We're gonna pick one lake in central Minnesota and call it the best. Yeah, and then we're going into the backyard to pluck the greenest blade of grass.
There are, no kidding, probably 200 lakes here that would be standouts if they were anywhere but next to each other. The Gull and Whitefish chains have more than 15 lakes - each. Figure in the roughly 12,000 year-round people that make up the "hub" of Pequot Lakes and you've got the ultimate combo: lots of water, sprinklings of users.
Summer does attract vacationers, to be honest. Cabins and resorts are as plentiful as reflectors on the highway.
"Everyone lives on a lake or stays at one during the summer," says photographer John Linn, who grew up on the edge of Brainerd, Minnesota. "You don't just send someone to one lake to water ski."
Oh yeah? His secret is Gilbert Lake. It sits as a small centerpiece to Crow Wing County's lake buffet, framed by forested hillsides, no resorts, no connection to a chain and one rarely used public launch. It's a natural ski lake, pure and simple.
First impression: Lakes and trees leave no room for strip malls and four-lane roads.
From Minneapolis: Two hours
Be aware of: The fact that weekend boat traffic on the Gull chain is the only evidence of minor congestion.
Best known for: Paul Bunyan. His footsteps created the lakes, after all.
Miles of shoreline: 15 on Gilbert, about 7,000 in the entire area.
You should experience: A conversation with the talking Paul Bunyan statue that blocks out the sun between Brainerd and Baxter.
You might experience: Drag races and motorcycle races 10 minutes north of Brainerd.
Slalom courses: There's normally one on Gilbert, or search some of the smaller lakes along the Whitefish chain.
Where you'll sleep: In a resort cabin.
Local Flavor: If you have the adventurous stomach, try lutefisk (a Norwegian fish soaked in lye and boiled), or just cook your own steak at The Butcher Block on Gull Lake.
Secret: Tom Cruise reportedly has a place on the Whitefish chain.
Advice: For a big holiday weekend blowout, go over to Cross Lake.
Directions: From Minneapolis, take Highway 10 northwest to 371 north into Brainerd. Stop at a Pump n' Munch for directions from there.
Best contacts: Maddens Resort (218-829-2811) and Craguns (218-829-3591) on the Gull Lake chain both have ski boats; Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce (218-829-2838).