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This trail is so nice they named it twice: Sakatah is the Dakota word for “singing hills.” The Dakota people of the Great Sioux Nation originally lived in this scenic part of Minnesota, where the Big Woods once met the prairie. A rail line was built through the area in the late 19th century and rendered inactive by Chicago and North Western in the 1970s. In 1980 the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources opened the route, which it had acquired as a rail-trail shortly after it went inactive.
The Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail runs through a beautiful landscape of farmland, lakes, wetlands, and woods. The two anchor towns of Faribault (on the eastern end) and Mankato (to the west) are the trail’s largest and are home to many restaurants and shops. In Waterville, near the trail’s midpoint, the trail leaves the former railroad corridor for a short signed detour on city streets. Other towns on the route are smaller, but can serve as refreshing rest stops.
Although the trail is paved for its entire length, conditions vary. Rough trail segments exist along the 13.5-mile section between Madison Lake and Waterville. In 2012 a 10.5-mile section from Morristown to Faribault was repaved. In the fall of 2015, a section of the trail between County Road 12 and Madison Lake was closed for construction, and the process of milling and repaving this segment began.
At times, the trail runs immediately adjacent to several large lakes, including Wells Lake, Cannon Lake, Sakatah Lake, Lake Elysian, and Eagle Lake. Be sure to stop for an extended rest at Sakatah Lake State Park; the trail runs through the park for 3 miles and the area is a great place to picnic, hike, or swim. In Mankato connect directly with the North Minnesota River Trail, which leads to the Red Jacket Trail and its stunning trestle over the Blue Earth River. In Faribault, the planned Mill Towns Trail will eventually link the Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail with the existing Cannon Valley Trail. The addition of that proposed 20-mile segment from Mankato to Red Wing (the eastern endpoint of the Cannon Valley Trail) would create a trail just shy of 100 miles long on a single converted railroad corridor.
The primary western trailhead is located in Mankato at a small parking lot on Lime Valley Road, just north of US 14. The actual trail end is south of US 14 at W. Dukes St. Take I-35 to Exit 56. Turn left (southwest) onto MN 60, and go 31.1 miles. Turn right onto US 14, and go 8 miles to the Riverfront Drive exit. Turn right onto N. Riverfront Drive, and in 0.6 mile turn left onto Lime Valley Road. Parking will be on the left in 0.25 mile.
In Faribault, park at White Sands Park. Take I-35 to Exit 59. Turn right (southeast) onto MN 21/Lyndale Ave., and go 1.6 miles. White Sands Park is on the right.
We road this trail 42 miles from Mankato to Fairbault on a cloudy Sunday afternoon. The trail is mostly flat. About the only true hill you'll encounter is when you go to an overpass near Mankato. There aren't any markings on the trail to tell you distance to the next town. We thought it would be nice if there were either mile markers or signs that stated "Elysian 5.2 miles" just to give some idea of where you were. The trail is in excellent condition except the segment from Elysian to Waterville. Here you'll find ruts, cracks, and holes in the pavement which bounce you around for about 13 miles. We had to slow the pace in this area so as not to rattle our brains. There were plenty of other bikers on the trail as well. If you decide to ride the whole trail in one day you'll be pleased to know that some of the small towns have bar and grill restaurants and ice cream shops right off the trail. Overall a very pleasant ride.
Biked from Waterville to Faribault Sunday July 7th. Surface was in excellent shape and we knew we were in Minnesota when there was a Dairy Queen at the end of the trail. Good day of riding. Monday July 8th we biked from Elysian to Mankato. Excellent trail conditions and a fawn was on the trail. We stopped but it kept running towards until almost up to us. It stopped took a closer look and bolted into the woods. Busy trail for a Monday good to see many people out.
The section from Madison Lake east to Elysian has now been re-paved & is very wide & smooth. Unfortunately, from Elysian to Waterville it's still the same old washboard . . . ruts, holes, cracks, weeds, etc. Rough ride!
It looks like they are planning to re-do this part but who knows when? So except for 6 miles this trail is pretty smooth sailing from Faribault to Mankato. Once in Mankato you can stretch it out on some local trails & the Red Jacket.
This stretch was pretty miserable with my road bike due to the poor asphalt. My biking partners had mountain bikes and fared much better. It's an easy trail, very flat, and this stretch is pretty. But I won't bike it again until the long overdue repaving is complete.
This trail was our first trail on the way of wisconsin dells from Mankato. We totally passed 6 trails. I would put this trail on 2nd rank after Cannon Valley. I would put this trail on the first rank if the surface was same from Madison Lake to Waterville. The surface between 2 towns need to be repaired. Too much cracks on the trail. But the rest of them is amazing. Plus you can make decent speed on this trail. There is no steep at all.
I rode this trail for the first time today from Faribault to Mankato. The surface of the trail was great until Waterville. Then things got kind of ugly. I was on my 29" mountain bike with the front suspension locked out and it was pretty rough for 10 miles or so West of Waterville. I have to imagine it would be pretty bad on a road bike. Trail conditions aside, it is a flat ride with some okay scenery. Nothing too exciting but for southern MN it's not bad. I'll do it again at some point.
We drove down from the Twin Cities twice to ride this trail: Faribault to Waterville RT, then Mankato to Madison Lake RT. We will do the middle section when we learn it has been renovated.
What beautiful country! The terrain was terrific: paved surface in good condition, occasional gentle inclines. Birds were singing everywhere and we were enchanted by the contrasts: riding under a beautiful canopy of trees, hearing rushing water below, and then seeing late summer flowers and crops in the countryside. We spotted a flock of white pelicans, egrets and other waterfowl along the way, also a deer. And a calico cat and a turkey farm.
We wasted an hour trying to find the Faribault trailhead with the directions we had printed out and the brown signs that were posted. People we asked directed us to the Dairy Queen, which provided very easy trail access next to Highway 60 but not the full trail. Next time we will use interactive GPS and start at the trailhead.
Near Mankato, please post signs where the railroad bisects the trail for those exploring without GPS. We stayed on the paved trail which led us under the overpass and up to 589th Ave: at this point, we didn't know whether to turn right (correct) or left (wrong.) We backtracked to see if we had missed a sign and met locals who rode back up the overpass to point out the turn. It was not apparent to any of us that the trail crosses the tracks as indicated on your map. If it does, please add signage. A sign is also needed at 589th pointing to the right after the trail comes up from under the train bridge. Things that may be obvious to people who know the area are not obvious to newcomers.
We had a great lunch at the Trailside Cafe in Madison Lake, right on the trail. Coming from the East, the trail suddenly ends near Waterville and we had to hunt around for water and facilities. The ice cream shop nearby was closed, but fortunately had a drink machine.
We look forward to returning to ride the entire trail.
We just cycled from Mankato with our road bikes. Absolutely gorgeous trail. Easy inclines. There's a sign at Eagle Lake warning of rough trail through you Waterville, but we found a brand new surface from Eagle Lake Madison Lake. From Madison Lake to Waterville is very, very rough, but then it's great to Faribault. It looks like they're going to keep going with the trail restoration.I can recommend The Trailhead bar right on the trail in Madison Lake for breakfast.
This review is based on the trail conditions--the stuff under my wheels--of September 20, 2015. When the trail restoration is complete, it will easily rate a five star review. Faribault to Waterville = 5 stars. Waterville to Eagle Lake = 2-3 stars. Eagle Lake to Mankato = 5 stars. Scenery the entire way = 5 stars.
I travelled the trail from Faribault, at the trailhead there, to Mankato and back. Leaving Faribault, the trail quickly became smooth and was in great repair. When we hit Waterville, it was 15 miles of pretty much uninterrupted cracks, bumps, patches, and generally not the best trail surface. We were on road bikes. Perhaps mountain bikes or fat bikes would like the middle section. Not so pleasant because it went on for so long. Then we came to Eagle Lake, and the trail was good again. And the trail into Mankato is lovely.. Bluffy, woodsy and a slight 1% or so descent. Enough to relax and get some speed but not too bad for the return climb.
However, it is clear that this trail is going to get some attention soon, and I will definitely return and do the Faribault to Mankato and back trip again. Between Faribault and Mankato there are ample gas stations to water up, and the scenery is lovely. Lakes, fields, woods, prairies, turkey barns, it has it all.
Despite it being a beautiful Sunday afternoon, there were not very many people using the trail. Maybe the fact that it was the Vikings opener had something to do with that. Still, surprisingly empty.
As a rail trail, the grade is pretty darn flat. I think I had around 1200 feet of climbing over 80 miles. I'm glad to have found this trail. I think that before it is replaced, I will do Faribault to Waterville and back. That's a nice, smooth 30 miles or so..
The Sakata Asphalt trail starting in Waterville to Warsaw and back was a very smooth ride. (17 miles round trip) No steep inclines with a nice variety of shade and sun along this trail. Great for all levels. In the past have started in Elysian and gone to Faribault, but the trail is reported to still be rough between Elysian and Waterville. From Warsaw to Faribault the trail was fine last year, but not as scenic. We had to wait out the rain so opted for the best part of this bike trail. Nice bathrooms along the trail at Sakata state park. Our rides revolve around food and Tuckers bar and grill in Elysian has great burgers and bloody's for a post ride stop.
**rode from Elysian to Mankato last year and although scenic the asphalt is not in good shape.
We went from Cannon Lake to Waterville on Fri. nice & smooth, great ride! Sat. From Elysian to Madison Lake, I'm still rattling!
potholes deep cracks and more potholes dont waste ur time if u have 700c tires trail is junk
We rode the Sakatah Trail between Faribault and Waterville and found the surface to be very good except for the first mile or so. In fact, I would advise skipping that part because of the hard-to-find trailhead, poor surface and several busy road crossings. We noticed that a number of people had parked near the Dairy Queen on 61 just west of I-35. This is where the trail gets nice. You could also park at Cannon Lake if you don't want to ride too far. My one quibble with the trail was that you are never out of earshot of busy Highway 61 until you get to the State Park. The scenery is very nice, though, and there's a good mix of sun and shade. We turned around where the trail is interrupted in Waterville since we'd heard that the surface isn't good beyond there.
This could be such a beautiful trail. Great condition leaving Mankato for about 3 miles, then things really go south. You hit gravel for about 1.5/2 miles and then an even worse asphalt trail for at least 10 more miles, we didn't go any further than that. It was in terrible shape, cracks and potholes for 19 miles. Not an enjoyable ride.
We revisited this trial and unfortunately it will probably be the last time until it is refinished. We started in about 5 miles west of Fairbault at the Shager State Park trail head. The trial is wonderful up until Waterville.
At Waterville you snake through the town and pick up the trial on the other side. The surface turns to pack gravel and it gets VERY rutty the further you go and closer you get to Mankato.
On the outskirts of Mankato the trail is paved again and following the trail to the left of the highway (northern leg) it turns absolutely beautiful, smooth and all downhill. Of course that means a nasty uphill climb on the way out and about 20 miles of very bumpy riding on the way back.
Make sure to eat at the Wagon Wheel - old fashion diner with good food and staff.
It seems we did not read the reviews in detail on this trail to our disappointment in todays ride in late August 2014. Ten years ago we rode this trail and were not impressed.We returned to day thinking we would see many changes. We started at the Fairbault end and yes, for 12 miles it was great.However after Waterville it brought back the old memories it was terrible so rough on our road bikes. Once we reached Madison Lake after having biked 27 miles we turned back. It was not fun any more. What was going to be an 80 mile ride turned out to be 60 miles for us today. We traveled 160 miles to go biking on this trail today. We will likely not return we expected better. I wished there would have been signs beyond Waterville cautioning riders of the poor surface.
First time on this trail - and it won't be my last. Logged just over 80 miles round trip. Marvelous scenery and high quality trail. Those looking for hills will be disappointed. However, it is a wonderful ride for stretching things out amidst a beautiful landscape.
The trail is amazing! Very smooth and gorgeous scenery. Very fun on rollerblades or feet, haven't biked it yet! Thanks DNR!
When the sun brings back warmer temperatures after this week's rain, the wildflowers will be sprouting in abundance along the trail in Sakatah State Park!
We rode the first 20 miles from Fairbault to 3 miles past Waterville. The trail is VERY nice from about a mile in of the trail head until Waterville. The path through Waterville is a little confusing as the signs are small and blend in. After the town the trail is still paved but rougher and our speed dropped off considerably.
Next time we ride this trail we'll skip the first 10 miles that are mostly along the highway and put in at the Shager State Park.
NOTE: The trail head in Fairbault is easy to skip since there are sings on 35 saying Sakatah Trail yet there is no big brown sign at the trail head. The trail head is on your right in a small dog park / tourist info stand.
That's right, both ends of this trail have been re-surfaced and new bridges built. It's very nice & smooth now. The re-paved eastern portion stretches from Faribault to Waterville ... then it's pretty rough until you get about half ways between Madison Lake and Mankato, just after crossing over a large highway bridge.
Around Mankato the trails are good but the signs are poor, especially connecting to the Red Jacket Trail. This end is pretty hilly, the rest is quite flat. Enjoy a nice smooth ride.
The DNR has sunk quite a bit of money renovating the Sakatah-Singing Hills Trail. What a nice smooth ride now from Faribault to Waterville. New bridges and asphalt make for a great trip!!!
The Sakatah is one of the worst trails around but the good news is that it's being resurfaced and bridges are being re-built. The western end near Mankato has much new pavement. The eastern end near Faribault has been closed because of re-surfacing. No idea when the middle part will be attacked but once that gets done it will again be a pretty nice trail.
There is no excuse for the condition of this trail and it seems the state saw fit to let it deteriorate. I rode the whole length on my road bike, and allowing for the possiblity of a bumpy ride I installed some wider road bike tires (700X28) which were nowhere near what I required for comfort on this pathetic trail. There was seldom a moment when I could confidently hold the handlebar with one hand and take a drink with the other without hitting a series of rather deep bumps. Instead of proper repairs, they've littlered the trail with caution signs. I've rode the whole length of the Paul Bunyan Trail and the Mesabi Trail, so if you are considering riding the Sakatah, I tell you it is far more worth your time to drive up to those trails, particularly the Mesabi Trail. You will never forget it. And I will never forget how much the Sakatah kicked my butt.
Just completed the round trip ride from Faribault to Manakato on my old Schwinn hardtail mountain bike, and it was still a very rough ride. Don't know that I would want to try it with a road bike. Great scenery and trail heads (especially at Elysian), but these attributes won't mean a thing if the entire trail is not resurfaced very soon. The next day I rode the Cannon Valley Trail from Cannon Falls to Red Wing. It had a $3.00 user few but would have paid much more than that because of the great condition of the surface. The state of Minnesota should consider user fees to get Sakatah into the condition it deserves.
I've ridden the Sakatah Singing Hills Trail many times and wish it would be re-surfaced. Once you reach the western end on the outskirts of Mankato it's worth riding into town on the North Minnesota River Trail. It runs near the Minnesota River with some hills & curves (be careful for blind corners), then near some industrial areas and on into downtown Mankato.
Recently, they completed a very nice park/trailhead called Riverview Park which has great bathroom facilities, shelters, parking and some wonderful views of the river and city. It's well worth the additional 2.5 miles. There are also city trails and the Red Jacket Trail on the western edge of town which winds uphill towards the tiny town of Rapidan. On the way you cross a very high bridge above the Blue Earth River. Riverview Park would be a great starting point for exploring trails in & around the Mankato area. The only negative is poor signage; I guess they think everybody's a local & knows where the trails go.
Heard a lot of good things about this trail, so I decided to check it out. The scenery is beautiful, and it's nice and flat for the most part, but this trail is in need of new asphalt. My husband and I ride road bikes, and the bumps were quite unsettling in some areas. This trail might be better on a mountain bike or hybrid, something with a little shock absorbing ablility. Otherwise, a great trail with cute little towns to stop in along the way.
I've been on this trail many times throughout the years, even before it was paved. The towns are comfortably spaced with some very nice trailheads (Elysian, Fairbault). In some places it is too close to Hwy 60 so it's noisy. The scenery is really nice near Mankato even though (because?) it's a bit hilly. The big problem with this trail is the poor condition of the asphalt . . . very bumpy in many places which slows the ride. Also, they don't clear debris (tree branches) off very quickly. worth the ride is you don't mind the bumps.
"This trail served as the annual ""changing-of-the-leaves"" autumn ride of our book club for several years. The trail is most scenic at its two ends with some nice lake riding in the east and a beatiful forest climb (or coast) in the west. The central segment is quite agricultural and flat, tempting one to speed. A midsummer ride can get pretty sticky, but late spring or mid-fall is usually quite comfortable and more colorful. Lots of accommodations at both ends make for a good overnighter."
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