Little House Pilgrimage: Walnut Grove to Mankato, Minnesota


While driving through Southern Minnesota a few years ago, I realized we were in the heart of Laura Ingalls Wilder country. Pioneer author made famous by the Little House on the Prairie television series, Laura Ingalls Wilder lived in Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas, Missouri, South Dakota, and Wisconsin during her lifetime.     Walnut Grove

Perhaps the most famous of the Little House locations is Laura’s childhood home, Walnut Grove, Minnesota. In the television series, Laura (Melissa Gilbert) lives with her family in a log cabin in the Minnesota prairie (which, by the way, looks nothing like the various California locations where the show was filmed). On regular, and sometimes special, occasions one or more members of the Ingalls family would hitch up their covered wagon and travel to Sleepy Eye or Mankato.

In modern times, the distance between the two destinations is about 82 miles, or about an hour and a half.

Little House Road Trip

While our adventure unfolded somewhat on the fly, I’m sure there are more attractions and venues along this route if you felt compelled to build an itinerary. Here’s what we discovered in the span of a random afternoon.

In Walnut Grove, we made a brief stop at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum, which focuses more on the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder than the television show. The experience starts in a general store/gift shop where you can purchase books and pioneer souvenirs like bonnets, prairie cookbooks, and folk music on CD. The museum charges admission and guests take a self-guided tour through several buildings including a 1898 train depot, chapel, schoolhouse, settler home, dugout, and covered wagon.

Laura Ingalls Museum

Other options in Walnut Grove are the Ingalls Dugout Site on the banks of Plum Creek and historic sites listed on the WalnutGrove.org website. Save the date, as Karen Grassle (Ma Ingalls) will be back in town for the July 2016 Wilder Pageant.


About halfway between Walnut Grove and Sleepy Eye (in Sanborn) look for the turnoff to Sod House on the Prairie, a 1880’s prairie attraction. Another self-guided experience, guests learn how sod houses were constructed and see how families lived in a one-room dwelling.

Sod House

Pay at the main entrance and follow the path between the buildings; depending on how fast you walk and how much historical information you read inside the main sod house, this destination will take between 1/2 and 1 hour.

Sod House InteriorWe didn’t see any designated Little House points of interest in Sleepy Eye. In the books/television series, Mary and Adam ran a school for the blind in Sleepy Eye. Modern day area attractions are listed on the town website.

Sleepy EyeMankato has lots to offer for traveling families; I wrote about many of these in a story published on WisconsinParent.com.

Another attraction worth visiting is Pipestone National Monument in Pipestone. Do you Pin? Here you go:

Little House pinnable 2Happy Trails!


About the Author

Julie Henning
Julie Henning is a freelance writer and journalist based out of Eugene, Oregon. She is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers and owner of the family-travel website RoadTripsForFamilies.com. She is a recent past member of the Midwest Travel Writers Association and the Association for Great Lakes Outdoor Writers. Julie is the Oregon Coast destination specialist for Bindu Media, an itinerary-focused website launching in Spring 2016 and featuring the work of 200+ professional, indie travel writers. Julie has been published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Wisconsin State Journal, The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Illinois), the Rochester Post Bulletin, Wisconsin Natural Resources (DNR) Magazine, Sustainable Chicago Magazine, Group Tour Magazine, Student Group Tour Magazine, Silent Sports Magazine, Intercom Magazine, Roadtrippers.com, and FTF Geocacher Magazine. Julie has appeared on Wisconsin Public Radio, Ohio Public Radio, and KCBX FM Central Coast Radio and is an affiliate producer with the Journeys of Discovery with Tom Wilmer, a National Public Radio travel podcast. She has blogged for TravelWisconsin.com, Travel Oregon, and VISIT Milwaukee. Julie travels with her three kids and black lab as much as possible and lives by the motto, "Not all who wander are lost." Check out some of her best work at www.juliehenning.com.

4 Comments on "Little House Pilgrimage: Walnut Grove to Mankato, Minnesota"

  1. Ahh! As an English teacher and lifelong avid reader, I can’t believe I didn’t know you could visit this little house on the prairie in person! I’m so going there in the next few years!

  2. globalmunchkins82 | February 16, 2016 at 6:36 pm |

    My daughter is just getting into the books now. This will be great to pin for later 😉

  3. Ha! Every time I see something about Little House on the Prairie I feel ashamed. I’ve never read the books. I think my mom might have read the first to me. While my sister loved them I never got into it. This is shameful because I’m distantly related to Laura on my dad’s side!

  4. I loved the Little House books and TV series so much as a young girl. I would absolutely make a pilgrimage to visit these places in person!

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