The 3-Day Weekend Guide to MankatoVisit Mankato
Things to Do in Mankato, Minnesota: 3-Day Weekend Guide
Located within 75 minutes from Minneapolis, Mankato is a fun destination for families or for couples looking to get away for a weekend. It’s home to pristine wilderness, bike-friendly trails and fantastic museums, and it’s a popular destination for NFL fans late each summer when the Minnesota Vikings football team hosts its training camp at Minnesota State University, Mankato. But Mankato has a lot to offer year-round. This is a city where it’s easy to get around, where you bike along a river, go kayaking and visit some fun local museums—all in a single day. The next time you have a long weekend, plan to spend it in Mankato, Minnesota. Here’s a three-day weekend guide to some of the top things to do and see in Mankato.
Mankato Weekend Guide: Day 1
Start your Mankato weekend by exploring it on bike or on foot. Why? Because Mankato is known for its impressive trail system and bike-friendly layout, making it easy to get to a variety of local attractions. (The city’s slogan is, after all, “It’s all so close!) A number of bike shops in town allow you to rent bikes for both adults and kids. Start your journey at Red Jacket Bike Trail, a 13-mile route that takes you directly to Mankato’s City Center. On the way, you’ll notice several wooden bridges and gorgeous countryside scenes before seeing a glimpse of the city’s skyline. Once you’ve arrived at the City Center, try Pagliai’s Pizza (great for kids) or Olives by Massad (Mediterranean dishes) for lunch while storing your bike in one of the city’s many public bike racks.
Once you’re in the City Center, explore some of the local museums. The Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota on Lamm Street is an ideal place to take kids who are curious about what it’s like to be a “grown-up.” There, they can play contractors, operating a sand pit, a moveable crane and a big conveyor system to build a miniature city in Coughlan Quarry. Afterwards, children can visit the Grow It Gallery, an indoor play center, to play farmers and gardeners by hopping aboard a tractor and learning farming techniques with life-like animals and plants. They can continue their farming experience outside to meet real livestock animals and to learn the process of collecting eggs and planting crops. However, for kids that wish to simply stay being a kid, a large indoor tree fort at the museum is the answer. The tree fort is so large that it extends to the roof, making it ideal for children to climb, swing and explore through roped tunnels.
Just outside the City Center is Minnesota State University, Mankato. The campus is picturesque with modern architecture, and you could spend an hour or two on a self-guided tour through the campus. But you won’t want to miss the Myers Field House for its indoor rock-climbing center that’s available year-round to both students and guests. Considered the largest indoor rock-climbing center in southern Minnesota, it tests adults and kids on skills to see how far they can go while trying out several levels of difficulty. The wall stretches 2,000 square feet, and a certified climber assists smaller children. Families can also opt to try its outdoor pinnacle, a column of a well-designed rock for guests to tackle during nice weather days. Afterwards, head back to the City Center to end the night with a well-deserved dinner at one of the best local restaurants in Mankato.
Mankato Weekend Guide: Day 2
On your second day in beautiful Mankato, go on a self-guided CityArt Sculpture Walking Tour throughout the City Center to check out more than 34 permanent sculptures from around the world. Families are encouraged to download the walking tour brochure to learn about the story and artists behind each piece. During the tour, take a break in one of the area’s many breakfast cafes like Wagon Wheel Restaurant and Fillin’ Station Coffee House. Or you might want to try Tandem Bagels to pick up a few bagels to go. Next stop, hop on your bike and ride down the Minnesota River Trail toward Sibley Park, a gorgeous protected park with its own petting zoo and multiple play areas (perfect for children). Recognized as having one of the coolest playgrounds in the state, the park has a barnyard-themed playground and a bright-red barn with its own garden full of ponds, bridges, trellises and more. Meet and greet some of the farm’s animals including peacocks, goats, miniature horses, pigs, ducks and alpacas.
Next, head eight minutes west along the river to Bent River Outfitters and rent kayaks (many include two-seaters to bring along children too young to paddle on their own). Paddle along the Minnesota River and get a glimpse of scenic nature views of countryside farmlands, lush meadows and impressive bridges. You will find plenty of ideal rest areas to dock your boat, venture on land and enjoy a picnic.
If you’re traveling without kids, a fun afternoon activity is visiting one of the several wineries and breweries in Mankato. There are five venues to choose from in the Mankato region, including the Chankaska Creek Ranch and Winery in Kasota, where guests can try out signature varieties along with appetizing food options like gourmet pizzas, antipasto and cheese boards that pair perfectly with wines. The winery is situated along a river with a bridge that overlooks acres-wide vineyards, making it ideal for a romantic getaway. Morgan Creek Winery is another fantastic venue where you can sample wine and enjoy wood-fired pizzas. A live band often plays on the weekends in the tasting room. And for a wine-tasting experience that’s a little out of the ordinary, consider visiting Indian Island Winery in Janesville where adults can “camp out” by gathering around a bonfire while sipping delicious wines. It’s located on historic Native American grounds and is reputed to still have some spirits in the area. Beer lovers, you can plan your visit to include trips to Mankato Brewery in North Mankato or August Schell Brewing Company in New Ulm for brewery tours and beer sampling.
Mankato Weekend Guide: Day 3
Before returning home, why not visit a nature park loaded with bison and a waterfall? Hop into your car and make your way to Minneopa State Park, a 4,600-acre preserve that’s home to the world-famous Minneopa Falls (considered the largest waterfall in southern Minnesota). Families can go across a bridge that suspends above the falls and get a spectacular view of the river and its surrounding wilderness. Travel through the enclosed 330-acre prairie at the park to see roaming bison, which have high-quality genetics descending from the type of bison Lewis and Clark gazed upon in the 1830s. Keep an eye out for white-tailed deer, coyotes, beavers and more than 213 species of birds. Several trails are available for hiking throughout the park, and families can dine at some of its designated picnic areas for lunch. Bring fishing supplies, as dropping a line in its waters is permitted to catch freshwater catfish.