Are you bored? I'm bored. Every year it feels like the NFL offseason gets longer. I'm so football starved that when Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater made his appearance on Family Feud I found myself cheering way too much for, well, everything because it was just fun to be able to shout, "Yeah, Teddy!"
But we're in that final stretch before Minnesota Vikings Training Camp at Minnsota State University, Mankato. Thank goodness, because, barring arrests and charity appearances, we have no more vaguely football action to tide us over.
If you haven't been to the Vikings' training camp in Mankato, Minnesota, you really should try to attend. There is a good chance that when the Vikings complete the first phase of their new team headquarters in Eagan they will move training camp to the new facility and the more than 50-year tradition in Mankato will come to an end. That will be a bittersweet because, while the shiny new facility in Eagan will likely be great, there is something fun about the way Mankato turns into Vikings Town for a few weeks in the summer.
If you want a camp guide that will tell you about players and schemes, Arif Hasan has you covered. We're sharing what we’ve learned over the years and reader tips for having fun, keeping cool, and more at Vikings training camp. It's the Daily Norseman's unofficial guide to training camp--aiming to make your life easier and to help you feel like a Mankato insider.
*This guide is really, really long so I split it into two sections. It’s still ridiculously long. The first section lists some generally useful information about navigating training camp, what to expect, and staying safe, the second section is devoted to fun information, like where to get really good pizza. Just skip to what you want to know.
Driving to Mankato.
The Vikings website has information about driving to training camp and that is fine and dandy. However, this information does not take into account the fact that summer in Minnesota is known as “road construction season” for good reason. This is why you might want to check out the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s website to find out what construction delays you can expect on your way to training camp. It may also be worth mentioning that Mankato, like many Minnesota towns, has done a lot of construction in recent years to add several roundabouts to their thoroughfares that may surprise drivers.
Parking for training camp is run by the university and will cost $10. There are four lots of available parking near the Vikings Village.
Edit: Thanks to tebe_1 for sharing this information in the comments section. I’m copying it here so it will be easier to find. -SG
INSIDER INFO ON ROAD CONSTRUCTION!!!
Disclaimer—I live in St. Peter, so I am very familiar with the "fun" resulting from this particular construction project.
It has been reported elsewhere (and suggested by Skol Girl above), but it bears repeating here—US 169 is closed between St. Peter and North Mankato. If you’re coming in from the north, expect some hassle. The two major detour routes are both onto two lane country highways, and speed traps have been a very common sight on both. Not that one often has the chance to drive fast if s/he wishes anyways, but you’ve been warned…I expect police presence will, as usual, be ramped up even more during camp.
Instead, if you’re coming in from the north (i.e. the Twin Cities) on US 169, I’d recommend skipping St. Peter altogether. A good alternative (and the one I’ve been using to get to Mankato, as my house can just barely be seen from MN 22) is to
turn right to take north/west MN 22 as you get to the northern edge of town; there’s only one way to go on 22 at this point, so you can’t miss it
follow 22 about one mile to County Rd 15 and take a left at the y-shaped intersection (again, only one way to go…)
follow 15 about two miles to County Road 40 (atop the bluff) and take another left; yet another turn with only one possible direction!
follow 40 about three miles to MN 99 and take a right (west, away from St. Peter)
MN 99 is one of the two major detour routes, so you can follow it to North Mankato from there. This route has had much less traffic on it than the MN 22 route (which is suggested by at least Google maps). If you wish to see this entire route mapped out in Google maps, look here.
Taking MN 22 south out of St. Peter is the chief alternative, but it’s much more heavily used—plus you have to go through the generally god-awfully timed stoplights in town. It will, however, bring you to the Madison Ave/Adams St/River Hills Mall part of Mankato if that’s what you’re looking for. There are a couple of (not very good) options for detouring around St. Peter and hitting south 22 if you really want to go that way; south/east MN 99 to County Rd 102 to Hill St (through Kasota) is probably the least objectionable of them. Again, I’d probably steer clear of 22 unless absolutely necessary.
Minnesota weather is notorious for being unpredictable. Just when you're ready for sweltering heat, you get cool rainy weather. Or, you might get tornados capable of relocating you to Oz. Be ready for whatever Minnesota throws at you by getting a good weather app on your smart phone. I like Yahoo! Weather, but there are lots of options available. Find one you like so the weather doesn’t take you by surprise.
According to the Vikings’ Training Camp Info and FAQs, if the weather forces the team to practice inside Myers Field House there will be limited indoor seating available for fans to watch the practice. That happened when I was there last summer and I can confirm, the space is significantly more limited than the outdoor practice fields. If you want a seat, make your way to the Field House as soon as an indoor practice is announced.
Dealing with sun and heat.
Sunburns ruin a good time so, even if it looks cloudy when you head out to the practice fields, bring your sunscreen and a hat. You can feel smug later when your friend, you know, the one who claims “burns turn into tans,” is peeling like a snake shedding skin. Here are some good guidelines for sun protection from the American Cancer Society.
Mankato in the summer can be steamy hot, especially when you are sitting or standing in full sun during afternoon practices. Because of the tragic death of Korey Stringer, Vikings fans are keenly aware of the danger of heat-related illness. Here’s what you should know:
- There are a lot of beverage options out there but, more than anything else, your body needs water. Drinking alcohol and sugary drinks could make you dehydrate more quickly. Make sure you drink plenty of water to stay ahead of dehydration and prevent heat-related illness. If you have been sweating heavily you may also need to replace electrolytes.
- Children (because they dehydrate faster than adults), the elderly (often because of medications), and the chronically ill (because of medical complications and medications) may be more susceptible to heat-related illness, here’s how you can recognize the signs of heat-related illness. If you want to know more about the signs and dangers of heat-related illness, click here.
- If you or someone you are with needs medical attention for any reason while at training camp practices, the Ambulance/First Aid station is located at the northwest corner of Blakeslee Stadium.
Handicapped accessibility at training camp.
Last year when I was at camp a reader contacted me looking for information about wheelchair accessibility at training camp. Not knowing if there will be accessibility accommodations for the disabled can be a deterrent to attending training camp for some fans. This year I asked the Vikings public relations people what information they had from Minnesota State University, Mankato about handicapped accessibility on campus. The Vikings were very helpful, letting me know what ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accommodations fans will find at training camp.
- Both Blakeslee Stadium and the practice field bleachers are equipped with ramps. ADA seating in Blakeslee is quite limited, but the team does provide some designated handicapped-only “areas of fencing” around the stadium, enforcing that as best they can. The bleachers at the practice field also have ADA seating available. If you have any questions or specials needs, all the Vikings’ training camp staff have been trained to assist in any way they can and an Information Booth is located at the entrance to the Vikings Village just as you exit the merchandise tent.
- There is handicap parking available in the main parking lot at training camp. The handicap parking will be in the sections closest to the Vikings Village. Here’s a link to the campus and parking map.
- I was not able to find out if any of the portable toilet facilities in the Vikings Village are handicap accessible. However the not-particularly-helpful MSUM lady I spoke with said many of the buildings on campus, like the Centennial Student Union, will be open and they have handicap accessible bathrooms. As a plus, those buildings have air-conditioning, but, on the flip-side, they aren’t immediately next to the practice fields.
- If you want more specific information about ADA accommodations on the MSUM campus during training camp, you can call or email the university (contact information is in teeny, tiny print at the bottom of the university home page). I also found an accessibility map on the university’s website that uses a color code to show how handicap accessible different areas of the campus are.
The biggest thing when it comes to getting player (or coach) autographs and pictures is to be prepared and be patient. If you want an autograph, make sure you have a writing utensil and something for them to sign. Following morning practices, players will sign autographs in the Century Link Autograph Zone. However, they will be there for just 25 minutes and you may have to miss the end of the morning practice to get a decent spot in line. Here’s the link to the Autograph Zone schedule and guidelines.
If you miss a favorite player at the Autograph Zone, don’t give up hope. Ninety players will be wandering around the campus (often on bikes) and the town itself, not all the opportunities for autographs and pictures will be in the autograph lines. Here are a few things to keep in mind when seeking autographs:
- Star players are used to being mobbed by fans so be polite and cut them some friggin’ slack. After a long day of practice they may or may not feel like standing around until everyone and their brother gets an autograph or picture. It’s not personal, they are simply tired and drenched in booty sweat.
- After the afternoon practice, players like Adrian Peterson and Teddy Bridgewater are escorted by their team handlers. The handlers direct them toward people for them to meet (VIPs, special guests of the team, the disabled, etc.) and journalists requesting interviews. The handlers are also the ones who have to be the bad guys and keep the fans from mobbing star players or cutting post-practice autographing short. Don’t give them grief, they’re just doing their jobs.
- Don’t be surprised if ablebodied adults are a lower priority for post-practice autographs than children and the disabled. And, if an adult tries to hedge out either kids or the disabled, don’t be surprised if they get snubbed.
Kids and training camp.
Not only can children watch their favorite players practice at training camp, but they can get a taste of the action at the Gatorade Jr. Training Camp on August 3 and 6. While the camp is free, children have to be signed up for the event. For sign-up details and more, click here.
There is also a Minnesota Vikings Jr. Cheer Clinic on Saturday, August 6 with instruction from the Minnesota Vikings Cheerleaders. Like the Jr. Training Camp, this is also a free activity but your child must be registered ahead of time. Click here for additional details.
Even kids who are hardcore Vikings fans can get worn out or bored after a long day watching practices. One tip I heard from a reader a few years ago was to beat the summer heat by taking the kids swimming (click the Things to Do link below for swimming destinations) during the break between the morning and afternoon practices. You can also take a break from the sun and soak up the air-conditioning at the movies. It might not add to your sanity, but it might be fun to visit the biggest candy store in Minnesota, Jim’s Apple Farm, for treats and more than 150 kinds of rootbeer. It isn’t in Mankato, but if you are driving to Mankato from the Twin Cities you can’t miss the big, yellow barn. Here’s a link to Jim’s Facebook page. Want more ideas? Check out this great list of Things to Do from Mankato’s tourism site.
Food options closest to training camp.
Sometimes you just need food now, especially if you are dealing with kids. Fortunately there are a few options very close to the practice fields so you won’t have to go far to get a quick bite. University Square Village is located at the corner of Warren Street and Stadium road, just across the street from MSUM’s Taylor Center. This is your stop for Chipotle Mexican Grill, Cold Stone Creamery, Weggy’s on Campus, Noodles & Company, Jimmy John’s, Bradley’s on Stadium, and Caribou Coffee.
A quick word about the Vikings’ website.
In researching this Unofficial Training Camp Guide, I have spent a lot of time looking at Vikings.com. Here’s the thing, it is an absolute pain to navigate to the team’s training camp information from the website’s home page. You have to simply know that it is there, lurking somewhere on their site, because they don’t make the information easy to find. For example, this campus map of MSUM including the parking lots near the practice fields—always good to have, not easy to find. And that is a shame because there is a lot of useful material there. It is easier to find the Vikings’ Training Camp Page if you type “2016 Vikings Verizon Training Camp” into your browser. Easier still, just click here. Maybe next year the information will be easier to find, but I tell myself that every year.
Now that the useful stuff is out of the way, let’s focus on the fun stuff. I polled DN readers on Facebook and Twitter asking for their best recommendations for dining in Mankato. Because of that, our recommendations here are highly selective. If there is a glaring ommision that you think needs to be added to the list, share it in the comments section below. For more information about dining and activity options in Mankato, click here.
Best baked goods.
I may have given up red meat, but it is going to be a cold day in hell before I give up either gluten or butter. I love a good donut, a cookie, that perfect marbled rye, cinnamon rolls... If you can relate to that sentiment, you’ll want to check out these places.
- Friesen’s Family Bakery would be easy to overlook because it is kind of a hole in the wall, but that would be a big mistake because this tiny spot is crammed, almost floor to ceiling, with fantastic baked goods. In addition to an impressive array of freshly made bakery items, this place also serves soups, sandwiches, and coffee drinks. Friesen’s is a big advocate of using local ingredients, being a part of the community, and producing everything on site. They have been open only two years, but they are developing a devoted following. Check Friesen’s Facebook page for their daily specials.
- Insomnia Cookies is a concept I can embrace—I like cookies and I’m a night person. Even better, they deliver and they have a Mankato location so close to the campus that you can probably smell the aroma of baking cookies from the practice fields.
Best beer and burger places.
I thought I would be instantly overwhelmed with recommendations for the best beer and burger joints in Mankato. I was mistaken. I was barely even whelmed. There were two theories about this. First, that people imbibed so much good beer and so many burgers they couldn’t remember where they had been. Second, that these locations are jealously guarded secrets and you can only find out about them if you know the Shiboleth or use Yelp. Despite the slow start, I was eventually swamped with suggestions to satisfy your burger cravings.
- Big Dog Sports Cafe did not have a website, but here’s a link to their Facebook page. A family-friendly restaurant with good burgers that won’t break the bank, Twitter person Bradley Bateman (@BradleyBateman) says, “Get the Big Dog Fries and thank me later.” And, if you crave a hot turkey sandwich complete with mashed potatoes and gravy, they have that too.
- Blue Bricks on 2nd Street was described to me as having a “good vibe, lots of salad and burger choices. Good beer options” on Twitter by Thad C (@Skolviking75). They are also known for their pizzas. The lighting is low and there are pool tables, but, even better, they deliver.
- Boulder Tap House was recommended “for their qtp (quality to price) ratio.” The menu has a lot of standard pub food, but they stand out with the sheer variety of flavors available for their chicken wings. There are also build-your-own burger options so you can get exactly what you want, and taco platters. And, if you are a fan of Vikings podcasts, here’s a trivia tidbit—Andy Carlson did his podcast from BTH In 2015.
- Johnny B’s is another place that has a Facebook page instead of a website so you won’t get to view a complete menu. But I’ve heard Vikings fans at camp talking about meeting up at Johnny B’s over the past few years, so it must have some staying power. Not only that, but, according to Stephen Eudey (@EudeyStephenon) Twitter, it has the “best darts.” This is another family-friendly option and it’s close to MSUM’s practice fields.
- Mankato Brewery located in North Mankato off 169 is worth a visit for beer fans. After a sweltering afternoon watching the Vikings practice you can sample a flight of local beer, tour the facility (on Saturdays), or take a growler with you when you leave. They even have live music on Tuesdays.
- NaKato boasts a wide variety of tap lines “ranging from unique craft beers to classic domestics”, but they also have a large selection of whiskey, bourbon, and scotch. If you like to make sure the beef for your burgers is locally sourced and humanely raised, then you and NaKato share that belief. They have a nice selection of burgers and even have a vegetarian black bean veggie burger. Unlike most of the options on this list, NaKato also opens at 7am for breakfast.
- Number 4 American Bar and Kitchen says their name is a nod to, “Encompassing the 4 elements necessary for culinary perfection: Air, Fire, Earth and Water.” A tad pretentious, but they seem to live up their hype with interesting twists on pub food. They don’t just have fish tacos, they Mahi Tacos. They also have something called asparagus fries and I don’t think I will be satisfied until I find out what they are like. You’ve probably guessed this, but Number 4 is a pricier option and they boast that their burger’s are “hand-pattied in-house.” The burgers and sandwiches range from $9-14, entrees range from $15-29.
- The Road House 169 was described as a dive-y biker bar, so maybe not the best choice for dining with kids. On Twitter Brian Rentz raved about the Road House saying it was “by far the best” burger joint in Mankato. Here’s a link to their Facebook page.
- Rounders Sports Bar and Grill has a definite sports bar vibe with all the pub-food favorites and burgers you expect plus a few more unique offerings like pickle chips and a banh mi pork burger. Rounders’ website lists all the domestic tap, domestic bottled, premium tap, and premium bottled beers they are currently serving.
- Pub 500 is big on beer with a selection of local, national, international craft beers, and a good selection of Schell’s. And people also swear it does a very good job of making otherwise be standard pub food standout from the crowd. How standard? There is the ubiquitous pulled pork sandwich, turkey sandwiches topped with bacon, Angus steak burgers, and fish tacos. But, more interestingly, they have sloppy joes, a portabello bleu sandwich, and a salmon BLT. It sounds like the kind of place you’d go where you can get a burger and that hipster friend of yours can drink craft beers no one else has heard of.
- Tav on the Ave was recommended more than any other place on this list. But beyond that, it has something no visitor from outside Minnesota should leave our fair state without trying—a Juicy Lucy. The Juicy Lucy combines all the beefy deliciousness of a regular burger, but, by stuffing the cheese inside the patty instead of just putting it on top, it adds the exciting possibility of third degree burns from wonderful magma-like cheese. Vikings blogger extraordinaire, Arif Hasan is a fan. Their other burgers are 1/2 lb and you can finish it all off with a Malt Shoppe Malt. They also have a draft list of 23 beers (listed on the website) and patio seating for 30. Word is that Andy Carlson may broadcast his Vikings podcast from there this year.
- Weggy’s On Campus, like Johnny B’s, is within sight of the MSUM practice fields. Serving extensive breakfast options, wraps, deli sandwiches, burgers, adult beverages, and kids’ meals, Weggy’s just might have something for everyone.
A good cup of coffee.
My eyes refuse to fully open until I have had my coffee. If you can relate, then you may want to check out these places to get your coffee buzz.
- Caribou Coffee is a regional coffee chain in Minnesota and there are three locations in Mankato, one of them is very close to the MSUM practice fields on Warren Street.
- Coffee Hag reminds me of the coffee shop I fell in love with when I was an undergrad. Earnest folks, clad in quirky thrift store finds, churn out great coffee drinks in a graceful old building with high-ceilings, kitschy stuff on the walls, and a tiny stage for crappy folk music or even crappier poetry. I love it. It is a good spot for reading a book and taking a breather from the football madness of training camp.
- McDonald’s might not seem like a logical choice for a list of coffee shops, but why not? Sometimes you just want coffee without the whole coffee house deal. Mankato has three McDonald’s locations: Madison Avenue, West Lind Court, and Adams Street.
- River Rock Coffee isn’t located in Mankato but, my friend Shaun assures me it is only 15 minutes away from Mankato in St. Peter. If you take your coffee seriously, or are just passing through St. Peter on the way to Mankato, you may want to check out River Rock Coffee. They have a carefully curated coffee menu with classic espresso drinks and a seasonal rotation of drip coffee offerings, plus they have a bakery devoted to making things from scratch using the best local ingredients.
- Tandem Bagels makes authentic, from-scratch bagels and their coffee is locally roasted. In addition to bagels, Tandem also has artisan breads and a variety of other bakery treats. Visit for breakfast or lunch, there are even options for any vegetarians or gluten-intolerant in your group. Their menu lists the usual espresso beverages plus a seasonal selection of iced coffee drinks.
Best ice cream places.
Ice cream might be my favorite way to cool off in the summer and Mankato has several good options for ice cream lovers.
- Cold Stone Creamery is a national brand famous for the way they mix ingredients into their hard-packed ice cream, giving customers the chance to design their own creations. Mankato’s Cold Stone is located in University Square Village on Warren Street making it the option closest to the university practice fields.
Dairy Queen is a summertime staple. From the classic Peanut Buster Parfait to Blizzards to simple soft serve cones to the Arctic Rush, DQ’s menu is filled with options to help you cool down. Mankato has two Dairy Queen locations, one on Stoltzman Road and one at River Hills Mall. Edit: Turns out there is a third Dairy Queen location that may not have showed up in Google because it’s still newish. My thanks to Brian Rentz!
@skolgirldn I know you warned to check MNDOT, but this is a huge road closed project. 3rd DQ has only been open 6 months, Adams next to McDs— Brian Rentz (@rentzbj) July 18, 2016
- Frozen Yogurt Creations, recommended by AJ Marco (@ajmarco65), appeals to my inner control freak. Choose from their 18 rotating flavors and top them with any of 75 different toppings. They have all that and gourmet popcorn too.
- Mom and Pop’s is an ice cream must in Mankato according to several people who responded on Twitter and Facebook. They have 32 flavors of hard ice cream as well as coffee, blended treats, and 1919 Root Beer. Get your ice cream in a freshly made waffle cone.
Best pizza places.
When I asked the Twitterverse where to find the best pizza in Mankato, there were two places people were adamant about: Jakes Stadium Pizza and Pagliai's Pizza. Both places have cult-like followings so I recommend visiting both. Really, why choose? They are both institutions that have been serving great pizza since the 1960s.
- Think of Pieology as the pizza equivalent of Chipotle--a quick option that caters to customizing pizzas for every taste, it’s located very close to the Minnesota State Mankato campus and is owned by Matt Kalil. Last year during training camp, Kalil let his Vikings teammates eat there for free, no word yet on if he will have that promotion running again this summer.
- Gary’s Pizza specializes in take out and delivery.
- Dino’s Pizzeria specializes in New York-style gourmet pizza and has been around since 2006.
- Polito’s Pizza has a good selection of vegetarian options, and one that likely has to be seen to be believed—a macaroni and cheese pizza. Nope, not making that up.