Visiting Northern Indiana Amish Country

Scenic drives through the backroads of the Northern Indiana Amish Country will have you basking in the simple joys of life. Delight in a home-cooked meal, swing on a front porch, and experience the Amish culture in ways you never thought possible.

Travel northern Indiana’s backroads to discover family-owned shops, colorful quilt gardens and horse-drawn buggies traveling rural landscapes.

Dania and I have had the opportunity to visit Elkhart County, Indiana, numerous times for warranty work on our motorhome, attend rallies, and tour RV manufacturing facilities. We have found the area to be beautiful, peaceful, and friendly and we always enjoy our visits. It’s also close to Indiana Amish Country.

If you haven’t been to an Amish community, you may wonder what it’s like. We spent some time in Shipshewana and the surrounding towns and were delighted by the different communities and the natural beauty of the area.

Yoder Hardware & Department Store © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why go to Shipshewana

We are big fans of the RV lifestyle and the beating heart of the RV industry pretty much overlaps the area where Amish farms are common.

There is something magical about Amish country for a variety of reasons not the least of which are the places to eat that have such wonderful food—especially pies, cakes, and donuts.

The Amish lead lives that aren’t focused on technology and social media. They work hard and live like our parents or grandparents might have in their youth including participating in family-centered activities, farming, crafting, and meal preparation.

That translates into stores and shopping that support the Amish lifestyle in a variety of ways. Further, the goods and goodies you find in these stores tend to also be of very high quality and made in the community.

Shipshewana Flea Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to stay

Shipshewana is home to the Shipshewana Flea Market which is part of a larger RV campground property. And that happens to be where many tend to stay when they visit. The RV park is central to all the stores, dining, and activities in Shipshewana. In fact, you’d likely do better on an e-bike than you would in a car just because of the convenience of getting around.

Downtown Shipshewana

If you’re a fan of immaculately kept quaint towns, this is a great example of that. There are a number of shops that sell locally crafted items as well as locally produced food. The Amish are very good at canning and preserves and it’s not a visit to an Amish town if you don’t take at least one example of this type of goody home with you.

You can also purchase all sorts of Amish-made items including indoor and outdoor furniture. And the prices are certainly fair. It’s not a stereotype that the Amish are known for well-crafted wood products and furniture; it’s a fact.

One of our favorite stores is Yoder’s Hardware which is every bit as big as any Home Depot and has consumed most of the strip mall where it’s located. While they have all the usual stuff you’d expect to find in a hardware store they also sell items that reflect the area. For example, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many hundreds of cookie cutters in my life. There are also quilting supplies and so much more.

Yoder Hardware & Department Store © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another unusual store is Puzzles Plus which is located in a larger, three-story mall-type building called the Davis Mercantile. If you love puzzles there’s a bit of danger of filling your entire RV with puzzles. But there are puzzles of all sorts and forms here.

You will also find plenty of clothing stores. You can outfit yourself in just about any way imaginable but let’s just say you’re more likely to get nicer and slightly traditional things here rather than the latest trends.

Since farming is such a part of Amish culture you bet that they also have great butchers locally. Yoder’s Meat and Cheese Company is the go-to place for locally sourced beef, poultry, and pork. They offer raw meats as well as sausages, cheeses, snacks, and more. I don’t know if they’re related to the Yoder’s Hardware folks but the name is on a lot of things in the area.

You may already be aware that most members of the Amish community commute by horse and buggy or bicycle. E-bikes are becoming more popular within certain segments of the population and it doesn’t hurt that the roads are often very friendly to those who ride. Because of the Amish buggies and the horses that pull them you will want to watch for any equestrian-made speed bumps in the road but they are few and far between.

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

What to eat

There is no shortage of delicious food in Amish country particularly if you have a fondness for butter and sugar. Those ingredients seem to be very much in abundance here. The sweet treats you can find in the shops all over downtown Shipshewana would be enough to keep your local dentist in business for years to come. Even the peanut butter is sweetened!

You might as well get an early start and go to Rise’N Roll Bakery and Deli in Middlebury, Indiana. While they offer all sorts of goodies, the cinnamon caramel donuts are my favorite and there’s a reason they’re referred to locally as Amish crack. You shouldn’t miss out on these…and don’t forget a bib for all that cinnamon powder on top.

Another favorite buffet is Das Dutchman Essenhaus in Middlebury. They also have a separate dining room for ordering off the menu but most prefer the buffet.

Inside the restaurant building is a fair amount of shopping opportunity which you will check out while you wait for a table. And there is always a wait because the place is so popular. There is also a bakery where you can buy a whole pie. The property also has a shopping village and a very nice hotel if you happen to be waiting to pick up your new RV.

Amish buggy © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Blue Gate

Several businesses in Shipshewana are named The Blue Gate. Started by Mel Riegsecker, the story goes that Mel saw an Amish fence painted all white except the gate. Soon afterward there was a wedding. Mel thought that the blue gate indicated a woman ready to become a bride. He later named his properties Blue Gate. He finally learned that the reason the gate was blue was because the painter had run out of white paint!

Fun tours and attractions

After a delicious meal or treat from the bakery, be sure to check out the Blue Gate Theater for a live play or musical event.

Perhaps the best part of visiting Shipshewana is some of the tours available. A favorite one is the buggy tour of an Amish dairy farm. There are two reasons you’ll enjoyed this—seeing how they practice farming and also the ride to and from the farm in an Amish buggy.

Buggy Lane Tours picks you up right in downtown Shipshewana and gives you a ride around town and to the dairy. You just sit back in the buggy as you slowly watch the very immaculate houses and farms go by.

Yoder’s Meat & Cheese © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the Amish dairy farm you get to try your own hand at milking cows and the opportunity to get a taste right from the source. The farm tour included a visit to various places in the barn and offered both historical and modern aspects of farming practices.

The dairy uses relatively modern farming practices and that’s a distinction you’ll learn from your hosts. The culture and adoption of technology isn’t universal among all Amish communities. While this is an oversimplification basically each bishop sets the ground rules for their communities. While this dairy used milking machines and a tractor you’ll see other farms with the plow being towed by horses.

That’s why you’ll see some Amish riding in cars and others in horse-drawn buggies. Some communities allow the use of types of technologies so long as they’re not dependent on being connected to the rest of the world. Therefore, there are Amish farms that are benchmarks for solar energy power and those may be the same people you’ll see riding around on e-bikes.

Das Dutchman Essenhaus © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For those who share our desire to learn about the Amish and Mennonite cultures and ways one of the places to do so would be the Menno-Hof museum. This frank look at these cultures and people in the area is another thing you’ll absolutely want to do.

If you stay at the Shipshewana RV Park it’s an easy stroll over to the Shipshewana Flea Market which is another fun experience (in season). Here you’ll see hundreds of vendors showing off their crafting, canning, and collecting. There are rows and rows of all sorts of things you might normally expect to find in a large flea market particularly in a farming community.

Lastly, if you are visiting Shipshewana, you’ll be smack dab in the middle of RV country. I strongly suggest arranging for a tour or two of an RV manufacturing plant. The frenetic pace of these operations is something to see and RVs are mostly hand-built in a big hurry.

You won’t want to miss a visit to the RV and Manufactured Housing Hall of Fame located in Elkhart. This trip through the past of the RV world is very well presented and there is plenty to see there.

We always find something new to experience and see when we are in Amish Country and it remains one of our favorite destinations.

Meno-Hof Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Here are some helpful resources:

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