10 Ways to Explore Mankato by LandVisit Mankato
10 of the Best Ways to Explore Greater Mankato by Land
Only 75 miles from Minneapolis, Mankato takes its name from the original Dakota word “Mahkato,” which means greenish-blue earth. Playing outdoors on the rich Mankato soil is part of the allure of this growing metropolitan area that hosts the Minnesota Vikings Training Camp each summer. In Mankato, it doesn’t matter what time of year it is; it’s always a perfect time to be outside exploring. Here are 10 of the best places to go or things to do to if you want to see and experience the best of Mankato by land.
1. Sibley Park
Among the oldest parks in Greater Mankato, Sibley Park features one of the coolest playgrounds in Minnesota. The park has an agricultural theme, which means one of its highlights is a petting zoo full of farm animals from late spring to early fall. During warmer weather, lots of people come to Sibley Park for exercise using HealthBeat exercise equipment in the park or the running trails along the river, which venture past gorgeous flowers and stone gardens.
During the winter, Sibley Park is a key destination for families and visitors during the month-long Kiwanis Holiday Lights, which features more than 1 million lights and dancing displays illuminating the park. And when there’s snow, the park’s large sledding hill is probably the most popular spot in all of Mankato.
Read more about Sibley Park, Kiwanis Holiday Lights and many other fun things to do in Mankato by downloading or requesting this year’s visitor’s guide here.
2. Riverfront Park’s Vetter Stone Amphitheater
In Mankato, you can enjoy outdoor concerts under the stars at Riverfront Park’s Vetter Stone Amphitheater during spring, summer and fall. The amphitheater was ranked fourth in the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s top 10 list of outdoor venues. You can see a variety of acts here ranging from George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic to a Pink Floyd tribute show. The iconic performance venue can hold more than 12,000 people in its seats and on the lawn combined. In early August every summer, the venue also hosts Ribfest, where guests can sample various barbecue recipes while enjoying live music.
3. Minneopa State Park
A series of trails encircles the mesmerizing Minneopa Falls waterfall at Minneopa State Park, the third-oldest state park in all of Minnesota. The park was established to protect the waterfall—the largest one in Southern Minnesota. Hiking is one of the favored activities in the park, where all hikes somehow end up with a visit to the waterfall. The main loop around the waterfall offers what might be one of the best postcard-worthy photo opportunities in the entire state.
Visitors to Minneopa State park also enjoy bird watching and visiting the long-abandoned Seppman Mill windmill within the park. Also, a relatively new highlight at the park is a bison herd made up of descendants of the breed that Lewis and Clark saw during the 1830s. These new park inhabitants reside near Bison Drive, and you can find more information on them here.
4. Bike Trails
Designated a Bronze Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists, Mankato and North Mankato feature some of Minnesota’s best bike trails, mountain bike trails and scenic roadways. They include the 13-mile asphalt and crushed stone Red Jacket Trail that winds through open countryside, and the 39-mile Sakatah Singing Hills Trail that sits along an abandoned railroad grade.
Mountain biking newbies like the 2.2-mile MAMB Ft. LeHillier Trail, while Kiwanis Recreation Area has one of Minnesota’s most popular Fat Bike Trails, popular during the winter. Finally, Mount Kato features approximately seven miles of mountain bike trails, accessible during non-winter months.
5. Hiking & Climbing
In addition to bike trails, Mankato features a number of other multi-use trails for hiking, including a few of them that cross several footbridges inside the 628-acre Seven Mile Creek County Park. You also can hike through Minneopa State Park, of course, or you can test your climbing endurance at Minnesota State University, Mankato, which has a state-of-the-art indoor and outdoor rock climbing walls.
Check out a comprehensive hiking and biking guide to Greater Mankato with maps and suggested routes here.
6. Local Events
Love to run? One of the best things to do on land in Mankato is compete in any one of several running events that take place here throughout the year, including the Mankato Marathon every October. Other events that keep your feet firmly planted on the ground (or the ice) include an ice fishing contest, a hockey classic and Blues on Belgrade, featuring local and national bands. Also, in January you can take part in the Mankato Craft Beer Expo, where you can sample brews from dozens of regional and statewide breweries in between educational seminars.
7. Historical Attractions
Get a glimpse of this area’s rich history on a historical tour that takes you to some of Greater Mankato’s most storied spots. The City Center History Walking Tour features 25 historical sites, while a 33-site tour commemorates more than 150 years since war erupted between the U.S. and members of the Dakota tribe. That conflict—the U.S-Dakota Conflict of 1862—resulted in deaths of at least 450 white settlers and soldiers, and the hanging of 38 Dakota tribe members.
For more local history, drive the Minnesota River Valley National Scenic Byway along the Minnesota River, traveling through river towns and cities and enjoy stunning wildlife, river and bluff views.
You can find a guide to the entire U.S-Dakota Conflict of 1862 tour, including five stops in Greater Mankato, here.
8. Mankato City Center
Vibrant downtown Mankato, or known as Mankato City Center to locals, is one of the best places to visit “on land” in Mankato. First, the CityArt Walking Sculpture Tour is a must-do activity in the heart of Mankato; it features dozens of new sculptures every spring by artists from all around the world. You can get a brochure for the tour here.
Another worthwhile place to visit is Reconciliation Park, a sacred area to the Dakota tribe and site of the 1862 mass execution (also a stop on the self-guided history tour of the U.S. Dakota Conflict). Dedicated in 1997, with additions since then, it represents a collaboration between the Mdewakanton Dakota and Mankato communities. Inside Mankato City Center, restaurants serve everything quick meals to upscale cuisine, and avid shoppers will find choices from boutique clothing and jewelry to antiques and used books. See a movie or ballet performance, explore a museum and attend the symphony, too.
Want more ideas for things to do downtown? See a number of additional ideas here.
9. Wineries & Breweries
Wine and beer lovers have multiple choices in Greater Mankato. In 2015, the Star Tribune named Chankaska Creek Ranch & Winery Minnesota’s best, for its scenic surroundings and artisan wine-making techniques. Javens Family Vineyard and Winery is Mankato’s newest, featuring white and red wines, while underground operations and a firebrick pizette at eco-friendly Morgan Creek Vineyards keep visitors and locals coming back.
Sample wines made from 100 percent Minnesota grapes at Indian Island Winery, built on historic Native American land. Beer drinkers appreciate the nation’s second oldest family-owned brewing company, August Schell’s Brewery Co., featuring tours and tastings year-round. And at Mankato Brewery, Mankato’s first production brewery since 1976, you can sample German-inspired beers reflecting regional heritage.
10. Winter Hot Spots
Mankato rarely hibernates, which means there’s a lot to explore on land even during the winter. Strap on skis and snowshoes, or ride snowmobiles and snow bikes. An extensive system of groomed trails invites cross-country skiing at several locations, and Mount Kato is known for fast action and short ski lines as well as snowboarding and snow tubing. Enjoy guided tours available through Snowy River Snowshoe Adventure and Wildwood Park Snowshoe Hikes. You can combine snowshoeing with wine and food during Frostbite Hikes and Moonlight Sno-ventures at Chankaska Creek Ranch & Winery. Sledding, ice skating and watching hockey are other popular winter pastimes in Mankato.
Ready to visit? Greater Mankato offers just the right mix of outdoor activities and urban attractions for those who want to explore by land.