16 Jul Adventures in Mankato: Biking, Kayaking, Wildlife, and More!
Mankato, Minnesota, offers a wide variety of adventurous activities, and throughout our visit, we managed to fit in quite a few! We spent our days biking the trails, kayaking down the Blue Earth River, watching bison and waterfalls at Minneopa State Park, sipping on drinks at local a local winery and brewery, exploring murals and shopping in Old Town, learning about history at a museum, and eating at several wonderful restaurants.
Visit Mankato brought us to town to create a video of the adventures in Mankato and all the area has to offer, and we are so glad that it fit into our summer schedule. It was a wonderful trip and it was so much fun to explore an area in our home state of Minnesota that we hadn’t seen much of yet.
We based ourselves at the River Hills Hotel for the duration of the trip and stayed in a one-bedroom suite complete with a kitchen, living room, and a giant checker board in the lobby. It ended up being the perfect location, too, as it gave us easy access to all of our activities around town.
Biking with Nicollet Bike Shop
We started off our adventures in Mankato with an afternoon full of biking. Mankato is home to a vast amount of connected bike trails, so it felt as though we had an endless range of trails to choose from. We picked up our bike rentals from Nicollet Bike Shop right in Old Town Mankato, and after a quick bike adjustment, we were on our way!
Our first stop was the Red Jacket Bike Trail. You can bike to this trail from a connected path downtown or you can park right next to the bridge at Red Jacket Trail Park. We rode along tree lined trails and over the iconic trestle bridge that spans the Le Sueur River.
Next, we made our way back to town to check out the Walking Sculpture Tour, but instead of walking, we decided to do it by bike! The Walking Sculpture Tour is an exhibit of outdoor sculptures that are on display in Mankato for one year. Each year, one of the sculptures is voted “The People’s Choice” and purchased by CityArt for permanent installation in Mankato. This year there are 26 sculptures on display, plus an additional 8 “People’s Choice” sculptures. Once we knew all the details, we grabbed a map and set out to explore. Some of our favorite sculptures were Maestro, Horse, Carmen Marimba, and Fawned Memories.
To finish up our afternoon of biking, we hopped on the Minnesota River Trail for a bit more riding. Biking is definitely a great way to explore the beautiful region and the diverse trails that Mankato has to offer!
Kayaking with Bent River Outfitters
Another must do adventure in Mankato is paddling on a river or lake. There are several lakes and rivers to pick from, so you really can’t go wrong. We paddled down the Blue Earth River on a kayaking tour with Bent River Outfitters. Our four-hour tour was an absolute blast and we were surprised how many fun stops we made along the way.
Our ride alternated between paddling through small rapids and lounging on calm waters. It was the perfect mix of adventure and relaxation on what turned out to be a warm, sunny morning.
We also stopped at four different sites during the paddle: Devil’s Gulch, Triple Falls, a rope swing, and a rock in the middle of the river. At each stop, we pulled our kayaks onto the banks of the river and set out for some fun. Devil’s Gulch is mesmerizing with its mossy green canyon walls—it almost felt like we were in a slot canyon in the southwest! We hiked up the river to a hidden waterfall where we decorated ourselves with blue clay or “Blue Earth” as it is called.
Our second stop was Triple Falls where we rinsed off the clay in the waterfall, drank water from a freshwater spring, and snacked on bagels that our guide brought with for the adventure.
Next up was climbing on top of a giant boulder in the middle of the river. We perched our kayaks on top of some smaller rocks, and one by one, we climbed to the top. It was fun to get everyone on top of the rock and back down again to their boats—it’s definitely a great way to get people to work together! Our guide told us that they have had over 20 people on that rock before. I was glad there were only five of us this time around!
The last stop on our tour was a rope swing—Micah and I chickened out and didn’t swing into the river, but we were super entertained by the others in our group who did! We sat on the sandy shores as we watched some of our tour mates flip and swing into the river.
Waterfalls and Wildlife at Minneopa State Park
Another gem in Mankato is Minneopa State Park. The park has been around since 1905 and it offers hiking trails, bike trails, lake/river access, camping, a large waterfall, and a bison drive.
One of our favorite adventures at Minneopa State Park was visiting the bison herd on the Bison Drive. The bison herd is part of a project to preserve the American plains bison and help save them from extinction. There are over 20 bison at the park, and they are free to roam a 330 acre enclosure. Visitors can drive through the enclosure to observe the bison as they roam the fields, but because the enclosure is so large, you may not always be able to spot them. We lucked out during our visit though—we managed to see the bison in a field right next to the road. As we sat still watching them, they suddenly started to cross the road and roamed right next to our car! It was fascinating to see them up close—they are huge, powerful, and adorable all in one!
When visiting the bison enclosure, you have to stay in your car at all times, but if you feel like doing some hiking, you can walk along a trail that runs around the outside of the enclosure. We decided to check the trail out, so we parked our car by Seppman Mill and went for a nice walk around the enclosure. We didn’t spot any bison on our hike, but we did manage to spot lots of other wildlife instead.
And, of course, you can’t head to Minneopa State Park without stopping at Minneopa Falls! There is an upper waterfall and lower waterfall that you can view from a variety of vantage points. We hiked the trail all the way down through the sandstone gorge and along the river to the lower waterfall. The waterfall plummets 39 feet over the edge of a cliff and it is quite the sight to behold.
Tastings at Wineries and Breweries
We stopped at LocAle Brewing Company one evening before dinner, and it is conveniently located right downtown. LocAle Brewing Company sits in a former Snell’s Quick Lube station that has been transformed to an airy space full of natural light. Their aim is to create a “wide range of approachable beer styles,” and they do exactly that. They serve a little bit of everything and they do it all very well. In fact, there were so many great brews on tap that we had to order a flight to test out four different beers. We loved the bright atmosphere inside the brewery, and the beers were top notch, too!
A stop at Chankaska Creek Ranch & Winery was also a must! When we arrived, we were welcomed with a tour of the production facility, event center, and vineyards. We learned about the production of not only their wine, but also the spirits they produce in their distillery. After touring the facility, Micah and I agreed that it was not just a winery, but a destination. From the beautiful patio, babbling brook, plenty of space for events large and small, a tasting room, delicious food, live entertainment and more, there is something here for everyone!
Once we looked around, it was time for drinks and snacks in the tasting room. We ordered a delectable charcuterie board to snack on while we tasted several varieties of wine, spirits, and cocktails. It was all fantastic.
Exploring Murals, Shops and More in Old Town
Old Town Mankato is lined with brightly colored murals, boutiques, coffee shops, places to eat, and more. And on Thursdays in the summer, you will even find a farmers’ market with fresh produce and other goods, food trucks, and music.
After wandering around the farmers’ market, we made our way to a couple murals. First up was “Wings of Whimsy” on the side of Whimsy & Weathered, and then we walked over to the “All For One” community mural on the Bellisimo building.
And, of course, we just had to pop in a few of the adorable boutiques that line the street, such as Bella Nova Boutique and Whimsy & Weathered.
Learning about History at Blue Earth Historical Society
When we encountered a bit of rain one morning, the Blue Earth Historical Society was an interesting way to stay dry. We spent some time browsing the temporary and permanent exhibits and enjoyed getting a peek into Mankato’s history through the fun, interactive displays. The model of what Mankato looked like in the olden days was fun, and the antique phone booth was a trip down memory lane. We also spent some time chatting about microfilmed newspapers in the research center—it’s crazy that their newspaper has been around for more than 100 years!
Dining at Delicious Restaurants
And last but not least, we dined at several amazing restaurants over the course of our time in Mankato. We loved each and every one of these restaurants—Mankato is an excellent food destination, if you ask us.
For our first lunch in town, we went to Number 4, and sat outside on the patio. The tableside guacamole was fantastic, and I absolutely loved my coconut chicken salad topped with fresh mandarin oranges and strawberries—it was perfect for a sunny, summer day.
We also enjoyed eating on the patios at Pub 500. You definitely want to visit this spot hungry, as they specialize in classic, hearty fare…and It is delicious! One of the specialties at Pub 500 is the Hot Turkey Commercial, which is pulled turkey on bread with mashed potatoes and gravy and a side of cranberry sauce. It’s just like Thanksgiving—yum!
The Mediterranean food at Olives by Massad’s was also delicious. I loved the olives that they served us with our bread, and the beef and chicken kabobs were scrumptious. And, don’t even get me started on the berry tart we had for dessert…let’s just say it didn’t last long!
For breakfast one morning we made our way to Neutral Groundz. They have a large coffee menu, pastries, sandwiches and more. In addition to the coffee shop, there is also an adorable boutique on site. I loved browsing all the goods while we waited for our breakfast.
Tandem Bagel is another great spot in town, and we actually ate there twice! Once for lunch when we ordered their amazing pizza bagels, and another time on our kayak tour when our guide brought them along for a mid-paddle snack.
We had also hoped to attend Songs on the Lawn which is a food truck and music event held every Thursday in June. Unfortunately, though, it was rained out during our visit. We may not have made it this time around, but Songs on the Lawn will definitely be on our list for our next visit to Mankato—it sounds like so much fun!
No matter your interest, you are sure to find something exciting to explore in Mankato. We had so much fun during our three days in town, and this visit definitely makes us want to head back to Mankato for more fun in the very near future!
We visited Mankato, MN, as part of a paid content creation project. Special thanks to Visit Mankato for hosting us on this adventure. As always, all opinions are our own.