Destination: Detroit Lakes has WE Fest and Waterfront Fun

Where to eat, stay, and play in this northern Minnesota lake region

Morning mist over a wetland with a creek flowing through it at Detroit Lakes, MN.

photo by greg ness

On the first weekend of every august, country-music festival WE Fest attracts 100,000-plus visitors over three days to Soo Pass Ranch near Detroit Lakes. Since its inception in 1983, it has grown into one of the biggest country and camping fests in the world. But rewarding warm-weather pursuits in Detroit Lakes aren’t limited to one weekend—or one body of water.

The city of about 9,000 is located in Minnesota’s unofficial “Lake Country,” home to more than 400 lakes within 25 miles. About 200 miles north of the Twin Cities, the region is loaded with options for lakeside dining, scenic campgrounds, and an impressive list of state parks.

A crowd at WE Fest in Detroit Lakes, MN.
WE Fest remains Detroit Lakes’ biggest draw

photo by Patrick Hughes for WE Fest Country Music Festival

About five miles south of downtown Detroit Lakes, WE Fest’s 500-acre Soo Pass Ranch can accommodate up to 50,000 total concertgoers, and 10 different campgrounds can hold 35,000. The festival offers 50-plus food and beverage stands. A daily park-and-ride WE Fest shuttle running from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. makes it easy to explore the area during the day and return for headliners later in the evening.

If you’re in town to see Carrie Underwood and Justin Moore, or just for a week-long getaway, start with a breakfast sandwich at La Barista, a cozy downtown café with some of the best coffee in town. Most breakfast (and lunch) options are less than $10. Try a panini with eggs, white cheddar, ham, and hollandaise sauce, or a wrap with scrambled eggs, ham, cheddar cheese, and veggies.

Two little girls posing by a metallic sunfish sculpture in Detroit Lakes, MN.
Take a sunfish sculpture selfie around town

photo Courtesy Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce

Detroit Lakes’ shops include the Red Willow for home decor and creative gifts, antiquing at NorthBound Trading Co. or SuLaine’s Antique Mall, and clothing at Mainstream Boutique. On your travels, fill up Instagram with the 50 sunfish sculptures created by local artists scattered around town.

Head to Bleachers on the southwest side of Detroit Lake for an unforgettable burger lunch with a view. The restaurant’s large deck overlooks Deadshot Bay on Detroit Lake. Nearby, beach-themed Long Bridge Bar boasts a family-friendly atmosphere with patio seating and a playground.

Need some time in nature? Pack a picnic and hit Detroit Lakes City Park, adjacent to Detroit Lakes’ mile-long sandy beach, or Dunton Locks County Park, nestled between Lake Sallie and Muskrat Lake. The latter is a four-minute drive north from the WE Fest grounds.

A pontoon on Detroit Lake at sunset in Detroit Lakes, MN.
Get out on Detroit Lake

photo by greg ness

If you have a whole afternoon, Maplewood State Park is worth the 28-mile drive from Detroit Lakes. The park’s eight major lakes offer plenty of swimming, fishing, and boating options. Drive along the scenic route, or hike the extensive trails, and keep watch for 150 bird varieties and 50 mammal species.

Buffalo River State Park, 30 miles west of Detroit Lakes, is one of Minnesota’s largest prairies, with picnic, swimming, and campground areas for visitors. Itasca State Park, 54 miles from Detroit Lakes, is Minnesota’s oldest and is more than 32,000 acres in size. Walk across the Mississippi River headwaters and take a drive on Wilderness Drive, a narrow, scenic road that winds through the acres of Itasca State Park.

People riding mountain bikes at Detroit Mountain Recreation Area in Detroit Lakes, MN.
Detroit Mountain Recreation Area is prime for cycling

photo by Justin Miller

For cycling, Detroit Mountain Recreation Area opens its trails to bikers during the summer. If you want to get out on the water, J&K Marine in Detroit Lakes offers fishing and recreational boat rentals, along with kayaks, canoes, paddle boards, and pedal boats.

In between adventures or performances, grab dinner at Brygge Taps and Tastes, one of the top restaurants in Detroit Lakes, or the fancier Hotel Shoreham Bar, Bistro, & Pizzeria, with its historic 1910 building and extensive dinner menu with items such as the Shoreham Signature walleye, shrimp scampi, or a juicy sirloin steak.

Eat, Play, Stay in Detroit Lakes


Zorbaz on the Lake

Locals swear by this pizza and Mexican food place—for WE Fest attendees, this could be a quick dinner option before you rush off to see a headlining act.

Pizza from Zorbaz.
Zorbaz pizza

photo by scott thuen

Historic Holmes Theatre

Attend a concert, community event, or play at Detroit Lakes’ historic theater.

Lakeside Tavern

Located right on the water, this brewery serves ever-changing beers year-round along with great pizza, burgers, and nachos.

Shady Hollow Flea Market

One of the oldest and largest flea markets in Minnesota—opening weekend is May 26-28.

Best Western Premier: The Lodge on Lake Detroit

Getting into vacation mode is made easy here with 550 feet of lake shore, 54 lakefront rooms, and beautiful log cabin decor.

Fairfield Inn & Suites

One of the newest hotels in town, Fairfield Inn & Suites is on West Lake Drive, close to the city beach and Little Detroit Lake North Public Access.