WATERVILLE, Minn. -- Welcome to Minnesota lake country! Yes, the local area code is 507, not 218, and you are much closer to Iowa than to the Iron Range, but do not let those subtleties fool you. In the region surrounding Sakatah Lake State Park, there are dozens and dozens of lakes sprinkled among the rolling cornfields that so typify this part of Minnesota.
And for many of the visitors to this state park, located two miles east of Waterville, just off state highway 60, getting out on the water is priority one.
“We do kayak and canoe rentals down at our boat launch and for anyone camping it seems like right away when we open there’s someone asking, ‘Hi, can we rent all of your canoes or all of your kayaks?’ Those go pretty fast,” said Jaime Opsahl, the park manager.
They also rent stand-up paddleboards, which have been less popular in the summer of 2021. The lake, which has a maximum depth of 14 feet, has blue-green algae like many others in the region during this abnormally hot season, and perhaps the heightened risk of falling off a paddleboards and into the water has visitors shying away.
For many, Sakatah Lake State Park is a stopover while traversing the Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail, which is a paved former railroad bed that stretches 41 miles between two southern Minnesota’s regional centers. This state park is the 14th stop on our summer tour, Minnesota's Backyard.
“We have a good portion of the trail that stretches through our park. It runs all the way from Mankato to Faribault,” Opsahl said. “We have bike-in campsites right along the trail and those get used quite a bit. People can just park their bikes, and we even have a shed where they can park their bikes and other equipment if they want to keep it dry and pop a tent up, have a little campfire and relax.”
Camping and biking are hugely popular in this region, with the community of Waterville just down the trail, roughly 20 minutes away by bike. Campers commonly spend the night, then bike into town for breakfast in the morning and spend the day exploring the region on two wheels.
Sakatah Lake has two boat launches, one of them in the park, and anglers have been known to pull northerns and muskies out of this southernmost park of lake country, although they have been more elusive in warmer water this summer.
From late July to well into the fall, corn is in great abundance in this part of Minnesota, and some of the freshest, sweetest ears can be found at roadside stands and at myriad family farms in the region that will sell you a dozen for $6 or sometimes less. You pull right up into the farmyard at Hein’s Sweet Corn, just south of Faribault, where the corn is freshly picked that morning and readily available at a good price. Cooking up fresh corn on the cob on a grate over a campfire after a day spent biking or out on the water sounds like a near-perfect way to spend a late summer evening in southern Minnesota.