Are there days when you just want to escape this fast-paced, digital world for a simpler, quieter time? I know that I do. When life in the 21st century gets a little too hectic, I like to escape to a simpler time. Norskedalen Nature and Heritage Center provides the perfect retreat from life as we know it. Here, you will find a homestead that would rival those in the days of Laura Ingalls Wilder. It is complete with houses, stables, and a blacksmith shop. Each have been brought straight out of the late 1800’s to be bring visitors on a first class tour of life in the pioneer days.
Norskedalen is located in the quaint, Midwestern town of Coon Valley, Wisconsin. In the heart of Amish country, Norskedalen seems to be located in a place that time forgot. It is tucked away on 400 acres of natural landscape, which makes it the perfect place to escape the 21st century. You will find plenty of Instagram-worthy photo opportunities, so don’t forget the camera!
What Does Norskedalen Have To Offer?
The Bekkum Homestead
The Bekkum Homestead is a big reason we visit Norskedalen, as we literally get the opportunity to step right into the 1850’s. How often can you say that, right? The homestead includes a house, several outbuildings, a dairy and a blacksmith’s shop. While the buildings are not always open to the public, visitors are always allowed to see the buildings from the outside during open hours. We try to visit during one of Norskedalen’s special events. During these times, visitors are allowed in the buildings. Getting to see the inside is a real treat. Plus, during special events, the blacksmith is actually working his craft.
The Thrune Visitor’s Center
The Trune Visitor’s Center will immerse you in the Norwegian culture. This is basically a little Norwegian museum, complete with clothing, farming equipment, and rosemaling. For those of you that don’t know, rosemaling is the flowery Norwegian painting featured in the movie Frozen. Quite often, it is found on door frames, plates, and other home decorations. Here, you will get the chance to see this lovely art form up close and personal.
The Thrune Visitor’s Center also holds performances true to the Norwegian heritage. This is also where you can sample wonderful foods and visit Santa during the Old Fashioned Christmas event. And of course you will want to take a piece of the 1850’s or a Norwegian treasure home with you. Do do so, you can visit the gift shop within the Thrune Visitor’s Center.
The Benrud Chapel
If you are looking for a small wedding or vow renewal with charm, look no further. The Benrud Chapel is a fully restored Norwegian church from the late 1800’s era. It seats around 50, and has beautiful stained glass windows and gorgeous views of the Norskedalen valley. You are welcome to visit the chapel even if you are not getting married. Norskedalen opens it for public viewing during certain special events such as the Civil War Immersion.
400 acres of Wildlife and 9 Miles of Hiking Trails
As I mentioned, Norskedalen boasts 400 acres of natural beauty and wildlife. This is one of our absolute favorite things about a visit to Norskedalen. Living in town, we rarely ever have a time without man made noise as we enjoy our backyard. Not so at Norskedalen. Here, you will find the sounds of nature unclouded by the noises of 21st century life. And, if you are so lucky to be staying in the Paulsen cabin, you and your family will get exclusive access to the 400 acres between 4pm and 10am.
Our family has hiked most of the trails at Norskedalen. They range in difficulty, with some taking you up to the top of the bluffs for magnificent views. For younger guests or guests with mobility issues, the Troll Trail is quite fun, easy to maneuver, and scenic. Make sure to keep your eye out for those clever trolls that like to frequent the area. Maybe you could be so lucky as to happen upon Kristoff’s family on visit from Norway! 😉
Has your family ever wondered what it was like living in the pioneer days? Or perhaps your family is reading the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder. If so, I would recommend a stay in the Paulsen cabin. Yes, your family can stay in a cabin that was built 150 years ago
The Midsummer Event
Held typically in June, the Midsummer Event is the best time to visit Norskedalen in my opinion. Everything is in full bloon, and the Bekkum Homestead is brimming with activity. You will have the opportunity to dive right into pioneer life with rope making, homemade lefsa, shelling corn and fresh churned butter. Local experts will take you back in time as they explain what life was like in the late 1800’s. Don’t forget to catch a ride on the horse drawn wagon, or shop for wares in the tented shops. Kids will enjoy participating in the games of old as well. This by far is an event that you will not want to miss.
The Civil War Immersion
If you have always wanted to visit a Civil War reenactment, I highly recommend visiting the Civil War Immersion at Norskedalen. It is held in October each year, and includes replica military camps, vintage canons and weaponry, and a live skirmish demonstration. This is a great way to bring the Civil War to life for your family. There are many reenactors on site to answer questions, and offer insight to what life was like during the Civil War. This is a two day event, with the skirmish typically happening on the second day.
Ghoulees in the Coulees
Witches and Haunts are welcomed at Norskedalen on special nights in October each year. Though this event is for all ages, make sure to bring little ones very early in the evening. The scary haunts come out as the night progresses, so make sure to ask which scare level your family will be getting when you make your reservation. Little ghosts and goblins get to take the troll trail to friendly haunts who will engage them in not-so-scary activities. However, the brave of heart will be treated to a bewitching trail where you never know who will pop out of the woods for a deadly fright.
While waiting for your turn on the haunted troll trail, you can take part in spooky stories and other Halloween fun. You may even want to have dinner while you are there. There is a concession stand located near the beginning of the trail for your family’s enjoyment. Given that it is a chilly October event, you may wish to sample some hot apple cider, which is my personal favorite when visiting.
Homeschool groups may be interested to know that Norskedalen has many educational activities and offers group events. “Sometimes on a Sunday” is an educational opportunity for families looking to learn a little bit more about the pioneer days or about Norwegian culture. These events do not happen every Sunday, as the name suggests, but if you are interested in what will be upcoming, check out their site. Some of the learning opportunities include crafts, nature, pioneer skills and Norwegian culture.
The Old Fashioned Christmas
This is another family favorite, and we try very hard to attend this event every year. The Old Fashioned Christmas has everything you would imagine from a pioneer celebration. You will find Santa in his vintage Norwegian sleigh, wonderful smelling home cooked food, lovely crafts, festive music, and of course horse drawn wagon rides. The local residents bring traditional Norwegian foods to try. Please note, this is an ala cart menu and each food item is priced separately. If you have hungry boys like mine, you may want to watch their portioning, as all the food is super delicious!
Staying at Norskedalen Overnight
The Paulsen Cabin
Has your family ever wondered what it was like living in the pioneer days? Or perhaps your family is reading the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder. If so, I would recommend a stay in the Paulsen cabin. Yes, your family can stay in a cabin that was built 150 years ago. Before you have visions of cold, dirty outhouses, let me just tell you that the cabin has had some updates. It has a full kitchen and has been placed on a basement with a laundry facility and a bathroom. The cabin is heated and has been updated with electricity as well.
We have stayed here twice and just love it. We typically read a book set in the pioneer days or do a study of the time period before our stay. During our stay we try to do activities that families would have participated in during the late 1850’s. Please note that this property is not handicap accessible, so if your family has mobility issues, this may not be a suitable option. The Paulsen cabin can be rented for around $95 nightly. For more information you can check out their site.
The Farmhouse at the Thrunegaarden
Norskedalen also offers the Farmhouse at the Thrunegaarden. This is a newer structure, built in the early 1900’s, but also provides an insight into early life. This is not on Norskedalen property, and is actually located west of Coon Valley. The farmhouse has three bedrooms and 1.5 baths, so there is a bit more space than with the Paulsen cabin. It also comes with wifi for those that need to stay connected to the outside world. It boasts a beautiful front porch as well a full laundry facility.
Though there are a couple of steps to get into the home, once inside, most of the amenities including the main bedroom, the kitchen and the bathroom are on the main floor. Although this is not located on Norskedalen property, guests receive free admission to Norskedalen during their stay. The Farmhouse can be rented for around $150 per night. For more information, you can visit their site.
Both of these options would be amazing experiences for families wanting an immersive experience into life in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s.
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If you are looking for the perfect place to bring American history to life for your family, you may want to check out Norskedalen Nature and Heritage Center. They will immerse your family into early pioneer life, so history can be experienced first-hand. Have you visited Norskedalen? We would love to hear about your experience in the comments.