Bike Camping 101: The Sakatah Singing Hills Trail

By Brian Fanelli

Sakatah Singing Hills Trail with Bikers

For a beginner bike camping trip in Minnesota, it’s hard to beat this three-day itinerary of the Sakatah Singing Hills Trail. You’ll ride approximately 25-30 miles per day on the flat and shaded trail that extends from Mankato to Faribault. And when you’re not riding, there’s plenty of built-in downtime to explore the trail towns and Sakatah Lake State Park, where you’ll be camping.

Day One - Mankato to Sakatah Lake

To begin your trip, drive to Mankato and park at the trailhead just outside of town at the intersection of County Road 57 and Lime Valley road. Once you’re ready to ride, you’ll enjoy a few idyllic hours on the trail as you head east 25 miles to your destination at Sakatah Lake State Park.

Sakatah Singing Hills Trail farm scene
The Sakatah Singing Hills Trail boasts abundant views of lush, southern Minnesota farmland.

Unlike most Minnesota state parks, Sakatah Lake has five campsites permanently on reserve for people who arrive by bike – which makes this an easy site to snag even during the peak summer camping months. The only catch? Advance reservations are not accepted for bike-in campsites, they are first-come-first-served only. Depending on how you like to travel, that might be a blessing or a curse – we’ll leave it to you

After your campsite is set up, treat yourself to a meal at one of the restaurants, cafes or bars found in Waterville. And while you’re in town, be sure to visit Davis’ Marketplace – the local grocery – for camping foods, s’mores supplies and any other necessities (or frivolous treats) for the campsite.

Head back to Sakatah Lake State Park for an afternoon filled with hiking, birding, canoeing or fishing opportunities. For the nautically inclined, canoe and paddleboard rentals are available at the park office between mid-May and September. But no matter how you choose to explore, you’re sure to enjoy park’s lush, hardwood forestry and calm river vibes. As the day winds down and the sun sets over Lake Sakatah, direct your attention toward perfectly charring marshmallows and sharing stories around the campfire before drifting to sleep under the stars.

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Day Two - Sakatah Lake to Faribault (and back)

As the morning sunlight enters your tent, roll out of your sleeping bag and start day two with a hearty campfire breakfast, or carb up in town with a short stack from The Café in Waterville.

Faribault
Central Avenue in downtown Faribault is absolutely charming.

From your basecamp at Sakatah Lake State Park, it’s just a 15-mile ride to charming downtown Faribault. Situated at the confluence of the Cannon and Straight rivers, Faribault is known around the world for the famous Faribault Woolen Mill Co., but this dynamic southern Minnesota city offers plenty of exciting things to do in addition to the mill. You can wander the city’s eminently stroll-able historic downtown drag, Central Avenue; get a photo of yourself riding the street-art Tilt-A-Whirl (did you know the tilt-a-whirl was invented in Faribault?); take a tour of the Alexander Faribault House; and so much more.  

When you’re done exploring Faribault, peel yourself away and ride the trail back to your campsite for another perfect evening under the southern Minnesota night sky.

Day Three - Sakatah Lake to Mankato

After another slow-moving morning at camp, it’s time to pack up your tent and wave goodbye to Sakatah Lake State Park.

Your ride back to Mankato retraces the first 25 miles of Sakatah Singing Hills Trail from day one. If you get hungry on the way back, stop for lunch at one of the three bar/grills just off the trail in Madison Lake – a small town about halfway between Lake Sakatah and Mankato.

Family at Children's Museum in Southern Minnesota, Mankato
The Children's Museum of Southern Minnesota is fun for the whole family!

If you’re still feeling fresh after the 25-mile ride, there’s something for everyone in Mankato. Kids will love the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota, and art hounds will adore the sculptures, murals and assorted public art scatted through town. Stop by the Blue Earth County History Center, take a brewery tour, or visit the R.D. Hubbard House - whatever your fancy, we’re confident you’ll find plenty of fun things to do during your time in Mankato.

So there you have it: a three-day bike camping itinerary to help get you past the “planning” stage of your first bike tour. Remember to take lots of photos, and tag your posts with #OnlyinMN on social media.

Happy riding!