Last year, a friend from our local home school group told my daughters all about a festival her family attended in Walnut Grove, MN. We don’t travel much during the summer because it is a busy time for our family. We thought a weekend trip was in order for our little family. We decided to go to the Festival the 3rd and final weekend of the event.
We planned our trip relatively last minute (three weeks in advance) and we were able to secure the last campsite at a campground 16 miles away. Unfortunately, due to an inclement weather forecast, we cancelled the campsite and booked a hotel in Watertown, SD (two hours from Walnut Grove). Everyone we talked to in Walnut Grove prior to the festival was so helpful in helping us make the best available travel arrangements for our family. If you want to stay closer to Walnut Grove, make your camping or hotel plans well in advance.
The day of the Family Festival, we got in the car and arrived when it opened. The festival is in the middle of a city park and within walking distance of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum. There is no admission fee for the family festival, and many of the activities were free will offering to support the museum.
The Minnesota Interpretive Center was also there to share replicas of native handicrafts and games. It was a very fun, informative, and tactile booth for the kids.
We also visited woodworking, blacksmithing, and booths displaying handmade items for sale.
My favorite booth was the needlefelting booth. The exhibitor, Lynn Ehrke, also had an interesting display on pioneer cooking. Lynn Ehrke also does the pioneer cooking at Laura Days in Pepin, WI.
Since the event was in the city park, the children (especially my little boy) had fun playing in between demonstrations. There was fair food available and we supplemented with a cooler of sandwiches and drinks to keep our costs lower.
The fair was busy but not overwhelming. Many vendors and demonstrators told me that the third week is always the quietest. If you have a large family, you might want to consider that when making your travel plans.
Throughout the day, we also attended reenactment demonstrations by Laura reenactor, Sarah Uthoff. Her demonstrations were very informative and engaging with lots of audience participation.
After lunch, my daughters got dressed in their Laura Ingalls costumes for the Laura Lookalike contest. From my research, many of the Laura Festivals around the country, have lookalike contests. The contest in Walnut Grove judges the girls based on costume, knowledge of “On the Banks of Plum Creek” and overall presentation. The contest is for ages 8-12, so my younger daughter could not enter this year, but is looking forward to entering in the future.
At registration, they even had me fill out an address label so they could mail me the local paper after the event. I cannot stress enough how kind and friendly the organizers of the Festival are.
My daughter had the idea a week before the Festival to dress up her 1 yo sister as Baby Carrie. Yes, this means I sewed another Perfect Peasant. I turned a Bluebell Bonnet that I had made earlier in the summer inside out to white (the pattern is reversible).
I imagine you can guess what happened next based on the serial of photos… My daughter presented herself very well, and out of the 12 Laura contestants, she was awarded Laura Look-a-Like. I was very proud of her! I love the expression on her face during the interviews and contest. Just being in the event brought her so much joy, that the prize was just the icing on the cake!
After the contest, the babies were ready for a nap, so while they napped with my husband, the girls and I visited the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum. Even if you cannot travel to Walnut Grove during the Family Festival, it is definitely worth stopping to visit the museum. The exhibits are fabulous and the bookstore is amazing and filled with every book on Laura that you can imagine! My girls favorite exhibit was the hands-on exhibit at the end. They enjoyed playing in the general store with other kids.
After the museum, we grabbed some dinner at the community center to help support the local fire department. We then drove a couple of miles out of town to the site of the dugout that Ma and Pa Ingalls settled in. It has since caved in, but you can still climb on top of it. Most importantly, you can still wade into Plum Creek just like Laura and Mary did so many years ago.
We initially had not planned on staying until the evening since our hotel was 2 hours away. However, part of the Laura Lookalike Prize included a gift card for tickets to the Laura Ingalls Pageant show that evening. My daughter and the Nellie winner were introduced by the Pageant singers before the show, received a backstage tour of the production, and were cast as extras in a social scene in the second act. Unfortunately, for only the third time in the pageant’s history, thunder showers approached and the show was closed after the first act.
We look forward to returning to Walnut Grove in the future, and we recommend that other families with Laura-lovers, young and old, take the time to attend a Laura Festival near you.