PEPIN, Wisc. (KTTC) – Over the river and through the woods, along the mighty Mississippi, you’ll find something enchanting – the scenic bluffs of Pepin, Wisconsin.
“I first rode my motorcycle down here in 1981, or ’83 and had lunch at the Harbor View Cafe,” Pepin resident Rob Buntz remembered. “Then, we’ve been coming here ever since.”
Driving down the Great River Road and traveling through the birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder, you might make a stop at the Harbor Hill General Store.
“They come in the store and when I talk to them about how they got here,” Jan Buntz said. “They said well, its kind of magical, and it kind of is.”
If you keep rolling through town, you’ll bump into Pepin’s one and only, “Country Stop.”
“It started with just a little produce stand. Over the years it grown in to what it is today,” Country Stop owner Kim Seipel said. “We like to view it as the premier outdoor shopping venue at Pepin.”
The one stop shop has been a staple in Pepin for nearly 20 years.
“We have a lot of variety. Yes, we have award winning meats, we have fudge, we have fresh produce. Storage buildings, we sell gazebos, furniture, we sell antiques, we have a lot a lot of stuff,” Seipel continued. “The list could go on and on.”
Whether you’re here to shop, dine or wine at the internationally recognized “Villa Bellezza,” a trip through Pepin takes you to the outskirts of town for a history lesson.
“Its pretty cool that this is right here where it all began for her, in this replica cabin,” Rob said gesturing to the log cabin beside him. “Simply written, the Laura books became classroom books for people to learn English as a second language in Asia. We had guests last week, a couple from Japan. Guests from Switzerland and France, really people from all over the world who came to see the Laura tour. She really touched a lot of people.”
Today, Pepin thrives from its visitors.
“Back in the early days, you know, it wasn’t as known for tourism as it is today,” Seipel said. “Like all small towns you kinda gotta to move forward and if you don’t, you fall behind. I’m really thankful for Pepin for really moving forward.”
Some of those tourists, just might end up calling Pepin home.
As certified captain for the Coast Guard, Rob Buntz fell in love with Pepin waters, typical for Pepin townies and visitors alike.
“To my mind, there are two best sailing lakes in the upper Midwest. Lake Superior and Lake Pepin,” Rob said. “Here you get the same big water experience, because the lake is 23 miles long and two and half miles wide. But you don’t get the danger of Lake Superior.”
But for Rob, it started with a love of Pepin food, in the 80’s at the Harbor View Cafe.
“We’ve kind of always loved Pepin and loved the drive down here and eventually started sailing down here,” Rob said. “Sailed, started with a little 22 foot Catalina and then bought this boat to have a place to stay – its our floating cabin. Then we bought a bigger sailboat and started sailing really regularly down here and then bought the Harbor Inn and so we live here now!”
No matter what the season, Rob and Jan say it’s this time of year that might take the cake. Rob says the view is different with every sail.
“Yeah, its beautiful with the bluffs in the background, man,” Rob said admiring the Lake Pepin sunset. “It’s only going to get better, too.”
And Lake Pepin sunset views? They’re hard to beat.
“When you asked about the essence of Pepin? This is a huge essence of Pepin,” Rob said. “Lake Pepin, being out on the water and sailing.. its just amazing.”
Every year in a nod to the famous pioneer, Pepin celebrates “Laura Ingalls Wilder Days.” The annual festival allows the town to light up with early American pioneer arts, education and entertainment. This year, the festival falls on the weekend of September 14 and 15.