A Window into a Unique World: Amish Life along the Heritage Trail

Discover stunning views, historical sites, and Amish heritage along the scenic backroads

A few days in northern Indiana’s Amish country will introduce you to delicious made-from-scratch meals, amazing craftsmanship, tons of shopping, and horse-drawn carriage rides. You can take in the amazing works as you drive the Quilt Gardens along the Heritage Trail.

Quilt Gardens in Nappanee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Northern Indiana is home to nearly 20,000 Amish, a culture that remains true to centuries-old traditions even as the world around them changes at break-neck speed. Modern technology—including television and electricity—are noticeably absent from Amish homes. The Amish “connect” in a different way—through engaging conversation, straightforward business transactions, and a solid grounding in faith and family-based values. Take a cue from them…slow your pace, unplug, and recharge.

>> During your Heritage Trail adventure… discover 17 super-sized quilt-inspired Quilt Gardens and 22 hand-painted quilt-inspired Quilt Murals.

Quilt Gardens Mural in Nappanee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Quilt Gardens along the Heritage Trail combine quilting, gardening, and art into one extraordinary ride where you’ll see 16 quilt gardens composed of more than a million blooms as well as hand-painted murals. Every quilt garden and quilt mural has its own intricate pattern, many are original designs and each has its own unique story. Each of the unique communities that host quilt gardens and murals have their own special character and fun finds you’ll want to explore.

Amish Acres © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Start in Nappanee with a guided tour of the Stahly-Nissley-Kuhns farmstead at Amish Acres. It’s listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Learn the whys and ways of the Amish as your guide takes you through the Old Order Amish farm’s original buildings including the farmhouse kitchen and smokehouse along with a leisurely farm wagon ride through the 80-acre farm with a stop at the one-room German schoolhouse.

Sit down to a traditional family-style “Thresher’s” meal—named for the feast that typically followed a day in the fields. It’s served amid the hand-hewn beams of the century old barn Restaurant.

Rentown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take to the road and explore Nappanee’s Countryside Shops. It’s an interesting mix of rural businesses—many are Amish-owned and some are off the beaten path. Miller’s Variety Store is packed with fun finds. Fresh pies and other delectable baked goods are made on site at the newly expanded Rentown Store and loose leaf teas and tea making supplies line the shelves at Teapot & More at Coppes Commons. The Amish are known for their woodworking skills. The Schmucker brothers at Homestyle Furniture specialize in hand-crafted furniture.

Amish Buggy © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

>> Need to know … Buggies and bicycles are the main modes of transport for the Amish. You’ll see plenty of the former along backroads.

Leaving Nappanee drive northeast to Goshen and admire the classic courthouse in the heart of town. Peek into the bunker-like police booth on the Corner of Main and Lincoln dating back to the days when John Dillinger was the bane of bankers. Don’t miss the Olympic Candy Kitchen, “the sweetest little place in town,” for a soda at the old-fashioned fountain or some handmade chocolates.

Old Bag Factory in Goshen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Built in 1896 the Old Bag Factory is home to producing artists, antiques, specialty shops, and cafes. The historic character of the complex provides a unique and charming setting for the specialty shops it houses.

Das Dutchman Essenhaus © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Follow Country Road 22 northeast to Middlebury where your destination is Das Dutchman Essenhaus, an enormous complex that includes a bakery and a handful of village shops. Discover Indiana’s largest family restaurant which offers both family-style and buffet and menu dining options serving over 30 varieties of pie. After a satisfying meal stroll through the campus grounds with five unique Village Shops, take a carriage ride, or play mini-golf.

>> Amish Customs and Culture … ever wonder why the Amish are referred to as “Plain People”? The main reason is because of the way they dress—very plainly. Rather than patterns on their clothing, only solid colors are worn. The men’s trousers have no zippers and instead have a button fly. Women use straight pins to fasten the sides of their dress together.

Rise ‘n Roll Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The roads that connect Middlebury and Shipshewana are lined with Amish farms and businesses. Driving east on Country Road 16 you’ll share the road with black carriages drawn by spirited horses, many of which stop at Dutch Country Market, Rise ‘n Roll Bakery, and Heritage Ridge Creamery. Amish hands and skillfully blended basics create some of the best baked goods we’ve ever tasted. Start at Dutch Country Market for the supersized cinnamon rolls and house-made noodles. Rise ‘n Roll Bakery offers up display cases full of loaves of wheat bread, pies, cookies, and donuts. There are no better donuts, period! The cheeses at Heritage Ridge Creamery are made with milk sourced from Amish farms.

Amish buggy © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

>> Handmade and locally grown is not a trend for the Amish. Generations have perfected the art of hand-stitched quilts, pie (you’ll find every flavor from Amish Sugar Cream to German Chocolate to pecan), and roadside produce stands (they pop up everywhere; selections vary with the seasons).

Shipshewana Flea Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From peaches to pumpkins, the stalls are packed with locally grown produce at the Shipshewana Flea Market on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Home to the Midwest’s largest outdoor seasonal flea market (open May through September), 700 vendors cover 40 acres of land selling everything from home decor and clothing to plants and tools. If you love the spirit of competition felt at a live auction, you’ll want to visit on Wednesdays for the Shipshewana Trading Place Auction.

Menno-Hof © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be sure to tour Menno-Hof to learn about Amish and Mennonite history, lifestyle, and beliefs with multimedia presentations and 24 display areas. You’ll travel through five centuries of history from origins in Switzerland to their arrival in America.

You’ll feel like you’re at a Thanksgiving meal whenever you eat in Amish country. Portions are generous and the homemade goodness comes through with every bite. You can dine family-style or order from the menu at the Blue Gate Restaurant and Bakery where they bake up to 29 varieties of pie. While you’re working up your appetite, shop around in any of the onsite shops, featuring handcrafted furniture, a craft barn, and bakery.

Yoder’s Popcorn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continue 4 miles south along Indiana Highway 5 to Yoder’s Popcorn, for popcorn the way you remember it. Try their renowned Tiny Tender Popcorn.

Trip tips and courtesies:

  • Take care when driving—buggies travel well under the speed limit
  • Keep a sharp eye out for buggies as you crest hills and round corners
  • Flashing headlights and car horns can startle buggy horses
  • Don’t ask to photograph or film the Amish; it’s against their religious beliefs
  • Respect private property but take some time to chat with Amish shop owners and artisans who welcome guests
  • Amish businesses are closed on Sundays
Amish crafts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

The Amish are islands of sanity in a whirlpool of change.

—Nancy Sleeth, Almost Amish: One Woman’s Quest for a Slower, Simpler, More Sustainable Life