top things to do outdoors in mankato
Nestled along the Minnesota River in Southern Minnesota, Mankato is a hidden gem for sports and nature enthusiasts. Once summer arrives, it’s time to take advantage of the many outdoor amenities that the area has to offer. The region is home to the unique Blue Earth River tributary, endless hiking trails and Minneopa State Park, which is known for its collection of large waterfalls. Take off your parkas, put on that sunscreen and get ready to tackle the great outdoors. From scouting for wild bison in a park to kayaking on the river past farmland, here are five of the top things to do outdoors in Mankato.
Whether you’re looking for a serious hike or a scenic stroll, Mankato is home to plenty of trails that entice you to get outdoors. Put on your best hiking boots or mount your bike and head over to Rasmussen Woods located by Elks Nature Center. While there, look for rare species of birds as you hike or bike through meadows, wetlands and cliffs.
To explore the open countryside, head over to Red Jacket Trail that crosses over the breathtaking LeSueur River. The route stretches for 13 miles, making it ideal to explore it by bike. Cyclists or hikers who are looking for a more off-the-beaten-path route may want to check out Sakatah Trail, a 39-mile long abandoned railroad pathway that weaves through picturesque farmland, lakes and small towns. Other trails to visit by foot or bike are Minnesota River Trail (a multi-use trail), Seven Mile Creek (great for fishing stops), South Route Trail and Williams Nature Center (overlooks the Minnesota River). To plan out a detailed route, there are several biking loops that will take you throughout and around the city.
In Mankato, you can visit a one-of-a-kind park known for its picturesque nature scenes that also has its own petting zoo and themed playground. Spend your day outdoors trekking Sibley Park‘s trails (360° virtual tour) along the river before stopping to pet a range of animals like cows, goats, horses and alpacas. Other animals you can see at the zoo include chickens, peacocks, ducks and the exotic koi fish in its pond. If you’re traveling with children, make an extra stop at Sibley’s farm-themed playground with a bright red barnyard, clusters of haystacks used for climbing and a big green tractor. This is an award-winning park you don’t want to miss.
Another park that nature lovers must check out is Minneopa State Park, famous for its waterfalls (some of the largest in the state). The park has been called one of the best places to see waterfalls within a short drive from Minneapolis. The park is now home to a herd of bison that you can make a special point of seeing after trekking through the scenic hiking trails to admire the falls.
Why explore the parks by foot when you can do it by water? Mankato has several river systems worth exploring; in fact, the area has more river shore than any other county in the state. Summer is the perfect time to rent a kayak at Sibley Park or farther upstream at the Rapidan Dam to set out on the Blue Earth River or the Minnesota River. You can also rent kayaks with Bent River Outfitters. Find out more about water adventures in Mankato here. For an experiential view, watch Bent River’s video here.
Grab a one-seater or two-seater, and start your journey by paddling past the city’s skyline and farmland before going deeper into the wilderness. The water currents are known for being quite gentle, making it ideal to bring along the kids.
Spend your day exploring downtown Mankato’s outdoor art scene. CityArt is a special project that includes 30 art sculptures from talented artists around the world that have been installed on sidewalks in the core of the City Center. Go on a self-guided walking tour with a downloadable brochure to see the impressive display of statues and sculptures of cubist nudes, abstract pieces, dinosaurs and more. At the end of the tour, you can opt to vote for your favorite sculpture by using the ballot next to your chosen piece.
Enjoy the warm summer air while listening to music at an outdoor concert in Riverfront Park (360° virtual tour) . Home to outdoor Vetter Stone Amphitheater, the park is ranked among the best concert venues in the state and has hosted big-name musicians like Willie Nelson, Old Crow Medicine and Merle Haggard. Concerts are set up to surround the stage, allowing every seat at the amphitheater to have a great view. Regular performances include local choirs and the symphony orchestra.
These are just some of the ideas of things you can do outdoors in Mankato, but different seasons provide new opportunities for outdoor exploration. Check out our travel guides for more ideas, and look more closely at all the things to do in Mankato on our website.