This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure policy for more information.
o If you are a Laura Ingalls Wilder fan you simply must visit the Ingalls Homestead in De Smet, South Dakota. When my husband suggested a trip to the Black Hills, I immediately knew I wanted to work it into our trip to see the little town on the prairie where Laura came of age and met and married Almanzo. Plus, I was intrigued with the idea of spending the night in a wagon on the actual Ingalls homestead. I knew we had to do it. Visiting De Smet and the Ingalls Homestead is one of my favorite traveling memories!
If you’ve read the Little House books, you know that Laura’s time in De Smet begins in By the Shores of Silver Lake. We only spent an afternoon, evening, and morning here, but I could have stayed for days! Since we were on our way to the Black Hills, we didn’t stay long. We began our exploring in town.
Checking Out De Smet, South Dakota
First, we checked out the Loftus Store. If you’ve read the books, you know that Mr. Loftus and his store play a part in the nail-biting saga of The Long Winter. How amazing is it that you can still visit the store today! This store sits downtown in the little town of De Smet.
This store is packed with Laura Ingalls Wilder items. We couldn’t possibly leave the store without a little stuffed Jack the Bulldog and Black Susan the cat.
I also bought a children’s storybook version of the Little House books for Kristin. We love these books; the pictures are so beautiful, and it’s a great way to introduce kids to the stories before reading the originals, so we purchased Summertime in the Big Woods.
We did check out the Memorial Society, but we were too late for a tour that evening, and the first tours in the morning were filled by school groups. Though we were just out for the summer, schools were still in session here.
Kristin is holding her new Jack. Black Susan is on the ground on the other side of the picture.
Visiting the Gravesites
We decided to check out the gravesites before heading over to the Homestead. It’s just a short drive, and there are signs to get you to the graves of Pa, Ma, Mary, Carrie, and Grace. You can even see the grave of Almanzo and Laura’s baby son.
A sidewalk helps maintain the area. It was such a peaceful place when we were there. In fact, the whole area was quiet–perfect for contemplation.
The Ingalls Homestead
Finally, were on our way to the Ingalls Homestead! Not only were we going to visit, but we were going to sleep in a wagon on the very prairie where Laura lived. I was prepared, too. I had previously purchased a “prairie dress” so that Kristin could act out what it would be like to live as a real pioneer girl.
We toured the buildings and did activities first. The entrance fee is only $12 and covers all of the activities and buildings.
Washing laundry prairie-style is one great activity at the homestead.
We also took a wagon ride out to a little school on the property where a teacher rang the bell letting us know it was time for class. The teacher also discussed a typical school experience and clothing. We then had time for Kristin to ride in the pony cart and then on the pony. Jeff practiced his roping skills on Kristin. Together, we all twisted hay, created some rope, and made a corn cob doll. Such fun!
We now felt like true homesteaders! Evening was approaching; however, and it was time to set up camp.
There are regular campsites, but we were staying in one of four wagons available for camping. When I made the reservation, I asked for a larger wagon, and we received one. No one else was staying on the property that night. There is also a little cabin you can rent. At the time we were there, workers were scraping off old paint to get it ready for a fresh coat. We were there pretty early for the tourist season, but we often try to travel as early as we can to avoid crowds.
After we settled in, we prepared a feast just like Ma would have made. Okay, so it was hot dogs roasted over a campfire and chips, but it was still tasty. Henry, the resident cat on the property, certainly wanted in on the hot dogs. Henry will probably be your best friend while you are there. He wanted to sleep in the wagon with us!
We finished up dinner, and the sun began to set. The workers went home, and we were alone on the prairie. This was the best part. It was just the three of us, and I could use my imagination and see the homestead as Laura might have. There are some farms around, but it was very quiet. And I found myself thinking that I was glad to be alive to enjoy the beauty of the prairie at night, and that Laura must have felt the same way many times.
After we walked around the homestead once more in the dark, we made our way back to our little campfire. I didn’t want the evening to end. Kristin sat next to me with her little lantern, and we watched the stars and the prairie. Soon, we curled up in our beds in the wagon and had a great sleep.
The next morning, a worker stopped by on a four-wheeler and asked if Kristin wanted to gather some eggs and feed some calves. Off she went while we packed up the car. All too soon we had to say goodbye to Laura’s prairie.
Before we left, we stopped by the house in town that Pa built. As I stated previously, we didn’t make time for the tour. Honestly, I wish I had made some time for it. Maybe I will make it that way again, but as Robert Frost says, “way leads on to way,” so I doubt I’ll make it back. But who knows?
We also drove out to what would have been Almanzo and Laura’s claim. Now it’s just prairie.
If you would like to read even more about the real story of Laura Ingalls Wilder, I suggest reading Prairie Girl: An Annotated Autobiography. I really enjoyed this book, and I have a deeper understanding of the life that Laura lived before her marriage.
We had such a wonderful time! I would encourage anyone who is thinking about making this trip to go for it. And sleep in the wagon. You absolutely must sleep in the wagon. The Ingalls Homestead is an experience you will never forget!
Other Laura sites we’ve visited: