A Guide to North Central Minnesota Summer Engagement Sessions

North Central Minnesota summer engagement session

So let me guess: you’re engaged! As a Minnesota wedding and lifestyle photographer (and past bride), I know just how exciting this time of life is. So before you even keep reading, congratulations, sweet friend! I trust that you’ve popped some bubbly and are officially ready to enter the planning phase in this sweet chapter of your love story. I’ve put together this guide for North Central Minnesota summer engagement sessions as it’s almost that time! So if you’re planning on flocking to a nearby lake with your honey in tow, or you’re searching for a hidden gem for a date night, keep reading.

North Central Minnesota Engagement | Alyssa Ashley Photography

When it comes to summertime in Minnesota, it’s allll about soaking up the warm sunshine, zipping around (or in) the lakes, and enjoying a bonfire at the end of the night. Naturally, some of the best engagement session ideas are centered around exactly those things. From Detroit Lakes to Lake Winnibigoshish, there’s no shortage of summertime fun just waiting to happen with your fiancé. 

A summer engagement session in Northern Minnesota by Alyssa Ashley Photography
A summer engagement session in Northern Minnesota by Alyssa Ashley Photography

Summer Engagement Activities in North Central Minnesota

One of my biggest tips for an engagement session (regardless of the season), is to make it an experience. The more personality you can infuse into your engagement photos, the more you’ll love them. Making a date out of your engagement session is a way to tie even more meaning and emotion to them. So whether you’re big “water people” or you’d rather spend a relaxing afternoon hanging out at a local brewery, I couldn’t recommend capturing those moments more! Outlined below are just a few summer activities to consider for your North Central Minnesota engagement session. 

  • Boating
  • Kayak/Canoeing
  • Swimming
  • Paddleboarding
  • Fishing
  • Hiking
  • Brewery Hopping
  • Wine Tasting
  • Ice Cream/Frozen Yogurt Date
  • Off-Roading
  • Mini Golf
  • Camping
  • Roasting marshmallows
  • Picnicking
A summer engagement session in Northern Minnesota by Alyssa Ashley Photography

North Central Minnesota Parks + Lakes

Once you’ve nailed down what summer activities you want to include in your engagement session, you need to nail down the location. As your North Central Minnesota engagement photographer, I personally have several favorite parks and lakes up my sleeve to choose from! But it’d be impossible to list them all out, so here’s a round up of some beautiful gems to choose from.

Itasca State Park

Most known for being the Mississippi River’s headwaters, Itasca State Park is a great location for camping or hiking. Spanning over 32,000 acres, Itasca State Park is full of towering pines, sprawling prairies, and wetlands. If you love a cozy cabin vibe, the visitor’s center and Douglas Lodge Area are a great backdrop to utilize. Both buildings feature log and stick built exteriors tucked away in the pines near Lake Itasca. Talk about dreamy!

Itasca State Park summer engagement photos
Photo Courtesy of Minnesota DNR

Maplewood State Park

Located in the “Leaf Mountains”, Maplewood State Park is full of stunning maple, elm, and oak trees (which you can guarantee are a hit during the Fall months). I’d like to consider Maplewood as an underrated Minnesota state park, considering just how beautiful it is. Imagine pitching a tent off one of the 8 lakes in the park, hiking up to a scenic lookout, and ending your night cozied up with a campfire. 

Maplewood State Park summer engagement photos
Photo Courtesy of The Lodge on Detroit Lake

Mantrap Lake

Located in 30 minutes Northeast of Park Rapids in Paul Bunyan State Forest, Mantrap Lake is a great place to launch your boat and cast a few lines! Pitch a tent, rent an RV, or stay in the quaint Mantrap Lodge to make the most of your summer engagement session. 

Mantrap Lake, Park Rapids engagement photos
Photo Courtesy of Little Norway Resort

Two Inlets State Forest

Home to over 25,000 acres, Two Inlets is an idyllic spot to escape the hustle and bustle of the Twin Cities metro-area and embark on a fun wilderness adventure. From boating to 4-wheeling, there’s no shortage of beauty to soak in. Enjoy towering maples and pine trees, go morel hunting, and take in a serene moment with your fiancé as you stroll through the forest.

North Central Minnesota summer engagement photo locations
Photo Courtesy of The Lodge on Lake Detroit

Walker City Park

Don’t knock Walker City Park! While it definitely is a great place for kiddos to burn off energy, it’s such a sweet place for a small-town engagement session. Pickup some pizza or ice cream at the Village Square Pizza & Ice Cream Parlor, dip your feet in Walker Bay, and enjoy a beautiful sunset. Personally, my favorite part of Walker is the coastal-style lighthouse! If you and your honey are big beach people, this would be a great North Central Minnesota engagement session location to give off those “coastal vibes”.

North Central Minnesota summer engagement photo locations
Photo Courtesy of KAXE

Best North Central Minnesota Vacation Rentals

Like I mentioned, making a date out of your engagement session is such a fun way to keep making memories together. Whether you’re visiting from out of state, or you’d just like a fun little stay-cation, I’ve put together a little list of North Central MN vacation rentals.

Cedar Shores Lodge & Resort

Located just east of Park Rapids, Cedar Shores is just one of MANY resorts in the area that has log cabin rentals and camping options available. Cedar Shores is the perfect little spot to enjoy just a small piece of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes. Not to mention just how perfect the log cabin atmosphere is for a sweet summer engagement session. But the best part of Cedar Shores Lodge & Resort is that you have an option to rent a fishing boat or pontoon. Sign me up!

North Central Minnesota summer engagement photo locations
Photo Courtesy of Cedar Shores Resort

Shores of Leech Lake

Dreaming of strolling through a marina at sunset, hand-in-hand with your honey? There’s just something so summery about the sight of sailboats lined up, just resting from a day of fun on the lake. The Shores of Leech Lake Marina has lakeside cottages and fire rings, not to mention a sandy beach for spending a day in the sun. A little piece of paradise in Walker, Minnesota.

A-Frame Cabin on Barrow Lake (Airbnb)

When I tell you that this a-frame cabin stopped me dead in my scroll, you’ll see why. Situated on Barrow Lake in rural Hackensack, Minnesota, this cabin looks straight out of the Pacific Northwest. 12 acres of Norwegian Pines surround this secluded retreat. The floor to ceiling windows, crisp black exterior, and pine interior would be perfect for a rainy day engagement session.

North Central Minnesota summer engagement photo locations
Photo Courtesy of Airbnb Listing

Pine House Cabin (Airbnb)

Another stunning North Central Minnesota vacation rental! The Pine House cabin just begs for sipping coffee on the deck, wandering through the woods, and relaxing in the sauna. Located near Long Lake, the cozy Pine House is the perfect place to recharge and reconnect amidst wedding planning. 

North Central Minnesota summer engagement photo locations
Photo Courtesy of Airbnb Listing

Best North Central Minnesota Breweries and Wineries

Let’s be honest: food (and drinks) make everything a little bit better, including your engagement session! My husband and I love checking out local wineries or breweries, playing cards, and just enjoy each other’s company. Some of my favorite sessions are exactly like that – authentic. 

  • Carlos Creek Winery
  • Forestedge Winery
  • L’Etoile du Nord Vineyard
  • Buck Mills Brewing
  • Bemidji Brewing
  • Jack Pine Brewery
  • Revel Brewing

Outfit Tips for a Summer Engagement Session

When it comes to dressing for a Minnesota summer, keeping cool is key. While we definitely aren’t the warmest state out there, the humidity can be a killer! In order to beat the heat, here are a few tips:

  • Long-wear makeup and a setting spray are your best friend. If you’re considering having your makeup professionally done, I definitely recommend it since they’ll have some solid techniques and products to keep your makeup in place. 
  • Opt for a longer engagement session. Between needing to take a few breaks to cool off in your car and changing outfits, everything just takes a bit more time in the summer heat and humidity. And let’s be honest, there’s nothing more frustrating than rushing to change while you are feeling sticky and sweaty. 😉
  • Stay hydrated. This might be a no-brainer, but regardless of what summer activity you choose to do, make sure you’re drinking enough water.

Engagement Session Outfit Tips

  • Dress comfortably. I don’t know about you, but I definitely struggle to dress for the summer. All I want to do is be comfy and cool. So when it comes to finding an outfit for your summer engagement session, keep the same things in mind. And remember, what is comfy for one person might not be for another. 
  • Flowy, loose clothing is your best friend. Spoiler alert: our bodies swell in the heat. So tight clothing will only trap heat and make you even warmer. Light, flowy dresses and skirts are a great option in lieu of something that is body form fitting. For your man, a linen button up paired with some jeans or khakis is a great choice! 
  • Try a sunrise or sunset session. Avoiding the hottest parts of a summer’s day is such a great way to ensure an enjoyable experience for all parties. Sunrise is typically cooler than sunset since the ground is still warming up from the cooler night. Sunset is a great way to still enjoy some summer heat, without worrying about dew from the night before.
  • Don’t be afraid to take indoor engagement photos. If you know that you’re someone who doesn’t tolerate heat very well, don’t hesitate to give an indoor location a try. Breweries, coffee shops, and wineries are great options to consider.
Summer engagement outfit tips by Alyssa Ashley Photography

Outfit Ideas for Summer Engagement Photos

Like I mentioned, comfort (and keeping cool) are priorities for a summer engagement session. But if you’re searching for some outfit inspiration to beat the heat, I’ve gotcha covered with a summer engagement session outfit look book! 

Northern Minnesota Wedding Photographer

Wherever your North Central Minnesota summer engagement session takes you, I hope this guide comes in handy. I’ll be sending you good vibes as you journey through this exciting season in your life. Happy planning, sweet friend! 

Searching for additional planning tips? Check out my additional resources linked below to help you navigate with ease. And of course, follow along on Instagram for behind-the-scenes from recent sessions and more (@alyssaashley_photography)! 

Minnesota Wedding Planning Resources

Pros and Cons of a First Look
Complete Wedding Planning Guide
How to Decide What Size Wedding is Right for You
The Ins-and-Outs of Eloping in Minnesota

A North Central Minnesota summer engagement session by Alyssa Ashley Photography



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