Wooded bluffs carved by the Minnesota River rise along Highway 169 from the Twin Cities as it nears Mankato and the Minnesota’s convergence with the Blue Earth River. Some of the area’s best attractions take advantage of the natural features and the agriculture that has flourished in the area.
Minneopa State Park Southern Minnesota’s largest waterfall (named with the Dakota word for “water falling twice”) tumbles across two limestone ledges into a lush gorge. Park visitors hike to a gristmill from Minnesota’s wheat era, camp in one of 61 sites, and keep cameras handy along Bison Drive Road for a glimpse of the herd that roams 331 acres. Look for cinnamon-colored bison calves in early summer, along with year-round bald eagles and deer. dnr.state.mn.us
Minneopa State Park. Photo courtesy of Jessica Beyer.
Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota Kids climb into a giant treehouse, zip down a tree-trunk slide, quarry the area’s Kasota limestone, and plant and harvest fabric vegetables at a farm in this imaginative space designed for toddlers to elementary-school kids. cmsouthernmn.org
Photo courtesy of Children's Museum of Southern Minnesota.
Sibley Park The Blue Earth and Minnesota rivers meet at this sprawling park with an interactive farm-themed playground. Kids can also pet or feed pot-bellied pigs, pygmy goats, sheep, ponies, alpacas, goldfish, ducks, chickens and peacocks at a free seasonal farm. (Bring quarters for animal feed.) Hundreds of visitors a night return in December for the Kiwanis Holiday Lights spectacle of 1.5 million lights wound through the trees, around the park and winter skating rink. mankatomn.gov
Sibley Park playground. Photo courtesy of Visit Mankato.
City Center Take an appetite to City Center near North Second and Front Street. Try Number 4’s decadent sandwiches, such as homemade corned beef and braised dill cabbage Reubens, and weekend-only Bloody Marys stacked with shrimp, meats, cheeses and pickles. Opt for smoky, delicious pulled turkey and sloppy Joes at Pub 500. Leave time to check out CityArt Walking Sculpture Tour (cityartmankato.com) or grab a picnic to go at Tandem Bagels with fresh mozzarella, roasted peppers and tomato. visitgreatermankato.com
CityArt Walking Sculpture Tour. Photo courtesy of Visit Mankato.
Old Town Shop for funky décor at Whimsy and Weathered and Salvage Sisters, baby-soft skeins at Mary Lue’s Yarn and Ewe or trendy fashions at Gallery 512. Savor the Spokato soup (potato, kale and sausage) and berry scones at Friesen’s Bakery and Bistro or relax with fragrant tea tastings and sweets at CuriosiTea. On hot days, stop at Mom and Pop’s for honey-and-ginger ice cream or carrot and mango Italian ice.
Old Town shops include Gallery 512. Photo courtesy of Ryan Sturgis, True Facade Pictures.
Bent River Outfitter Head southwest of Mankato to Rapidan Dam Store for some of the state’s best slices of pie, then take a guided paddling tour on the Blue Earth River with stops at deep mossy grottos, Triple Falls fresh spring (pure enough to drink), and Big Moe, a glacial boulder popular for hangouts and picnics in the middle of the river. For something different, try a full-moon paddle. bentriveroutfitter.com
Blue Earth River paddles. Photo courtesy of Bent River Outfitter.
Riverfront Park Catch a summer concert such as Big Head Todd and the Monsters or Three Dog Night at Vetter Stone Amphitheater at Riverfront Park. The biggest event, Ribfest, packs three days in early August with music headliners and barbecue experts competing for top honors in ribs and pulled pork. verizoncentermn.com
Riverfront Park concert. Photo courtesy of SPX Sports.
Bike trails Bicyclists can pedal a mellow loop from Riverfront Park to Sibley Park, hop on the 13-mile Red Jacket Trail that includes an 80-foot-high train trestle or try the 39-mile Sakatah Singing Hills Trail stretching to Sakatah State Park and Faribault. visitgreatermankato.com
Photo courtesy of SPX Sports.
Wineries and breweries Sip local wine and spirits at Chankaska Ranch and Winery in nearby Kasota (chankaskawines.com) or head east of Mankato to Indian Island Winery, which has live music Friday and Saturday nights. indianislandwinery.com
Betsy and Tacy House Tours Even if you never read Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy book series set in the early 1900s, you can appreciate hearing stories that inspired the author while touring homes of the real-life best friends. betsy-tacysociety.org
Betsy's House. Photo courtesy of Visit Mankato
More information Visit Mankato visitgreatermankato.com