wolves, bears and a variety of birds. Expect to find landscapes of rising conifers, towering hardwood trees, and views of streams and lakes along the way.
Sucker Creek Preserve is known for its mineral springs and a woodsy creek leading to the mouth of Sucker Creek at Big Detroit Lake. The preserve is 117 acres with its own paved trails and is conveniently close to the eastern edge of the city (meaning hikers can easily go for a nature escape anytime). Dunton Locks County Park is a smaller area at 53 acres but is well worth the visit. The park is only a 3-mile drive south of Detroit Lakes, and you can indulge in its multiuse facility by hiking, biking, fishing, birding or enjoying the view on the bridge, dividing Lake Sallie and Muskrat Lake.
During the summer, Detroit Lakes is swarming with exciting events worth checking out. Among the most popular events include Festival of Birds, Street Faire at the Lakes, Northwest Water Carnival, WE Fest, Dick Beardsley Marathon, powwows, Richwood Winery Grape Stomp, Laddies Loppet Mountain Bike Race, Cruise DL Night, Art in the Park, Fourth of July fireworks and Quake the Lake Powerboat Races with Antique and Classic Boat Show. Many of the scheduled events are family-friendly, so bring the kids along.
Detroit Lakes has six pristine golf courses that are available to accommodate you, no matter your skill level. Don’t miss the Pine to Palm Golf Tournament in August that will be hosted by Detroit Country Club, where a team of talented golfers will compete by hitting long shots. Consider playing a game or two at Detroit Country Club for its stunning view since it overlooks Lake Sallie and Lake Melissa. Find out more about the area’s golfing options here.
With more than 400 lakes in the area, it’s no wonder Detroit Lakes is one of Minnesota’s top fishing destinations. There’s no need to fret over which lake to drop a line in. Enlist the skills of fishing guides Dick Beardsley or Brad Laabs. Local fishing guide Brad Laabs strongly encourages visitors to go to Big Detroit Lake to reel in good muskie, walleye, large-mouth bass, large northern pike and more. Other highly suggested lakes include Sallie, Melissa, Many Point, Beers, Big Toad, Tamarac, Height of Land, White Earth, Pelican, Lida, Otter Tail and McDonald.
Don’t leave Detroit Lakes without getting some delicious food in you. You can eat, drink and be merry at some of the area’s highly rated restaurants such as Spanky’s Stone Hearth that overlooks Rose Lake. Other fantastic waterfront dining places are The Fireside, Holiday Beach Bar & Grill, historic Lakeside Tavern, Long Bridge Bar & Grill, Hub 41 and Zorbaz, which is known for its delicious macho nachos that pairs well with any of its 80 beers.
Mingle with the locals at Brygge Taps & Tastes in downtown Detroit Lakes where you can cozy up next to an outdoor fireplace while enjoying your dinner and craft beer. For breakfast, have a cup of locally roasted coffee and freshly baked cupcakes at the new Roasted Pub and Eatery on Washington Avenue. To sample local catches, drive a short distance to the historic Hotel Shoreham to dine on walleye. Afterward, sip on locally made wine at Richwood Winery, where you can enjoy the picturesque vineyard.
Detroit Lakes isn’t only for outdoor activities. In fact, you can get your arts and culture fix here by checking out some of its on-site sculptures and activities. There are 30 four-foot, hand decorated sunfish sculptures in the area; these art pieces make for fantastic photo opportunities. You can catch a play at the Historic Holmes Theatre, and on Tuesday evenings, enjoy free music in the park all summer long. Don’t miss Shakespeare in the Park at the City Park’s bandshell where the late author’s works are brought to life. If you drive past the local public library, you’ll notice a brand new art installation, “Once Upon a Time,” that was created by local artist Hans Gilsdorf. The sculpture depicts an oversized child reading a book with a sense of wonderment.
Detroit Lakes is a mecca of “Up North” shopping. During the summer, you will find handmade art and score flea market finds in Lakes country. Scout for vintage typewriters and Victorian jewelry at one of the area’s hidden gems like SuLaine’s Antique Mall, which has 14,000 square feet of preserved treasures. There are 70 antique dealers showcasing their best goods in this one establishment. Another place to nab antique pieces is Shady Hollow Flea Market that’s only open on weekends, from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The market sits on 3.5 acres with boutique cabins and more than 50 vendors, with their own impressive collections, set up shop here. Vintage finds range from old tools to artsy jewelry to refurbished home decor.
Washington Square Mall’s location, in a historic building, is a great place to go for shopping, dining and going to the movies. Other shops you should visit are Lakeshirts Beach Shops and various boutiques along Washington Avenue.
Bird is the word here in Detroit Lakes. Home to more than 275 species and part of the Pine to Prairie International Birding Trail, the area is an oasis for birders. Hear the call of the common loon echo across the lake early in the morning or late evening, or look for white trumpeter swans gracing area ponds. It’s common to spot bald eagles soaring above, and there are quite a few birds that are unique to the area like black-backed woodpeckers, chestnut-collared longspurs and golden-winged warblers. Birders that are new to the area can pick up a Birding Hot Spot map from Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge and the Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce to scout for the hard-to-find fowls.
Need an amazing place to tie the knot? Detroit Lakes has several wedding venues surrounded by lush wildernesses and peaceful lakes that have restored barns, historic ballrooms and more. Not to mention, your guests will love the convenient lodging in the area where they can take a small vacation in the stunning setting that is Detroit Lakes.
See more of the top things to do in the Detroit Lakes area, including local festivals and other entertainment, on our website here.