My family was really looking forward to seeing the other Little House sites after our time visiting the site of Little House on the Prairie in Independence, Kansas. We had a few weeks to wait, though, since we headed to the rest of our “out west” destinations first, and saw the northern Little House sites on our way home.
Pepin, Wisconsin; Walnut Grove, Minnesota; and De Smet, South Dakota are all about an hour north of Interstate 90 as it goes across the country. I-90 is a much more efficient way to travel, but a fairly decent, mostly 2-lane road (Route 14–the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway) connects them. It’s a 328-mile drive, a total of about six hours of driving. Walnut Grove is about two hours east of De Smet, and about four hours west of Pepin. It’s pretty cool to think that this route may have been close to what the Ingalls family used in their travels!
As fans of the books know, Laura Ingalls Wilder was born in 1867 in a cabin in the “Big Woods” near Pepin, Wisconsin. Pepin is a small town on the banks of a natural widening in the Mississippi River called Lake Pepin. Laura’s Little House in the Big Woods was about seven miles northeast of town (now easily reached by taking County Road CC out of town and watching for the historical marker sign). The location of her former home is more farmland than woods now, but it is marked by a replica cabin and a historical marker. There are also restrooms and picnic tables available at the site, and there is no charge to visit–definitely a “Travel on a Shoestring” stop!
Pepin was the last Little House stop on our trip (since we were heading west-to-east at that point). We met another family who was just beginning their Little House adventures, and had fun telling them all about what to expect at some of the other spots, and just generally enjoying our common fan-dom of all things Little House. The older daughter in their family was about Hannah’s age, so they enjoyed a little Laura bonding time while they ran around the site.
My favorite part of the Pepin stop was heading back into town on County Road CC, and re-imagining the going-to-town scene in Little House on the Big Woods, knowing that they probably took a very similar route. It was also amazing to look across Lake Pepin, knowing that the Ingalls family crossed it with their covered wagon just before the ice broke, at the beginning of their long journey to Kansas. It once again made me thankful to be making our journey in a motorized vehicle!
Walnut Grove, Minnesota was a special stop, because On the Banks of Plum Creek was probably my favorite Laura book when I was little. The idea of living in a dugout house captured my imagination as much as it did Laura’s in the book. I was so excited to find out that we could visit the site of the dugout, and actually see Plum Creek for ourselves!
The homesite has an interesting story behind it: it’s owned by the Gordon family, who didn’t know that a historical landmark existed on their farm until Little House illustrator Garth Williams tracked down the Ingalls family’s former home site while researching for his work. The site of the dugout home is clearly visible as an indentation in the creek bank. It collapsed long before its location was rediscovered, and has been left undisturbed since then. A sign marks the spot, and other signs on the property point out landmarks from the book, including the “big rock” and the tablelands.
We loved looking at the creek that was so central in many of Laura’s adventures in the book. Native prairie grasses have been re-planted on the farmland to make it look even more like it did in Laura’s day (they lived there from 1874-1876). It was easy to imagine Laura playing and having fun there when we could see the things she described. A sign explained that the path of the creek has probably changed some over the course of 140 years, but still…we were there. On the actual Banks of Plum Creek! Not gonna lie–Hannah and I geeked out a little! 🙂
This Ingalls home site is located 1.5 miles of Walnut Grove, MN, on County Highway 5. A $5 donation per vehicle is requested, in a donation box by the honor system. Picnic tables are available, but I don’t remember any restroom facilities (I could be wrong on that–I honestly didn’t pay as much attention as I should have because we had the camper with us, so we were towing our own facilities!)
Both Pepin and Walnut Grove also have Laura Ingalls Wilder Museums, neither of which we attended. (We had been lucky enough to see plenty of Laura artifacts in De Smet, and by days 27 and 28 of our 29-day adventure, we were getting pretty eager to be home!) The Pepin Museum is located in town, and was in the midst of a renovation when we drove past. The Walnut Grove museum is also located in town, and has lots of memorabilia from the TV show, which was set in Walnut Grove for its entirety. Both towns also host festivals to celebrate their famous former resident, and it would be a lot of fun to visit when some of those extra activities are happening.