Hannah and Ryan spent a few years living in The Centennial State, and played up its natural beauty in their Minnesota wedding
Destination North: Hosting a Brainerd Lakes Wedding
The first rule in destination weddings? There are no rules. That means you don’t have to pack a passport for the wedding getaway of your dreams, you simply need to hop in your car and travel a couple of hours north. Breathtaking scenery, endless lakes, charming venues and unique activities for adventure and relaxation are just a few of the reasons more and more couples are heading to the Brainerd Lakes area for an unforgettable wedding event.
Why Go North?
Many couples choose this area because of a connection to lakes, whether they grew up there or simply have fond memories of past vacations. “We knew from the very start that we wanted to get married on a lake,” says bride Katie Niemczyk of her June nuptials with husband Dan at Manhattan Beach Lodge near Crosslake. “We both grew up with lake cabins and going to the lake all the time, so it was just natural to have this as part of our wedding.”
Nostalgic attachment or not, couples love that a Brainerd Lakes area event helps set the tone of a wedding getaway within easy reach of home. “This area is such an easy drive from the Twin Cities, but far enough that our couples feel like they’re really getting away from it all,” says Becky Bohnenstingl, wedding sales manager at Grand View Lodge in Nisswa. “All of the lakes we have are so appealing, along with the many golf courses, restaurants and resorts within such a close proximity.”
An Event of Your Own
With more than 500 lakes and rivers, four state parks and forests, and endless natural beauty, the area is packed with possibilities for a unique wedding event. While some couples opt for an all-in-one resort-based event, others mix and match. From a beach barbecue rehearsal to ceremonies on board a luxury yacht to receptions in grand ballrooms and everything in between, this area virtually guarantees no two weddings will be alike.
At Pine Peaks Retreat and Event Center, that ability to customize an event spans nearly every part of the wedding weekend. Located on 80 picturesque acres just 6 miles from downtown Crosslake, outdoor settings and photo ops are virtually limitless. “We have ceremonies in our landscaped garden, next to our waterfall and stream, near the pine trees, even in the middle of our 40-acre corn field,” says co-owner Dave Peterson. “We also have a 1,000-square-foot storage space full of décor for our couples to use, so every wedding and reception has its own unique look and feel.”
Couples hoping for a more urban aesthetic set within the pines may fall for the refined industrial vibe in play at the NP Event Space. Built in the 1800s, this historic Brainerd property offers couples options from outdoor ceremony sites to the character-filled raw warehouse space to fully whitewashed, finished suites. “Brides can do as little or as much as they want here,” says Aimee Jobe, co-owner of the venue. “When we created this space, we wanted to make it really open to whatever a couple wanted and not be so restricted by venue policies.” Unique character is present in every corner of the space, including a glam bridal suite that could fit in a top-tier venue anywhere.
For Niemczyk and her husband, a beach ceremony on the shores of Trout Lake on the Whitefish Chain of Lakes was the perfect option. “The ceremony was just a dream,” she says of the waterside event. “Our guests were facing the lake during the ceremony; it made it so intimate and beautiful.”
If beachside isn’t close enough to the water, Destiny Cruises on Gull Lake offers the opportunity to be married on board their 65-foot luxury yacht, the North Star. On Pelican Lake, Breezy Point Resort has the Breezy Belle, a historic paddlewheel boat with an open upper deck perfect for a picturesque ceremony.
Family Reunion Factor
Inviting everyone you love to one place for several days of fun in the sun can be a great thing; after all, how often do you have the opportunity to spend quality playtime with dear friends and family? Niemczyk and her husband loved the idea of how an intimate resort setting would bring guests together. “We had lots of people coming from out of state, so we wanted to keep things relaxed, contained and convenient,” she says. “So many guests told us our wedding weekend was like a vacation.”
Bohnenstingl seconds that feeling. “When couples book a resort like Grand View, it just naturally becomes a weekend event for the couple and their guests,” she says. “The environment lends itself to that feeling because it’s such a great, relaxing atmosphere—the lodging units are close together, we have several restaurants and there is so much on-site recreation guests can participate in together.”
At Grand View Lodge, Bohnenstingl has seen some couples create full weekend activity agendas, fishing excursions and even golf and tennis tournaments for their guests. Others have simply invited their guests to enjoy the resort or on-site spa. But don’t let the sheer volume of options stress you out. “From lodging to dining to the activities and all of their options, we can assist with all of it,” says Bohnenstingl.
Keep It Local
If you’re heading north for your big day, it makes sense to keep the details local as well. “I can’t say enough about our local vendors,” says Bohnenstingl. “They’re top quality and know our unique venues really well. They work with us behind the scenes to coordinate everything seamlessly so the bride and groom never have to worry about any of those details.”
But instead of hitting the pavement in an unfamiliar town, Jobe encourages couples to lean on their venue for local vendor recommendations. Venue managers know who works well in their setting and can often pair you with a supplier who best matches your style. “We’re seeing that this area and our vendors are just as current as any metro supplier. We just do our weddings in a place that’s a little slower and little more peaceful.”
(left; top and bottom) Manhattan Beach Lodge. Photography by Rochelle Louise Photography || (right; top and bottom) A refined industrial vibe awaits brides and grooms at the historic NP Event Space, an urban warehouse venue among the pines. Photography by: Aimee Jobe Photography
Tips for Hosting a Lakes Area Wedding
Take a Trip
Visit your venue at least once to scout and secure your local suppliers such as caterers (if needed), florists, photographers, and hair and makeup stylists. If you can swing another trip—or extend your first—check out some of the area activities so you can knowledgeably recommend local fun to guests.
Take Care of Guests
Your guests are there to celebrate your wedding, first and foremost. But they’re also carving out an entire weekend from their regular schedule. Recognize this generous gift of time with anything from a welcome dinner or organized activities to an in-room goodie bag or even a simple list of area activities. No matter the cost, guests will appreciate that you put thought into making their stay a real vacation.
Mind Mother Nature
Sure, summers are beautiful up north. But they can also be rainy. Be sure to have backup plans for any outdoor events (check in with your venue on their Plan B) and brainstorm fun indoor activities for any kids in attendance. Board games, scavenger hunts and even charades can all make a rainy day just as fun as one in the sun.
Get a Move On
If the Brainerd Lakes area sounds like your kind of destination, don’t delay. You not only want to make sure the venue is available, but also has ample lodging for all of your guests. And once you’ve booked the date, let guests know ASAP. “It really is never too early to send out a save-the-date for a destination wedding like this,” says Bohnenstingl.
Whether you envision exchanging your vows lakeside, taking to the water or a historic, industrial vibe, there really is something for everyone in the Brainerd Lakes area. Here are some of our favorite venues, places and spaces that offer fantastic event spaces, amazing amenities and breathtaking natural surroundings for your special day.
Features a ballroom reception site with seating for up to 300 guests, hotel room and suite accommodations, on-site catering and an indoor water park and arcade.
Breezy Point Resort
Set on 3,000 lakeside acres, Breezy Point has outdoor pavilion and lakeside ceremony settings, reception sites for up to 500 guests, the Breezy Belle paddlewheel boat for smaller weddings, receptions or rehearsal dinners, and a wide variety of lodging and activity options.
Cragun’s Resort and Hotel on Gull Lake
Cragun’s features ceremony and reception options ranging from small to grand and indoor to lakeside, beach barbecue rehearsal dinners, an on-site wedding coordinator, three golf courses, beach and full-service marina.
Destiny Cruises on Gull Lake
The North Star yacht has capacity for up to 120 people, with two full bars, an open upper deck viewing and dining area, and an enclosed main deck with pickups at Cragun’s, Grand View Lodge and Ernie’s on Gull Lake.
Grand View Lodge
This historic venue offers several scenic indoor and outdoor ceremony and reception options for up to 400 guests, in addition to an on-site spa, catering services, golf course and 2,500 feet of Gull Lake beach.
Madden’s on Gull Lake
Set on Gull Lake, Madden’s features lakeside ceremony and indoor reception options for up to 400 guests, three golf courses, a full-service marina and on-site spa.
Manhattan Beach Lodge
Manhattan Beach Lodge features outdoor beach ceremony options, full-service catering, reception facilities for up to 150, and outdoor bar; additional lodging is available at nearby sister property Whitefish Lodge.
The NP Event Space
Filled with natural light, this renovated, refined industrial space features exposed brick, soaring windows, original hardwood and crystal chandeliers, and can accommodate up to 500 guests.
Pine Peaks Event Center
Outdoor ceremony options, indoor reception center and on-site bridal suite are all available at Pine Peaks; guest shuttle service is available to nearby Pine Peaks Lodge & Suites.
Set in a historic log building more than 100 years old, this ceremony and reception site offers a spacious bridal suite, full-service catering and outdoor deck with views of Lake Margaret.
(left) Manhattan Beach Lodge. Photography by: Rochelle Louise Photography || (right) NP Event Space. Photography by: Aimee Jobe Photography