Growing up, the Little House on the Prairie books (and T.V. show, let’s be real) were a major part of my childhood. Getting to visit De Smet, South Dakota–one of Laura’s hometowns–easily ranks as one of the top 10 destinations of my life! If you follow me on Instagram, you might have seen some of the highlights of our time at the Ingalls Homestead. I hope you enjoy this deeper look at our time in De Smet.
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Laura Ingalls Wilder Tour
De Smet, South Dakota
We arrived in De Smet around lunch time, so we had time to plan our adventures. The girls didn’t know our destination until we were close to town, but we had been listening to the audio book of By the Shores of Silver Lake on our way to South Dakota. It was my husband’s excellent idea, and we all showed up at the tour with a fresh reminder of Laura’s story.
The guided tour started in town, where two of the original properties (and one replica) have been moved to a central location. We saw the surveyor’s house where the Ingalls family lived during their first winter in South Dakota, as well as the De Smet School which Laura and Carrie attended together. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society has done a wonderful job, and our tour guide was very knowledgeable and kind to our girls (which I always appreciate). We were the last tour of the day, so we got some very personalized attention.
The tour does not allow photographs to be taken inside any of the buildings, but it was well worth our time and money!
We arrived at the Ingalls Homestead mid-afternoon with the intention of camping on the property overnight. The facility is open until 7:00 p.m., so we had a few hours to explore and chat with the staff. In the picture above, you can see about a fourth of the homestead, which includes a dugout, two shanties, two schools, a barn, a “garage,” a church, and lots and lots of prairie.
The girls loved climbing the tower to get a great view of the entire property!
Every activity on the Ingalls Homestead is hands-on. Our girls got to touch the inside of the dugout, wash laundry by hand, play a pump organ, and even drive a team of horses pulling a covered wagon!
The covered wagon took us down to the one-room schoolhouse, where we all got an education from the “school master.” He finished off our time together by letting each child ring the big school bell.
Both girls got to ride a horse and play with kittens, which was definitely a highlight!
As I mentioned, we chose to camp on the grounds for just $10 more. They also have a bunkhouse and some “covered wagons” that you can rent for the night, but since we planned our trip spur-of-the-moment, they were already booked. (The staff was incredibly nice when we called, by they way!)
It got pretty cold at night, but we had a campfire and lots of layers to keep us warm! It definitely made me appreciate everything the Ingalls family went through (and admire “Pa’s” taste in land!). Goodness gracious, it was beautiful.
Both girls woke up with the sun, so we were very thankful for the new books we bought at The Loftus Store in town the day before. Kate enjoyed reading one of the My First Little House books. Addie devoured By the Shores of Silver Lake while we took the tent down and loaded up the car. Once the rest of the campground started waking up, we headed off on a few more adventures!
We took a long walk out to the small church on the property, since we didn’t make it out there the previous night. West Bethany Lutheran was built in 1905 and moved to the Homestead in 2009. On our way back toward the car, we stopped to feed the horses, donkeys, and mules that were watching us walk by. (We also said good-bye to the adorable litter of kittens that were snoozing in one of the barn stalls.)
One last picture in front of “Ma’s Little House,” reconstructed on the location and to the dimensions of the Ingalls claim shanty! (And truth be told, there was plenty of room inside–especially with the amazing “yard” right out front.)
Silver Lake, South Dakota
After leaving the Ingalls Homestead, we drove out to the local cemetery, Charles, Caroline, Mary, Carrie, Grace (and her husband) are all buried there, along with Laura and Almanzo’s infant son. (Laura, husband Almanzo, and daughter Rose are all buried in Mansfield, Missouri. You can click here to read about our trip to Mansfield.)
We also found what remains of Silver Lake. It was once the site for the city dump (likely before Laura wrote her book series and made the lake famous), so don’t look too closely. But thanks to the sunny morning, blue skies, and green grass all around, we all thought it looked lovely.
The whole reason the Ingalls family ended up in De Smet was a job with the railroad. I have no idea if this is the railroad line that was built while the family lived there, but I couldn’t resist snapping a picture of the tracks right next to the lake.
Whether you are able to visit “The Little Town on the Prairie” yourself or listen to the audio versions of Laura’s books, I hope you are able to fall in love with De Smet, South Dakota–just like I did!
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