North of Ordinary: How and Where to Host a Wedding in Northern Minnesota

Nothing better than the north shores!
Written by
updated 8/30/19


Spring/Summer 2014

Sure, the big city (or in the case of Minneapolis and St. Paul, “cities”) offers the chance for a chic, metropolitan backdrop for your big day. But maybe you’ve pined for a more pastoral celebration, or you’re enamored with the current wedding trend toward rustic elegance. Or maybe you dream about a relaxed weekend getaway with your nearest and dearest. Whether you have your heart set on saying your I do’s amid a field of wildflowers, in the warmth of a sun-dappled meadow or overlooking the world’s greatest lake, northern Minnesota just may be your dream wedding destination.

Northern Exposure
The region, from the rocky Lake Superior shores on the east to Detroit Lakes on the west, is known for a landscape dotted with be-cabined lakes, quaint towns and dense old-growth forests. With drives from the Twin Cities ranging from two to five hours, northern Minnesota can be the perfect destination: close enough for convenience yet far enough for scenic seclusion and romance.

This combination of travel ease and destination wedding seclusion are what led Jamie and Dan James to the steps of Grand View Lodge in Nisswa for their June 2013 nuptials. “We looked at a variety of options, including in the Twin Cities,” says Jamie. “We came back to Grand View because we loved the beautiful lake setting and how it created a real getaway experience for our guests. They could make a vacation out of it if they wanted, but it was also close enough that those who couldn’t stay longer could make it work as well.”

For Alyssa and Connor O’Brien, hosting their July 2013 wedding at Eagle Ridge Resort, with a ceremony and reception just a scenic gondola ride away at Lutsen Mountains’ Summit Chalet, was the ideal way to invite guests to a personalized destination celebration. “We chose Lutsen because we’re both nature enthusiasts and wanted a location with beautiful scenery,” says Alyssa. “It was an adventure our guests could share with us that really gave them a sense of who we are and what we like to do. It was so much fun to have a few days to really relax and celebrate with family and friends.”

A Most Scenic View
The most beautiful part of getting married up north just might be the natural surroundings. That’s why most venues offer outdoor ceremony venues that highlight the very best views their area has to offer.

Grand View Lodge, a perennial favorite among couples for its historic lodge set among the trees, luxury lakeside cabins and sandy beaches, offers an array of options for both ceremonies and receptions. “We have a beautiful beachside location and a vineyard site among tall pines and wildflowers, with a small stream running nearby,” says Frank Soukup, marketing director at Grand View. “But our Grand Staircase is the most popular site. Brides can have a breathtaking entrance to the ceremony walking down the steps from the Main Lodge to the lake surrounded by flowers, towering trees and beautiful lighting.”

At Pine Peaks Event Center near Crosslake, five acres of manicured lawn, a 40-acre cornfield, a gently bubbling stream and a wooded setting create virtually endless opportunities for ceremony sites. “We’ve had several ceremonies right in the middle of the cornfield,” says owner Dave Peterson. “It’s really up to what the couple wants, what it is about the property that speaks to them. With this much space, we’re coming up with new ideas all the time.”

Regardless of whether the ceremony is on the beach or in the woods, be sure to ask what Plan B is in case of inclement weather. “Some venues will allow you to wait until up to two hours before the ceremony to make a plan, which is phenomenal,” says event planner Alyson Newquist of Bash Collective, who recently married at her own northwoods venue, Juliane James Place, a secluded, picturesque 40-acre site among the woods and ponds between Finlayson and Willow River. “But more often, people will want to decide one or two days in advance. Find out the venue’s specific protocol and what you might be responsible for doing in the event of a site change.”

Hiking Boots or High Heels
Part of the fun of a northern Minnesota wedding is embracing where you are. No, you don’t need lumberjack plaid tuxedos or fishing lure bouquets. But small touches such as birchbark-wrapped votive holders, local wildflowers or locally brewed beer are a great way to infuse the character of the area into a destination event.

Bride Alyssa and her husband Connor collected smooth lake stones from the shores of Lake Superior, inscribed them with guests’ names and used them as place cards. In a nod to one of the area’s most notable—and tastiest—locales, they tapped local gem Betty’s Pies in the nearby town of Two Harbors to provide pies as a sweet treat, rather than the traditional wedding cake.

Because many guests take the opportunity to arrive early or stay late, consider organizing group adventures or providing information on area activities. Many northern Minnesota resorts offer private fishing charters, guides or boat rentals, like Appeldoorn’s Sunset Bay Resort, Lutsen Resort or Whitefish Lodge. Host evening bonfires with s’mores by the lake, or for resorts with golf courses, check for any greens fee discounts that may be available.

Regardless of the outdoor activities you and your guests decide to explore, when planning an event up north, be sure to consider the local, ahem, residents. “There are a few things people are going to worry about with a wedding up north,” says Newquist: “Travel, weather and mosquitoes.” Newquist recommends providing guests with mosquito wipes (include some without DEET for kids) in silver bowls on outdoor cocktail tables. “Little things like providing bug repellent, sunscreen or even blankets rolled up in a basket if the weather is cool all let guests know you’ve thought about the fact that they’re away from home or in a more remote space,” adds Newquist. “It helps set the tone that you want them to have fun and be comfortable.”

Go Local
A remote destination may not offer the large vendor roster of a metropolitan area, but that doesn’t mean that the local vendors aren’t great at what they do. “There’s a lot to be said for working with vendors who really know the area and the weather they’re going to be working in,” says Newquist. For example, “a great local party rental company like London Road in Duluth understands how to set up a tent to withstand the winds off Lake Superior or what size tent heater you might want on hand for the chilly North Shore nights.” (Yes, even in the summer.)

For photography, consider a local shutterbug or one that regularly visits the venue. Sites like Brainerd’s sprawling, picturesque Breezy Point Resort offer endless options for photos, and seasoned pros like Kelli Engstrom Photography of Crosslake or Tim Larsen Photography of Brainerd can help set the timeline and manage unpredictable issues like rain and wind.

Another bonus of hosting a ceremony in a scenic locale is that there’s often a ton of natural character, minimizing the need for extra décor. When moving indoors for a reception, however, it’s helpful to turn to a nearby pro, like Petals & Beans of Nisswa, who knows the local floral look firsthand. To create a natural, woodsy vibe indoors, bride Jamie worked with Bloom Designs, based in the Brainerd Lakes area. “Working with Bloom Designs, we were able to create an elegant, rustic look with some unusual, gorgeous shades of green and ivory. It really felt like we brought the northwoods indoors.”

Northwoods Chic
Not every couple who heads north is looking for the rustic charm of a lakeside resort. For these twosomes, Newquist recommends the striking architecture, pebble beach and impeccably manicured garden of Glensheen Mansion and the opulent reception halls of Greysolon Ballroom in downtown Duluth for metropolitan sophistication with the scenic backdrop of Lake Superior.

For a more non-traditional take, consider a reception or rehearsal dinner at Bent Paddle Brewing Co., an urban-industrial taproom and craft brewery in Duluth. “This area has an amazing brewing culture,” says Laura Mullen, a former wedding and event planner, who is co-owner of the brewery. “Hosting an event in this space is just a really fun twist on the traditional northwoods look.”

Come Back Soon
The gently lapping waves of a nearby lake can be a lovely backdrop for a wedding up north. But these locations have something magical to offer beyond the vows, the dinner and dancing. “[The North Shore] has become such a meaningful place to us now,” says bride Alyssa. “It’s not like some ballroom in a hotel that we have no reason to visit again. We can go back together or for family events and always remember just how special this location really is.” 

Northwoods Destinations
Northern Minnesota is teeming with scenic wedding venues. Here’s a sampling of what’s available in the area.

Big Sandy Lake
Big Sandy Lodge & Resort
Lakeside property with lodging options from hotel rooms to individual townhouses and cabins. Indoor/outdoor ceremony and reception options are available for up to 110 guests.

Brainerd area
Breezy Point Resort
Breezy Point
Located on Pelican Lake, the 3,000-acre property offers indoor, outdoor and shoreline ceremony and reception venues for up to 500 guests.

Grand View Lodge
Luxury lakeside cabins, on-site spa, seven restaurants, 2,500-foot sandy beach and range of ceremony and reception sites for up to 400 guests.

Madden’s on Gull Lake
Sixty-three holes of golf, five swimming pools, three sand beaches, five restaurants and two bars, plus indoor and outdoor ceremony venues and reception space.

Boyd Lodge
Located on Whitefish Lake with log cabin lodging, private boat landing and a newly constructed banquet facility.

Pine Peaks Event Center
Outdoor ceremony options, indoor reception center, on-site bridal suite and guest shuttle service to nearby Pine Peaks Lodge & Suites.

Whitefish Lodge
Fifty-four cabin-themed rooms and suites, and banquet facility accommodating up to 300 guests; indoor and outdoor on-site ceremony options available.

Detroit Lakes area
Fair Hills Resort
Detroit Lakes
Located on Pelican Lake, featuring lakeside, deck, beach ceremony, reception and dance locations. Offers on-site catering and wedding cake bakery.

Five Lakes Resort
A wooded setting on a private lake with no gas motors allowed, guests have exclusive access to 11 cabins and rustic barn ceremony location.

Bent Paddle Brewing Co.
Offers full buyout and brewery space-only options; access to expertise of brewery owner and seasoned event planner Laura Mullen.

Glensheen Mansion
From stunning outdoor Juliet Balcony ceremonies to intimate indoor fireside receptions, the historic estate offers a variety of size and style event options.

Greysolon Ballroom by Black Woods
From the opulent ballroom to the majestic Moorish Room, this historic venue offers elegant affairs for up to 600 guests.

The Inn on Lake Superior
Located next to the lakewalk in Duluth’s Canal Park, with lakeside ballroom reception space for up to 200 guests.

Mille Lacs

Appeldoorn’s Sunset Bay Resort
Located on Lake Mille Lacs, offering beach and courtyard ceremony options, luxury log cabins, new honeymoon suite with Jacuzzi and reception seating for 200 guests.

North Shore
Bluefin Bay on Lake Superior
Lakeside resort boasting accommodations with in-suite fireplaces, whirlpool baths and stunning views of Lake Superior.

Caribou Highlands Lodge
Renovated in 2008, this condominium-style resort features indoor event space accommodating 50 to 100 guests, and multiple outdoor ceremony options.

Eagle Ridge/Summit Chalet at Lutsen Mountains
Comfortable condominium-style accommodations, with Summit Chalet indoor/outdoor ceremony and reception a gondola ride away at the top of Moose Mountain.

Grand Superior Lodge
Two Harbors
Hosts weddings of up to 200 guests with complete on-site indoor/outdoor ceremony services and on-site catering from Splashing Rock Restaurant.

Larsmont Cottages
Two Harbors
Twenty miles from Duluth on the shores of Lake Superior, Larsmont features custom reception menus, a range of luxury lodging options and indoor reception capacity of 50 guests.

Lutsen Resort on Lake Superior
Northwoods rustic meets storied elegance, with cobblestone shore ceremony and barbecue sites, indoor lakeside dining and ballroom options, and an on-site spa.