Minneopa Falls fall colors

Things to Do in Mankato

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Minneopa Falls / Dave Tapia

Things to Do in Mankato

By Caitlin Hannah

Just a short drive from Minneapolis — about 75 minutes — Mankato is a bustling college town with many opportunities to get outside, shop, dine, and participate in everything from a pond hockey tournament to a four-day Ribfest.

Here is how to make the most of Mankato.... 

A bundle of popular Lakota Made products

A bundle of popular Lakota Made products


Old Town 

This charming walkable neighborhood offers dozens of boutiques and local shops to explore. Some popular spots include Lakota Made, Salvage Sisters, Bumbelou, Hazelkin & Co., Pond Road Market, and more.  

River Hills Mall 

Find your favorite new major retailers like Target, Scheels, H&M, American Eagle, Maurices, Tradehome Shoes, and more at this large mall complex.  

Ardent Mills Grain Silos mural

Ardent Mills Grain Silos / Minnesota River Valley National Scenic Byway


Mankato is a thriving hub of regional theater, music, dance and visual arts programs. Applaud a rousing theater production, peruse a gallery full of work by popular local artists, or reconnect under the stars at an outdoor concert.  

Public Art 

In 2020, the internationally recognized, Australian-based artist Guido Van Helton also traveled to the heart of southern Minnesota to help tell the story of Greater Mankato through a massive mural at the Ardent Mills Grain Silos. The largest structure in the City Center portrays a community with a rich heritage, a thriving present, and a future that's full of limitless potential. Find out more about Mankato's CityArt programming here

R.D. Hubbard House in Mankato

R.D. Hubbard House  / Visit Mankato

History and Heritage 

Mankato is located at the confluence of the Minnesota and Blue Earth Rivers. It was originally named “Mahkato” (meaning greenish-blue earth) by its early inhabitants, the Dakota. Today, many memorials and buildings exist to commemorate the diverse and important history that has shaped the Greater Mankato area, including such must-sees as the R.D. Hubbard House, Blue Earth County Historical Society, Betsy-Tacy Houses and Land of Memories Park

Family at Children's Museum of Southern Minnesota in Mankato

Learning is fun at the Children's Museum of Southern Minnesota in Mankato


Visit the Children's Museum of Southern Minnesota to expand the minds of kids of all ages. Looking to enjoy the warm sunshine? Splash around local pools and splash pads. Run, climb, and explore the truly accessible Fallenstein playground. 

Bison in Minneopa State Park

Bison in Minneopa State Park  / Melanie Graves


State Parks 

Minneopa State Park offers great hiking, a chance to view bison, waterfalls, and more. The word Minneopa comes from the Dakota language and is interpreted to mean “water falling twice,” referring to the beautiful waterfalls of the Minneopa Creek. Walk the trail which encircles the falls, leading down a limestone stairway to the valley below. Then ascend the opposite side and enjoy a panoramic view of the valley which reveals the underlying geology of this area. 

Other key attractions at Minneopa State Park include the Bison Drive where you can view a herd of bison that was reintroduced into the park using the very same genetics as the animals Lewis and Clark first gazed upon in the 1830s; and Seppmann Mill, a wind-driven grist mill fashioned in German-style from native stone and lumber. 

Red Jacket Bike Trail Mankato

Red Jacket Bike Trail, Mankato

Biking Trails  

Designated a Bronze Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists, Mankato features some of Minnesota’s best bike trails, mountain bike trails and scenic roadways. They include the 13-mile asphalt and crushed stone Red Jacket Trail, which winds through open countryside; the 39-mile Sakatah Singing Hills Trail, which sits along an abandoned railroad; and the Minnesota River Trail that highlights Mankato's prime valley location along the water. 


Happy Chef 

As you arrive in Mankato on Highway 169 North, you may see a large chef sculpture standing proudly outside this local gem. He even speaks! Founded in 1963, Happy Chef is the first and last Happy Chef restaurant that used to be scattered throughout the MIdwest. Find comfort classics for breakfast, lunch, and dinner but breakfast is one of their most popular meals. 

Nolabelle Kitchen + Bar 

Partnering with farmers from Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin, Nolabelle Kitchen + Bar offers delicious seasonal offerings. Their menu is constantly changing but expect vibrant, fresh, and delicious flavors on their small plates, soups, salads, pastas, burgers, and more. 

Number 4 Steakhouse in Mankato

Number 4 Steakhouse

Number 4 Steakhouse 

For a special night out, Number 4 Steakhouse offers a wide variety of appetizers, steaks, chops, seafood, and more. Don’t sleep on their brunch which offers complimentary cinnamon rolls and coffee. 

Pagliai’s Pizza and Jake’s Stadium Pizza 

Named to our list of Minnesota’s greatest pizza places, Pagliai’s Pizza and Jake’s Stadium Pizza can’t be missed. Jake’s uses recipes passed down through multiple generations and only uses mozzarella exclusively made for the chain from Wisconsin. Enjoy classic crust or deep dish at Pagliai’s Pizza, one of the oldest restaurants in town. 

Jake's Stadium Pizza cheese pull

Jake's Stadium Pizza


Another spot for a night out, Pappageorge offers steaks, seafood, chicken, chops, pastas, and more. Some local favorites include the walleye, wild mushroom ravioli, and gulf shrimp.  

Pub 500 

Located in downtown Mankato, Pub 500 offers appetizers, sandwiches, burgers, salads, entrees and more. If you have dietary restrictions, they offer a food sensitives menu with extensive information for you to confidently pick a dish you will enjoy. 

Tandem Bagels

Tandem Bagels

Tandem Bagels 

For breakfast or lunch, this spot offers dozens of varieties of bagels, bagel sandwiches, coffee, and more. With two locations (one on campus, the other near Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center) and delivery available, you’re always able to grab some grub. 

Tavern on the Ave 

For some of the best wings in town (they claim to have served more than 5 million of them), visit Tavern on the Ave. Dubbed the “best sports bar in town” find pub favorites like cheese curds, burgers, tacos, sandwiches, and more.  

Anthony Ford Pond Hockey Classic

Anthony Ford Pond Hockey Classic


Anthony Ford Pond Hockey Classic 

Minnesota is the State of Hockey and pond hockey is one of our favorite ways to get out in the winter. This popular event takes place on Spring Lake Park in North Mankato and welcomes players of all ages and abilities.  

Kiwanis Holiday Lights 

One of the best holiday lights displays in Minnesota, Kiwanis Holiday Lights welcomes folks to walk or drive-through the popular display. More than one million LED lights are featured in the display with a synthetic ice rink, live reindeer, Santa Claus, and more. 

Young dancer in pow wow regalia

A young dancer in powwow regalia at the Mahkato Wacipi  / Karla Caspari

Mahkato Annual Traditional Pow-Wow 

Celebrate Native American culture at Land of Memories Park, with drumming, dancing, crafts, delicious foods, and more. The event honors the 38 Dakota warriors who died in the largest mass execution in U.S. history and to signify the reconciliation between the Dakota and local settlers after the Dakota Conflict.  

Mankato Marathon 

Runners can soak up the fall colors and crisp air in Mankato during the annual Mankato Marathon. There’s a race for every runner from a kids run to the full marathon. 

Red, Hot & Boom!

Red, Hot & Boom!

Red, Hot & Boom! 

Celebrating the 4th of July in style in Riverfront Park, Mankato offers local food vendors, live entertainment, and a stellar firework displayed choregraphed to music through Radio Mankato.  


Meat lovers from around the world gather in Mankato every August for RIbfest a food competition and four-day festival filled with delicious food, live entertainment, a beer garden, and more.  

Caitlin Hannah

Caitlin Hannah is Explore Minnesota's senior digital social strategist. When traveling around the state, she likes spending time near the water, hiking, antique shopping, trying new restaurants, and watching hockey.