By Guido Ebert
This ride – bordered by the Minnesota River to the west and I-35 in the east – carves through the Southern Minnesota Lakes Region, previously known as the Big Woods. Your route will take you between farmland, across the meandering Cannon River and past numerous lakes, parks and wildlife management areas.
Roadways are largely two-lane cracked asphalt with short straights marked by sweeping corners. Watch for tar snakes, soft shoulders, gravel in the corners, ag equipment and blind turnouts.
Closest motorcycle service centers include Mankato Harley-Davidson, Starr Cycle in Mankato, Luther Mankato Honda, Snell Powersports in Mankato and Faribault Harley-Davidson.
In 1851 the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux, later a root motivator for the Dakota War of 1862, was signed between the Sioux (Dakota) and the U. S. Government just one mile north of what is now St. Peter.
Two years later Captain William Bigelow Dodd claimed 150 acres along the Minnesota River and named the new settlement Rock Bend. The community was renamed St. Peter in 1855 after a group of St. Paul businessmen interested in promoting the town formed the Saint Peter Company. Among those businessmen was Territorial Governor Willis A. Gorman. Gorman, in 1857, made a failed legislative attempt at moving the Territory of Minnesota’s capital from St. Paul to St. Peter. Instead, ten years later, the Legislature chose the community for the first “Minnesota Asylum for the Insane” (now called the St. Peter Regional Treatment Center).
Nestled between Lake Tetonka and Lake Sakatah, Waterville (pop. 1,868) calls itself the “Heart of the Lake Region.”
The community began in 1855 when a group of nine men from arrived from Maine, Massachusetts and New York. The Minneapolis & St. Louis Railroad began servicing the area in 1877, and the community was incorporated as a village in 1878 and as a city in 1898.
From its earliest days, the lakes and rivers have been vital to Waterville’s economy. Flourmills, sawmills, ice companies, brick making companies, a furniture factory, seed company, fishing and excursion tour boats, and tourists, contributed to its growth. Today, due to the many cabins located alongside area lakes, Waterville continues to attract a healthy influx of tourists during summer months. Check out the Bullhead Days Celebration, typically held the first weekend in June.
Sakatah Lake State Park
Sakatah Lake is a natural widening of the Cannon River. The park does not have a designated swimming beach, but there are 62 drive-in campsites.
If you’re not visiting on your motorcycle, you can utilize the paved Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail that stretches 39 miles from Mankato to Faribault through Sakatah Lake State Park. It’s great for hikers and bikers in the summer, and skiers and snowmobilers in the winter.
Morristown (pop. 987) was founded in 1855 around a Grist Mill business built along the northeast side of town. The mill had a strategic location near a natural dam that formed along the Cannon River. Restored by the MN Historical Society, the mill remains a focal point in town – particularly during the annual Morristown Dam Days, “The Best Dam Fair Around.” Dam Days, held the first weekend following Memorial Day, attracts visitors from throughout the region for a Soap Box Derby, twilight parade, rides and entertainment.
Located 3.4 miles east of Morristown and 8.5 miles west of Faribault, Warsaw (pop. 627) is an unincorporated community on the shores of Cannon Lake and directly adjacent to MN-60.
Located approx. 40 miles east of St. Peter and 50 miles south of the Twin Cities, Faribault (pop. 23,352) is situated at the confluence of the Cannon and Straight Rivers.
Evidently, the community was named for Jean-Baptiste Faribault, a French-Canadian fur trader credited with fueling most of the early settlement activity in the area when he established a fur trading post along the Cannon River in 1826. Jean-Baptiste’s son, Alexander, built a house in 1853 that still stands in its original location near the southeastern edge of Faribault’s historic downtown district.
By the late 1800s, eight flour mills, saw mills, a wool mill and two grain elevators served as Faribault’s major agribusinesses, making the community second only to Minneapolis in Minnesota’s flour production and shipping.
Today, most of the historic downtown area is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and many of the buildings are being restored to their original appearance. In fact, Faribault has more buildings on the Register than any other city in Minnesota aside from St. Paul.
Located 7 miles east of St. Peter, Cleveland (pop. 719) was established as a village in 1854 and incorporated as a city in 1904. The Historical Center is open on Saturdays from 9am to Noon and is located at 303 Broadway St.