Pioneer woman Laura Ingalls Wilder was a fantastically talented American storyteller, whose first book, one in a series of nine detailing her life and times, was published when she was 67 years old; her collection of true stories spawned the heartwarming – and long running – family television series, “Little House on the Prairie.” This wonderful four-day voyage back in time gets you and your student group out and about in true pioneering fashion to many of the historic locations and attractions dotting the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway, including a recreation of her early childhood home in Pepin, Wisconsin, the original sod house site on the banks of Plum Creek, the hotel in Burr Oak, Iowa she and her family helped run for a short time, and the Ingalls family homestead on the Dakota Prairie – which you’ll tour by covered wagon!
Pepin, Wisconsin (The birthplace of the famous author Laura Ingalls Wilder)
The town of Pepin – the official starting point of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway linking Laura Sites across the upper Midwest – celebrates its important distinction as the birthplace of beloved pioneer/author Laura Ingalls Wilder and the setting for her book, “Little House in the Big Woods” each September during Laura Ingalls Wilder Days. Visitors come from miles around to enjoy a family-friendly festival of traditional music & crafts, sunbonnets, quilts, pioneer games, the Pepin Laura Contest, and an old-fashioned small town parade on the sunny banks of the Mississippi River. Laura was born just seven miles North of the village of Pepin; what was once “the big woods” is now a modern farming community with a highway wending its way through the land the Ingalls family farmed, likely following very closely the wagon track detailed by Laura in her simple, heartwarming writings. The log cabin standing there today is a re-creation of her early childhood home and sits on the very land once owned by Charles and Caroline Ingalls…”Ma and Pa.” Natural Lake Pepin remains a favorite of local fisherman, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum and gift shop –open May through October – exhibits an array of items and artifacts highlighting Laura’s days in Pepin.
Burr Oak, Iowa (Visit the picturesque village where the Ingalls family resided in the late 1870s.)
Day two of your tour has dawned, and you and your young pioneers are off to trace the circuitous path of the Ingalls family on their overland adventure. After some truly hard times on the banks of Plum Creek, Ma and Pa loaded up the wagon in the fall of 1876 and rolled out to beautiful Burr Oak in Northeastern Iowa, where they had been invited to help run the Masters Hotel, recently purchased by friends. Laura and her friend Alice whiled away many a Summer afternoon playing and wading in Silver Creek (which still flows behind the hotel) and lost in stories whispered by the old headstones in the cemetery on the hill by the Advent Church. Still, contentment stayed a stranger, and three short months after arriving in Burr Oak, disenchanted with the arrangement, the family left the Hotel and moved into a place above Kimball’s grocery store; badly in need of work to support his growing family, Pa started grinding corn and grain for the local farmers. In no time, a fire at the saloon next door had them house hunting again, and Laura’s youngest sister Grace was born in a tidy brick rental at the edge of town. The family happily returned to Walnut Grove after just one year away.
Laura Ingalls Wilder Park and Museum (See the Masters Hotel, the only childhood home of Laura still standing on its original location!)
In 1973, when news got around that famous pioneer author Laura Ingalls Wilder had lived for a time at the Masters Hotel in Burr Oak, Iowa, the landmark structure was promptly converted into a museum and the area around it, an inviting park. Today, the Masters Hotel is the only building left in Burr Oak that once sheltered the famous pioneer/author; guided tours outline Laura’s time there, detail daily chores, introduce you to characters she met while at work and describe both the joys and hardships the Ingalls family experienced during their stay – you’ll even see the fully-furnished bedroom where they all tucked in together, exhausted, every night. Enjoy a picnic lunch in the park/playground area, dip your toes in Silver Creek and climb aboard an authentic covered wagon much like the one Laura and her family roamed the plains in for that perfect photo op; don’t forget to browse the gift shop!
Spring Valley, MN (Home to the Ingalls-Wilder family from 1890-1891)
At one time, many Wilders resided in Spring Valley, Minnesota; Almonzo, Laura, and Rose spent a year and a half there with Almonzo’s family after a particularly trying time before moving on to Westville, Florida. While the Wilder home was torn down long ago, the beautiful old family barn can be viewed and photographed from the nearby road, and the Methodist church Almonzo and Laura attended during their stay is now a must-see Laura Site and museum dedicated to the preservation of both Wilder and Spring Valley history.
Village of Yesteryear
The Steele County Historical Societys’ “Village of Yesteryear” is composed of a setting of historic structures all furnished in the manner of the time each was built and connected by a simple boardwalk; here, you and your young historians can experience a rare and authentic glimpse of life in turn-of-the-20th Century Owatonna and Steele County on a wonderful and expertly-guided educational tour. Buildings on-site include two tiny log cabins, a General Store/Post Office building, a Fire Station, a Farm Machinery Building, a Blacksmith Shop, a Country School House and the St. Wenceslaus of Moravia Church built in 1891. The Steele County History Center features a series of rotating exhibits, displays, and educational programming relevant to Steele County and Minnesota history, and a specialty gift shop featuring hand-crafted items from the Steele County Region is open to browse during museum hours.
Sanborn (Tour the famous Sod House on the Prairie exhibit!)
Your third day trekking the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway begins with a visit to the McCone family’s Sod House on the Prairie, a wildly popular landmark attraction (once featured on the History Channel) located just 18 miles east of Walnut Grove in Southwestern Minnesota. It’s open daily from sunrise to sunset, so you’ll have plenty of time to linger, wander – and wonder – as you and your group explore a real Prairie soddy, an outhouse, a small log cabin, a dugout and a shed with a sod cutter. A peaceful trail takes you through acres of restored tallgrass prairie; be sure to keep your camera handy on this absolutely amazing, hands-on outing that lets guests imagine the prospect of 1880s life in a rustic log cabin, simple sod house or – last but not least – the primitive shelter of dugout similar to the one Laura and her family lived in on the banks of Plum Creek. Bonnets and aprons hang, at-the-ready, an authentic and fun touch for memorable photo ops!
Walnut Grove (Visit the Museum that is a tribute to the NBC TV series, and see the Ingalls’ authentic dugout site along Plum Creek.)
The Ingalls family returned to Laura’s birthplace of Pepin after some time in dangerous Kansas Indian Territory; Charles sold their Wisconsin land and began the journey westward into Minnesota, where he purchased the property and sod dugout along Plum Creek they were to occupy and farm for several years, until hardship squeezed them onward, again – to Burr Oak, Iowa. After a disappointing year in Burr Oak, the family returned to Walnut Grove to find a burgeoning, civilized young community, and settled comfortably into happier, healthier times before the itch to move on had Charles looking Westward to the Dakota prairie. Today, the historic town of Walnut Grove celebrates the author’s life and times with a series of special events and attractions including their own Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum, Plum Creek Park and the annual Wilder Pageant. Be sure to stop by the original Dugout Site on the banks of Plum Creek; it caved in long ago, and there remains only a large depression where the door would have been, but the story tells itself as you look on, the wind whistling through the prairie tallgrass.
Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum
Your young charges will gather plenty of exciting and fun facts about the author’s time in Walnut Grove as they explore the Museum’s comprehensive collections of authentic and relevant artifacts housed in a series of interesting structures as well as displays showcasing plentiful memorabilia from the well-loved and long running favorite TV series, Little House on the Prairie. Don’t forget to drop by the gift shop for those Little House souvenirs – browse bonnets, books, aprons, locally handcrafted items and more, all perfect keepsakes/gifts for forever fans back home!
Discover Laura Center (Journey into the heart of “Little Town on the Prairie”.)
Rise and shine! Today, you and your young pioneers will “Discover Laura!” as you explore a number of landmark locations and key events that helped shape her life, as detailed in her popular series. Visit the original Surveyors’ house Laura Ingalls Wilder described in her book “By the Shores of Silver Lake”, find your desk and pick up a pencil in the original First School of De Smet – the school both she and Carrie attended – and tour the home that “Pa” built on third street. Have a ball exploring the three historic structures, filled with authentic Ingalls-Wilder Family treasures; here’s your opportunity to attempt sewing on a treadle machine, see what it feels like to dress like a pioneer, learn to read Braille – and more!
Ingalls Homestead (Take a tour of the original Ingalls Homestead by a covered wagon.)
Wagons, Ho! You’re going to experience the wild and windy Dakota Prairie exactly as twelve-year-old Laura Ingalls did on this entertaining and informative covered wagon tour. You’ll see firsthand the quarter section of land Pa claimed, where he broke ground and built the family homestead which consisted of a cozy, functional house and a “hay roofed barn-” both authentically recreated today in the same spots as the original structures. These mile-long wagon rides give you and your students a “day in the life” look at what this brave young pioneer – who grew up and went on to pen five of her nine Little House Series books right here – saw as she and her family constantly forged ahead, following the dream of a better life in true pioneer fashion.