There are numerous bluff-top outlooks along this route, and the forested river valley remains similar to times before European settlement. The valley floor supports marshes and wet prairie interspersed with bottomland hardwood forest.
Most of the roadways on this route run along bluff-tops and thus are unaffected by river flooding. MN-68 doesn’t get much traffic. Watch for gravel in the corners and fast-moving semis. Deer and wild turkey also pose hazards.
Closest motorcycle dealerships include Starr Cycle in North Mankato, Mankato Harley-Davidson, Luther Mankato Honda and Maday Motors in New Ulm.
The Minnesota River flows southeast from the Dakota border to Mankato, where it bends at the confluence with the Blue Earth River to begin its winding route northeast toward its confluence with the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. The Dakota called the river Makato Osa Watapa (meaning “the river where blue earth is gathered”).
Mankato Township was not settled by European Americans until 1852, as part of the nineteenth century migration of people from the east across the Midwest, and new residents organized the city of Mankato in May of 1858. Four years later, on Dec. 26, 1862, the U.S. Army carried out the largest mass execution in U.S. history when 38 Dakota were hanged in Mankato following the Dakota War of 1862.
Today, Mankato – home to four institutions of higher education – is the fourth largest city in Minnesota outside of the Twin Cities metro area, heralds a rich and diverse music and arts scene, and serves as the summer training camp for the Minnesota Vikings.
Take a tour of Sibley Park to see where the two rivers come together, dig in to one of Pagliai’s famous pizzas, grab a cup of java at the Coffee Hag in Old Town, park your bike and inspect the Minnesota River Trail that runs along the floodwall, or check out the Minnesota State University campus (massively expanded during the past decade thanks to Timberwolves owner and resident Glenn Taylor).
Once out of Mankato proper and on your way to New Ulm, stop at Minneopa State Park just off of MN-68 to inspect the Seppman Mill and two-step waterfall – both of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
New Ulm is home to the Flying Dutchmen Motorcycle Club, the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame, the Hermann Heights Monument, Martin Luther College, Flandrau State Park, and – in part due to the city’s German heritage and location to an abundant water supply – the August Schell Brewing Company.
Located in the triangle of land formed by the confluence of the Minnesota River and the Cottonwood River, New Ulm was founded in 1854 by German immigrants and named after the city of Ulm in southern Germany.
The town was nearly decimated during the Dakota War of 1862 and ravaged in 1881 by a large tornado. During World War II, German POWs were housed in a camp to the immediate southeast of New Ulm, in what is now Flandrau State Park (which boasts numerous structures built with unique German architectural influences by the Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Progress Administration).
Dominating the Minnesota River Valley from a hill overlooking New Ulm, the Hermann Monument – built in 1885 – was inspired by a similar monument near Detmold, Germany, and serves as a symbol of victories Germanic tribes achieved against the Roman Legions in 9 AD. It’s worth paying the nominal $2 entry fee to climb to the top of the monument for a chance to view the expansive valley.
Founded in 1860 by German immigrant August Schell, the August Schell Brewing Company is the second oldest family-owned brewery in America (after D.G. Yuengling & Son). In 2002 the brewery became owner of another famed Minnesota beer brand, Grain Belt. Brewery tours last an hour and run daily Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Once back in North Mankato via the Judson Bottom Rd., celebrate your completed excursion with a beverage and burger at the motorcycle-friendly Spinner’s Bar or the nearby Circle Inn, then venture up Lookout Drive for a good view of the Mankato/North Mankato sister communities tucked within the river valley.