Growing up, my family escaped the hustle and bustle of farm life and summer commitments by driving North three hours from Franklin to Battle Lake. We stayed with my mom’s dear friend, Debby, at her log cabin on the water. My memories are fond … wading in knee-deep water … tubing until we got rope burn … imaginary play in the cabin loft … drinking glasses of cold, ice tea until our bellies hurt … giggling with her nieces and nephews and listening to the crickets chirp at night.
Our trip to Debby’s was special and I always knew that someday, I would vacation to a home on the water. Luckily, I married a man who shared the same dream. Five years ago we bought our two-bedroom, 1-bath, 700-square-foot cabin. Located on Lake Carlos, our “neighborhood” is part of the Alexandria Chain of Lakes (consisting of eleven bodies of water: Lake Carlos, Lake Cowdry, Lake Brophy, Lake Darling, Lake Geneva, Lake Jessie, Lake Le Homme Dieu, North Union Lake, Lake Stony, Taylor Lake and Lake Victoria.)
Located in central MN and just over 3.5 hours from Rochester — this area is very family-friendly, easy to navigate and offers activities for all ages. If you already love family vacations on the water or want to try a week on a lake, check out the Alexandria-area, specifically the Chain of Lakes. Here are my recommendations on where to stay and what to do.
Places to Stay
We often see families vacationing on Lake Carlos (2,520 acres popular for water sports), Lake Darling (1,417 acres known for fishing) and Lake Le Homme Dieu (880 acres recognized for its eateries and beaches) because they want the inner-chain experience. Arguably, these three lakes are the easiest to access via motor boats — but you’ll find lake home rentals on AirBNB and VRBO across all bodies of water.
If you’re looking for an Alexandria Chain of Lakes resort experience, here are 10 to get you started:
- Arrowwood Resort
- Bergs Resort
- Brophy Lake Resort
- Geneva Beach Resort
- Lake Carlos Bay
- Lake Carlos Villas
- Lake Darling Resort
- Shady Lawn Resort
- Carlos State Park
- Vacationers Inn Resort
In my opinion, the beauty of vacationing on the lake is enjoying what it has to offer. Launch your own boat or rent one and spend a full day playing in the water — tubing, skiing, wake boarding, wake surfing, cruising the shoreline or even anchoring at one of the local beaches.
Lake Latoka Beach
A local’s favorite — this sandy beach has a lifeguard on duty and a fenced parking lot off a private road. With two public water access docks, Lake Latoka has deep, clear water making it a great spot to try out some water sports, too!
Lake Le Homme Dieu Beach
With two sandy beaches — one on the north side of the lake, near the Carlos-Le Homme Dieu bridge, and one on the east side, off Highway 29 — its easy to park your boat or beach your bum for the afternoon. The main beach staffs a lifeguard all summer long, along with a 5-foot rope for younger swimmers.
Lake Carlos State Park Beach
This beautiful, sandy beach is in a private, wooded area. While no lifeguards are onsite, its an ideal spot for families to enjoy some peace and quiet near a quaint campground.
A lot of VRBOs and resorts have dock access which can make for a fun day swimming inland, jumping on water trampolines and running on Lilly pads. Hangloose MN offers hourly wake surf lessons for beginners to experts and for individuals and parties — the owners are awesome! They also rent stand up paddle boards and offer SUP pilates and SUP yoga classes!
If you or the kiddos are into fishing, you’ll find pockets of fish across the chain, but boat on over to Lake Darling for the hot spots. Just be sure to have your fishing license on-hand … even if you’re fishing off your dock.
Carlos State Park Lazy River is a best kept secret where you’ll find families spending 2-3 hours floating. Just bring your own tubes (food and drinks allowed, but glass is prohibited) and coordinate drop-off/pick-up before you leave. Park your car along side the road or in the State Park and a second car at an outlet point. This float is easy-moderate and best for ages 7+ (some areas are rocky/weedy and have a current).
While we love being on the water, we know some families like to explore mother nature and neighboring towns. If that’s your kind of thing, here are my top recommendations for:
- Legacy of the Lakes
- Lake Carlos State Park
- Casey’s Amusement Park
- Runestone Museum
- Central Lakes Trail
If It Rains
- Arrowwood Resort Indoor Waterpark
- Shenanigans Indoor Playground
- Lakes Area Jump 4 Fun Bounce House
- Garden Center Bowling Lanes
- CEC Midway 9 Movie Theatre
I always pack board games, arts, crafts and cards in case we find ourselves indoor more than desired. Plus, board games at night can be fun! Or, just let the kiddos splash in the puddles while you read a good book! Win, win.
For The Parents
Seasonal Events Not to Miss
- Awake the Lakes Rib Fest (June)
- Country Blossom Orchard (August)
- Douglas County Fair (August)
- Carlos Creek Winery Grape Stomp (September)
- Broadway’s Party in the Street (July)
While most families pack their coolers and the fridge for the week – sometimes its easier shopping nearby, making quick trips for the essentials or just eating out.
Alexandria has several grocery stores in-town, but Eldens is closet to the chain and as the hometown grocery store, its options are plentiful. Lake Country Meats is definitely worth a stop if you like fresh, flavorful brats and burgers for grilling and Sugar Shack is a must do on vacation! A short drive from East Lake Carlos, Gas Mart of Carlos Corners sells pizzas, snacks, breads and fishing lures and near the water, Sunnies General Store is a great option for souvenirs, ice cream, candy, meats and cheeses. Yum!
Are you now planning a family trip to the Alexandria Chain of Lakes?