Mankato’s location nestled in the beautiful Minnesota River Valley lends itself perfectly to incredible fall road trips regardless of who you have in tow. Gather your loved ones, choose your path and find lasting memories amidst breathtaking scenery, wildlife and adventure. Be sure to plan your trip during the best time to take in vibrant fall colors in the Mankato area, which is from late September to the middle of October.
If you want to time it just right, check out the DNR’s fall color finder here.
Now let’s start planning your itinerary.
Minnesota River Valley Scenic Byway
Rated one of the best places to see fall colors in Minnesota the Minnesota River Valley Scenic Byway is a stunning road trip following the Minnesota River from Browns Valley near the South Dakota border to Belle Plaine just south of the Twin Cities with Mankato in between at the bend of the river. The Byway is truly an attraction in of itself with incredible views of the river, valleys, wildlife and of course gorgeous fall colors. There are plenty of interesting sites to see along the way with small towns featuring unique characteristics, historic points of interest, and six state parks. The total length of the Minnesota River Valley Scenic Byway is 287 miles.
Minneopa State Park
Along the Minnesota River Valley Scenic Byway, the Minneopa State Park is a must see at any time of year for those interested in nature, trails, history and wildlife. The word Minneopa means water falling twice in the Dakota Indian language, which is perfect considering the incredible double waterfall that can be found at this state park with trails to hike along the bluffs or down to the bottom of the waterfall. On the other side of the park, visitors can drive through the bison range to see these majestic animals in their natural habitat. This herd has high quality genetics descending from the type of bison Lewis and Clark gazed upon in the 1830s. Drive or hike your way up to the historic Seppman Mill, a once operational windmill now on the national register of historic places. Once on top of the bluff, you can take in the view of the valley below showing traces of the Glacial River Warren that ran through the area over 15,000 years ago. The entire park is a top location for professional and amateur photographers alike, especially with fall colors framing the falls. Take a virtual tour of Minneopa State Park.
Another hidden gem just outside of Mankato along the Scenic Byway is Minnemishinona Falls, one of the highest waterfalls in Minnesota with a 42 foot drop-off. A pedestrian bridge spanning the gorge allows for optimal views of the waterfall. The water level varies throughout the season with fun formations when it freezes over in the winter. Be sure to have your camera ready to capture the wildlife and certainly gorgeous fall photos. This site is well worth the visit.
Get off the road and experience over 50 miles of paved local, county and state trails. For biking enthusiasts, Mankato features some of the best trails in the state and scenic roadways with wide shoulders and little to moderate traffic. Our trail system offers a spectacular view of areas that may not always be explored, especially if you stick to the roads. Trail users will follow streams and cross upland and wetland areas, where one may see all kinds of wildlife. You never know what is around the next bend. There are trails for all types of biking experiences and preferences, all the while surrounded by exceptional scenery. Check out the different trails to choose your adventure.
Williams Nature Center is located just south of Mankato and provides an easy 1.5 mile paved walking path through a wooded environment. The path includes interpretive signage and two observation decks overlooking the river valley.
Lookout Drive is a road that runs along the MN River rising between Mankato and North Mankato. There is an overlook at the top to see over the river valley and into Sibley Park and Land of Memories Parks where the Blue Earth River meets the Minnesota River.
All of our parks are surrounded by trees in their full foliage splendor in the fall. Bring the kids for fun at Sibley Park, one of the most popular parks in the state where they will find a farm themed playground, outdoor exercise equipment, walking trails and fun along the river. Connected to Sibley Park by the Minnesota River Trail is Riverfront Park, home of a large outdoor amphitheater with vast areas to run free, trails, playground and a picnic shelter. It is also aligned with a great view of the City Center and Silo Art, a massive awe–inspiring mural on silos in Old Town. Go hiking in Rasmussen Woods, Seven Mile Park or Minneopa State Park where you can get some exercise and take in the views.
Get on the Water
Yes, Mankato is known for its trails on land, but also by water with five river systems in the county. We brag about more river shore than any other county in Minnesota. So there are plenty of opportunities to explore the river valley by canoe, kayak or SUP board. There are hidden gems all along the way with waterfalls, gulches to explore and natural wildlife and history to admire.
Our wineries are beautiful locations for a fun date or getaway with friends. Chankaska Creek Ranch & Winery, Indian Island Winery and Morgan Creek Vineyards are award winning wineries worth a fall visit due to their delicious wines, tasty food, and beautiful settings that helped us coin this area the ‘Napa Valley of Southern Minnesota’.
Around the Corner
Enjoy a scenic bike ride and sign up for the Mankato River Ramble and the Annual Mankato Marathon coming up this October. Get registered, find your trail and enjoy a beautiful run through fall colors.