The first June bug crashed into my windshield on my drive home the other night, a visual reminder of summer’s arrival.
While I am an equal-opportunity seasons lover, I can’t help but love Minnesota summers. They are oh, so short, but oh, so sweet.
Growing up on a farm, summers were for running around outside, helping out where I could, playing ball, celebrating not being stuck in a classroom, and capping the year with a county and state fair. That I also celebrate a summer birthday probably played into it, too.
This year, summer will look different. There won’t be big concerts, won’t be live major league baseball, and there won’t be a state fair. As sad as those realities are, it’s best to control what you can, and embrace the opportunities in your own neighborhood.
I have a lot of fishing in mind on the Minnesota River and remedial training for my yearling Labrador Retriever scheduled in my backyard. Keeping my bait tank stocked will be another chore. I am also training for a race that is likely to become virtual; exercise has been great physical and mental therapy.
Looking across Mankato, there are plenty of places and activities to enjoy this summer. Whether you’re a regular reader and active outdoors enough to check all the boxes on this list or perusing content and landed here by accident, I’m encouraging everyone to make the most of their summer by embracing all the opportunities our region has to offer.
Here is my best shot at 25 activities you and your family can do this summer in the area:
1) Check out the waterfalls at Minneopa State Park. Waterfalls are a rare feature in southern Minnesota but tell a fascinating story if you read up on the geology of the Minnesota River
2) Run downtown along the Minnesota River Trail or the Rex MacBeth Trail. I do like to get away from the city, but sometime the best scenery is the quick escape in an urban environment.
3) Fish for brown trout at Seven Mile Creek County Park. This park is a gem of trails, playgrounds and exploration opportunities. But few places offer the chance to catch a trout. Don’t forget your trout stamp.
4) Ride your bicycle along the Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail. You can make a short trip to Eagle Lake or a long ride to Faribault along this 41-mile route. You’ll see lots of flora and fauna within the corridor.
5) Watch the sun set from Lookout Drive. Pick a comfortable night with a mix of cloud cover; the clouds will provide the tapestry for the variable colors of fading light. You’ll never regret missing a sunrise or a sunset with a friend or family member.
6) Listen to a colony of red-winged blackbirds on a marsh edge. You’ll hear males call out their territory. Or choose another place to sit and just listen. Learn a bit of ornithology by learning to recognize common and some uncommon bird calls.
7) Go for a swim at Hiniker Pond. It’s clear and cold for much of the year.
8) Paddle a canoe or kayak around Fish Lake just west of Waterville. This lake is an outlier in southern Minnesota; it is clear and deep and its watershed and lakeshore are largely undeveloped. Paddling around will give you a glimpse of how southern Minnesota once was, in some places.
9) Search for edible mushrooms in a public, forested area where it is allowed. Morel season is done, but you can look for pheasantbacks, oysters, king boletes, lobsters, chicken-of-the-woods, hen-of-the-woods and chanterelles by mid-summer.
10) Birdwatch at Rasmussen Woods. Start a life list with friends. You’ll have 20 common birds down quickly and then you can start on the rarer finds. Bring a set of binoculars.
11) Listen to the frogs at Gilfillan Wildlife Management Area. Summer nights will bring a chorus of amphibian calls as a backdrop to a relaxing evening in the countryside.
12) Learn to identify a new tree, grass, forb, mammal, insect, bird, reptile, amphibian or fish. Then learn another. The iNaturalist app and its community of experts are a great resource for fast feedback if you get stuck.
13) Camp in your own backyard. Hundreds of nights on the same mattress aren’t as memorable as a night serenaded by owls and crickets. The toilet and refrigerator are close by if you need them.
14) Catch a couple lightning bugs in a mason jar. One of my favorite memories was a summer night fishing where I didn’t get a single bite, but my daughter and I chased and caught a few lightning bugs. Being awed by nature is something you can enjoy at age 1 or age 101.
15) Let your dogs run offleash at the Kiwanis Recreation Area Dog Park. Happiness is a dog exploring and running, tail wagging along the way.
16) Play a game of horseshoes at Wheeler Park. Horseshoes, Frisbee and Cornhole are games that require minimal equipment, encourage social distancing and are a lot of fun.
17) Fly a kite at Bray Park by Madison Lake. It’s science. It’s fun. It’s something you probably haven’t done in a long time.
18) Learn the constellations of the summer night sky. StarWalk2 is a free app that helps you identify stars, planets and constellations based on your photos and GPS position.
19) Soak a nightcrawler or a cut chunk of sucker or chub at the Judson Public Access on the Minnesota River. With 150 yards of frontage to spread over, you can give boaters room to launch their watercraft and still have enough space to grab a lawnchair and toss out a line. You never know what you might catch – walleye, catfish, sturgeon, sucker … the list of possibilities is lengthy.
20) Take a hike or bike day trip to Rapidan along the Red Jacket Trail. You’ll see the beauty of the Blue Earth River and the forested sections along it.
21) Have a picnic at Sibley Park. There’s no better meal than one packed and brought to a place with great ambiance. Enjoy great weather and a great meal.
22) Draw your favorite summer scene. You don’t have to be a great artist; everyone can benefit from exercising their frontal lobe and doing their best with pencil, chalk, paint or whatever medium you so desire. Get outside and frame a memory.
23) Find an agate. If you can’t find an agate, find other rocks and minerals. Start a collection or learn what is common and rare in the Mankato area. I’m becoming a vicarious rockhound through the interest shown by my daughter.
24) Enjoy a cold beverage on a tailgate or a bumper. Might be a root beer, might be an adult beer. The hotter the day and the colder the beverage, the better. Those sweet condensation drops on the can are an iconic summer image.
25) Grill out, away from home. Pack up the old hibachi grill or mini-Weber, pack some burgers, hot dogs or steaks (or tofu and vegetables for my vegans) and enjoy a grill out, at a park or the lake.
Scott Mackenthun is an outdoors enthusiast who has been writing about hunting and fishing since 2005. He resides in New Prague and may be contacted at email@example.com.