Norskedalen means “Norwegian Valley,” and it serves as a nature and heritage center dedicated to preserving, interpreting and sharing the area’s natural environment and cultural heritage. Opened in 1977, Norsedalen features a secluded blend of hills and valleys traversed by trails, historic structures, and artifacts from all over the area. The focus is on Coon Valley in Wisconsin’s Driftless Area and Norwegian settlers who came to La Crosse and Vernon Counties.
The Thrune Visitor Center is an excellent place to start. You’ll find several rooms which offer a look at how Norwegian settlers fared in Norway, made their way to America and Wisconsin, and adapted over time. One room traces the process of the early immigrants in a timeline fashion. It begins with displays of the actual trunks they packed their lives in for the ocean voyage, complete with labels and more. It then progresses to tools they brought for making clothing, tilling the land, and building their homes, and moves on to items they used around the house and in the community as they established themselves in Wisconsin. This immerses you in their experience.
Plenty of historic buildings dot the grounds of Norskedalen. Numerous structures from the original Bekkum Homestead, including the main house, sit in close proximity along a creek. The Benrud Little White Chapel is a reconstructed church that originally stood in Sparta before being moved to Norskedalen in 2009. Today the chapel hosts weddings and other events and houses plenty of artifacts from its church days. Check out the still-playable organ that dates back to 1915!
Between its ability to grow in Wisconsin soil and fetch higher prices, tobacco farming became quite popular with early Norwegian settlers. Along the Ophus Trail, a good 1.1-mile walking path, you’ll find an original tobacco barn from the Coon Valley area.
You can also get a little exercise traversing trails that run through the grounds. Some offer steep climbs up the high hills surrounding the valley. Others stay low and let you explore the vegetation, flowers, streams and ponds, and other features that make this place serene and beautiful. Trail lengths range from just under a mile to over four miles.
The Paulsen Cabin (no relation to State Trunk Tour founder Eric Paulsen, as far as we know) on the Norskedalen grounds offers overnight accommodations. It’s a 130 year-old log cabin on the outside and a mix of history and today’s comforts on the inside. It sleeps six with an authentic log interior and loft; but it also features a full kitchen with modern amenities.
Norskedalen offers events throughout the year, including nature walks and family-friendly options. Midsummer Fest welcomes the warmth after Syttende Mai. Ghoulees in the Coulees is popular during Halloween. You can take a Candlelight Snowshow Hike in winter. Other events immerse you in nature and history. Get more events here.
Reaching Norskedalen means a beautiful drive through the Driftless Area. Norskedalen is located along County PI between Highway 162 and U.S. 14/61 just north of Coon Valley. County PI itself is a narrow, twisty road that features hairpin turns as it navigates Poplar Coulee, winds past farms, and hugs hillsides on its way to the grounds. This is very much a pay-close-attention stretch of road! But it is gorgeous and very much a hint of the beauty to come when you arrive.
Norskedalen Nature & Heritage Center Address:
N455 O Ophus Road
Coon Valley, WI 54623