We are the quintessential road trippers, driving across the country and stopping at both historical and kitschy stops. Last summer- just after my 3rd graders had studied Laura Ingalls Wilder- we took a 3 week driving loop and hit Laura Ingalls Wilder museum & house stops, plus Memphis, Chicago, Mt. Rushmore, and the Badlands. Laura Ingalls Wilder!!! Her log cabin, her school, museums that honored her life- it was AMAZING! Here’s our Laura Ingalls Wilder museum itinerary.
Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum Driving Itinerary
We started in Chicago and made our way the 5.5 hours to the “Little House in the Big Woods” in Pepin, Wisconsin- both Mary and Laura were born here! You can find the directions and hours of operation here. Although the original barn and log house no longer exist, the log cabin on site is a recreation of their home (see below!). I was flooded with memories of curling up and devouring her books as a child, and really felt like I was visiting an old friend.
Laura and her family moved from Pepin to Independence, Kansas 1868, where her sister Caroline- “Carrie-” was born. They returned to Pepin, and then moved to Walnut Grove, Minnesota.
After we visited Pepin, WI, we drove 4 hours to Walnut Grove, MN. This Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum was comprised of multiple historical buildings: an 1898 depot, a chapel, an onion-domed house, a sod house display, a little red schoolhouse, an early settler home, and a covered wagon display.
Laura Ingalls Wilder lived 1.5 miles north of Walnut Grove along the rich banks of Plum Creek from 1874 to 1876, a period when many pioneers wanted to leave the “crowded” eastern states and establish homesteads on the Great Plains. Settlers had to endure a lot of hardships, including an 1870 plague of grasshoppers that almost destroyed the settlement (remember the mention in the book?). We loved the natural prairie garden in the middle of the museum, the little one-room school house, and the example of a sod house. It makes such a difference to be able to walk inside and touch the walls, and imagine what life was like on a hot summer day.
After Minnsota, we headed further west 2 more hours to De Smet, South Dakota. We stayed in one of the cutest Victorian B&Bs I’ve ever seen, called Prairie House Manor. It was packed with Laura memorabilia and the owners lovingly take care of their guests (and even have a Laura-themed breakfast menu!!!).
De Smet was the setting of the final five books in the Little House series: By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, These Happy Golden Years and The First Four Years. The Laura Ingalls Wilder museum and houses are spread out, so visitors actually drive between them during the 2 hour tour. The kids loved climbing around the Surveyors’ House (from By the Shores of Silver Lake), and pretending to teach in the actual school that Laura and Carrie attended.
As long as we were already so far from home and so close to some of our national treasures, we spent a couple of days exploring Mt. Rushmore, visiting the Wounded Knee Museum, and the Badlands. From De Smet to Wall, SD (and Wall Drug! “Free Ice Water!”) it is 4 hours.
Leaving the area, we started the long haul home to Houston. We had one more exciting stop planned, 12 hours from the bison in Custar State Park; we visited Independence, Kansas where the Little House on the Prairie was! Now there is a recreation of Ma and Pa’s house, plus a Post Office and a school from the same time period. The vastness of the flat prairie and farmland, plus a dark storm rolling in captivated us (and the lightning freaked out the kids!). We were the only visitors on the stormy day, and the stillness of the scene helped us imagine life in the 1870s.
We finally started on our 9.5 hour journey home. What an amazing literary trip back in time! If you’ve never read the Little House series, please check out the books. Maybe on your next road trip through the US, you can stop by one of these lovely Laura Ingalls Wilder Museums or Homes!