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

Amish Country Heritage Trail

Elkhart County is Amish country and is best experienced along its Heritage Trail, a four season scenic drive

Discover stunning views, historical sites, and Amish heritage along the scenic backroads. Explore country lanes dotted with Amish-owned shops showcasing handcrafted and homemade.

Many of the towns along the Amish Country Heritage Trail date back 150 years or more. Among these are Middlebury, tiny Shipshewana known for a enormous flea market where 1,000 vendors peddle their wares twice a week from May through September, and Goshen. There’s also lovely Nappanee, a bustling community of woodworking shops that has been dubbed one of America’s “Top 10 Small Towns”.

Amish Farm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Due to the Amish lifestyle you can almost believe you’ve stepped back in time a century or more. No utility wires lace farmhouses to poles, women in old-fashioned bonnets and long skirts bend to their task of hoeing gardens, men in 19th-century attire trudge behind horse-drawn plows across wide fields, and the clip-clop of horses’ hooves on country lanes fills the air with staccato rhythms.

Newmar Service Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The Heritage Trail could easily be driven in a few hours, but there are way too many interesting stops for that. We spent a week exploring the area while the warranty issues on our 2019 Dutch Star were addressed at the new state-of-the-art Newmar Service Center in Nappanee.

Amish Acres © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Nappanee is home to numerous woodworking shops, restaurants, antique stores, and Amish Acres, a restored 80-acre Old Order Amish farmstead. The farmstead has been an Amish farm for nearly a century. The historic complex consists of 18 restored buildings including the quaint farmhouse, a pair of log cabins, a smokehouse, and an enormous barn-turned restaurant where meals are served family style with seating for 500.

Nappanee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

But Amish Acres is probably best known for the 402-seat Round Barn Theatre. It occupies a barn built in 1911 that has been transformed into a state-of-the-art theater. The theater is the national home of the musical “Plain and Fancy”, and in rotation, five other musicals are performed here.

Olympia Candy Kitchen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Leaving Nappanee, we drove northeast to Goshen. 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.

The Old Bag Factory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

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 reserve

Following Country Road 22 northeast took us to Middlebury. Our destination, Das Dutchman Essenhaus, is an enormous complex that includes a bakery and a handful of village shops. Leisurely stroll across the colorful campus; discover Indiana’s largest family restaurant which offers both family-style and buffet and menu dining options. 

Amish carriage with horse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

From Middlebury we headed east on Country Road 16 toward Shipshewana. We shared the road with dozens of black carriages drawn by spirited horses, many of which stop—as we did at Dutch Country Market, Rise ‘n Roll Bakery, and Heritage Ridge Creamery.

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

Rise ‘n Roll Bakery offered up display cases full of loaves of wheat bread, pies, cookies, and donuts.

Heritage Ridge Creamery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

We watched cheese being made at Heritage Ridge Creamery, then sampled and purchased it at the retail shop.

Shipshewana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Back on the asphalt, we continued southwest to Shipshewana. The small town hosts some million visitors a year for its auctions, theater, history, more than 100 shops offering fine Amish woodwork and food, and twice-a-week Shipshewana Flea Market, the largest of its kind in the Midwest.

Menno-Hof © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

To learn about Amish history, we toured Menno-Hof, also in Shipshewana. Through multi-image presentations, historical environments, and other displays, we traveled back 500 years to the origins of the Amish-Mennonite story.

Yoder’s Popcorn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

We continued 4 miles south along Indiana Highway 5, stopping at Yoder’s Popcorn, for popcorn the way you remember it. Try their renowned Tiny Tender Popcorn. Then it’s back to our condo-on-wheels at the Newmar Service Center in Nappanee.

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

RVs Move America

Americans bought nearly half a million recreational vehicles in 2018 with the industry bringing in more than $20 billion in revenue

A little less than half of the national economic impact of recreational vehicle manufacturers and suppliers occurred in Indiana last year and much of the activity producing it took place in the northeast and north-central parts of the state.

Newmar Factory in Nappanee, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That was according to a new RVs Move America Economic Impact Study released June 3 at the RV Industry Association’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C., where industry colleagues gathered to showcase its strength and meet with federal policymakers.

Newmar Factory in Nappanee, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The report showed the industry had a $114 billion impact on the U.S. economy, supporting close to 600,000 jobs which contributed more than $32 billion in wages.

“What the study reveals is that RVs are not just the familiar highway scene of an American summer,” Gary Enyart, the association’s chairman, said in a statement.

Newmar Factory in Nappanee, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Indeed, RVs are the heart of an industry that has become an American juggernaut, a business that has tripled in size since the Great Recession (that ended in) 2009,” said Enyart who also is mobile generator sales and coach care director for Onan/Cummins.

Newmar Factory in Nappanee, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The industry’s nationwide economic impact includes:

  • $68 billion generated by RV manufacturers and suppliers
  • $25.6 billion by RV campgrounds and related travel
  • $20.1 billion by RV sales and service activities
Newmar Factory in Nappanee, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A comparable breakdown of the industry’s economic impact in Indiana includes:

  • $31.4 billion generated by RV manufacturers and suppliers
  • $575.7 million by RV campgrounds and related travel
  • $481.4 million by RV sales and service activities
Taking delivery of a new 2019 Dutch Star motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The report showed 482,389 RVs were made in the United States last year with motorized vehicles accounting for 12 percent of that and towable vehicles for 88 percent.

About 25 million Americans RV each year leading to activities such as hiking, boating, fishing, and camping which the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis considers part of a larger outdoor recreation economy that represents 2.2 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

Taking delivery of a new 2019 Dutch Star motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The industry’s most recent monthly RV shipment data showed April’s 40,243 figure was down 15.2 percent from the same month the previous year and July 2018 was the last time within 12 months that shipments had risen from a year earlier.

“The industry is still on track for this to be the third best year in its history. The best year was 2017 and the second was 2018,” Broom said.

Taking delivery of a new 2019 Dutch Star motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RV manufacturers added production capacity to meet rising demand for their products which reduced backlogs in their orders and dealers who saw they didn’t have to order as many RVs as far in advance to avoid missing a sale to a customer adjusted their inventories, he said.

Taking delivery of a new 2019 Dutch Star motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But, for now 2019 shipments are expected to provide the RV industry with the third best year in its history and then increase in 2020.

A healthy industry going forward is a key in advancing the RV lifestyle both present and future. Recreational vehicles are a great way to see the country and allow owners the freedom to travel. They are great for weekends and extended vacations, but they are a major investment. And purchasing an RV is considerably more complicated than buying a car.

Taking delivery of a new 2019 Dutch Star motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When purchasing a new or pre-owned RV it’s important to do your home. Be aware that RV manufacturers and dealers are NOT created equal. After all, your RV is an enormous investment. Don’t trust it to just anyone.

Worth Pondering…

Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of intelligent effort.

—John Ruskin