My daughter and I have been reading through books that I loved as a child: The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. We’ve gotten through the first five books, and we’re also watching the first season of the show. As a child, I always wanted to travel back in time to hang out with Pa, Ma, Laura, Mary and Carrie on the frontier, check out the one-room schoolhouses, play with Nellie Oleson and the other girls, and maybe take a trip into town for fabric and sugar.
Although my adult logic tells me that my childhood dreams are impossible, I’d like to do the next best thing, and take a trip to Pepin, Walnut Grove, De Smet and the other towns that Laura Ingalls Wilder called home. Apparently it’s not just me, because Little House sites receive many visitors each year. If you’re considering such a tour, here are the spots to stop in along the way:
Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum, Pepin, Wisconsin
Pepin is the start of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway, which meanders through various sites pertaining to the historical figure. Start here and see artifacts from Pepin’s history and visit the gift shop. Travel about seven miles north to see the birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder. A replica of the little log cabin described in Little House in the Big Woods lies on the three-acre parcel of land, and modern-day amenities such as restrooms and a water pump have been added.
Little House on the Prairie, Independence, Kansas
The television series is named for the second book written by Mrs. Wilder, which takes place in Osage country in Independence, Kansas. Today, a little log cabin stands where it is thought that the Ingalls family lived. There is also part of a stone wall, which may have been built by Pa and his neighbor, in the vicinity. You can visit this area and your kids will get a kick out of seeing Walnut Creek and the Verdigris River, both of which were mentioned in the book.
Laura’s Dugout Home, Walnut Grove, Minnesota
In On the Banks of Plum Creek, Laura describes living in a dugout home close to Walnut Grove, Minnesota. Although all that remains of the home is a depression in the land, the current owners of the property welcome visitors during daylight hours in the spring, summer and early fall. If your kids are familiar with the book, they will be able to identify the big rock, Plum Creek, the spring and the table lands that are mentioned.
Ingalls Homestead, De Smet, South Dakota
As Laura grew into her early teens, the Ingalls family settled in De Smet, described in Little Town on the Prairie. Here, you can experience a look at life during Laura’s day, complete with covered wagon rides, a lesson at school as it was back in the 1880s, a prairie exhibit and activities centered around pioneer life during that time. You can even camp in a bunkhouse, in a covered wagon, in your RV or under the stars.
If you live in the upper midwest or are planning a trip to one of these areas, consider reading through the applicable Little House book(s) and taking a day to explore the sites where this well-known icon of frontier life once lived. If you go, or if you’ve gone, tell us about your favorite parts!