Taking a leisurely road trip through small towns along the Amish Country Heritage Trail in Northwestern Indiana feels a bit like time travel. Horse-drawn carriages move slowly along country roads and what those roads lack in conveniences like gas stations or fast food they more than provide serene views.
There are many Amish communities in the U.S. but the state boasts the third-largest population, about 60,000 residents. Their way of life is traditional: Amish families don’t use electricity, phones, cars, and other such modern amenities; their livelihood is based on farming and sale of home grown food, baked goods, and handcrafted artistry such as rugs, quilts, and woodworks.
You may meet Amish families, taste Midwestern wine, bike a nature trail, and eat made-from-scratch pies on this road trip. Although the mileage is minimal, temptations to stop are many as you make your way through towns where American flags wave on the front porches of Victorian homes.
Prime time to make the drive is during the free Quilt Gardens event held annually in Elkhart County from late May through mid-September to honor Amish quilt-making traditions. More than 15 giant gardens with over 1 million blooms planted by more than 200 volunteers replicate classic and modern quilt patterns as well as hand-painted murals.
Elkhart to Middlebury (17 miles)
Start your road trip 111 miles east of Chicago in Elkhart, the region’s largest city (population: 54,000) at the confluence of the St. Joseph and Elkhart Rivers. For your first taste of the culture eat breakfast at Baker’s Nook Cafe downtown where you’ll find bacon biscuits, fluffy pancakes, and apple-bread French toast.
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Energized for the day, drive a mile north to the city’s Garden District for docent-led tours of two historic home museums on Beardsley Avenue. First visit the 1848 Italianate home of Havilah Beardsley, Elkhart’s founding father who built the area’s first flour and sawmills and brought the Michigan Southern Railway to town. Then wander through the 1910 Beaux Arts mansion of Havilah’s nephew, Albert Beardsley who helped establish Elkhart’s Miles Laboratories (which invented Alka-Seltzer). See the family’s extensive Tiffany glass lamp, art, and antique car collections.
On Main Street, less than a half-mile north of the two homes, explore Wellfield Botanic Gardens, an active well site providing Elkhart’s water transformed into a lush sanctuary. Paved promenades wind through sculpture-studded flower gardens, a Japanese garden, and a children’s garden. While resting on pathside benches, listen to birdsong and the sound of flowing water in fountains. Check the schedule for guided bird walks.
Now make your way to Middlebury driving east on Indiana State Road 120. But about nine miles down the road in Bristol take a slight detour for a quick stop at Fruit Hills Winery and Orchard, two miles south on Indiana State Road 15. The tasting room pours wines made from the 170-year-old family farm’s homegrown regional grapes and fruits.
It’s about six more miles 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.
There, cap your day with a scenic bicycle ride on part of the paved Pumpkinvine Nature Trail, a rail-trail linking multiple small towns. Pick up the trail on North Main Street across from Pumpkinvine Cyclery where you can rent your bike. Cycling through fertile farmland you’ll pass white Amish homesteads where laundry on clotheslines flaps in the breeze.
Middlebury to Shipshewana and Goshen (31 miles)
A drive about eight miles east on County Road 16 brings you to Shipshewana with horse-drawn buggy traffic building at the intersection of Indiana State Road 5 (aka Van Buren Street, the town’s main drag).
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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 I’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. They melt in your mouth! The cheeses at Heritage Ridge Creamery are made with milk sourced from Amish farms.
Spend time on South Van Buren Street shopping at the region’s Shipshewana Trading Place Auction & Flea Market if you’re in town on a Tuesday or Wednesday. Inside the auction hall each Wednesday year-round, Amish auctioneers stand on step ladders above bidders vying for antique brass-bed headboards, vintage toys, carpentry tools, paintings, and architectural remnants. The loud, monotone drone of the auctioneer chorus sounds like a gigantic buzzing beehive.
The 75-year-old outdoor flea market held May through September covers 40 acres (scooter rentals available) and features nearly 700 vendors (many Amish). Browse booths selling everything from tooled-leather horse saddles to bags and belts and flowering plants.
Nearby, Amish-owned specialty stores are open year-round including Brandenberry Furniture, Countryroad Fabrics & Gifts, E & S Sales (bulk foods grocery store), and Eash Sales (outdoor decor and patio furniture).
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. Exhibits explain Amish, Mennonite, and Hutterite history, faith, and lifestyle.
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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.
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
Retrace your steps back to Shipshewana and from there it’s a 21-mile scenic drive west on County Road 34 (aka 400 South St. in Shipshewana) and Indiana State Roads 13 and 4 to Goshen. You’ll pass towering cornfields, verdant horse pastures and farms with shops selling seasonal vegetables, honey, and fresh-baked goods.
In 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. They have been making classic BLT sandwiches, ice cream sundaes, and caramel-chocolate turtle candies since 1912.
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.
Come evening, go for dinner and live music at family-friendly Goshen Brewing Company which pairs small-batch beers with seasonal cuisine and Southern-style smoked foods. Its outdoor patio overlooks leafy Millrace Canal, paralleling the Elkhart River.
Goshen to Nappanee (15 miles)
Pastoral vistas (think endless green fields) and the scents of tilled earth and lilac abound on the drive southwest to Nappanee via Indiana State Road 119 and County Road 7.
Spend your morning with a guided tour of the Stahly-Nissley-Kuhns farmstead at Amish Acres, a historic farm-entertainment complex near downtown. Once occupied by three Amish families from 1874-1968, 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.
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Take to the road and explore Nappanee’s Countryside Shops. It’s an interesting mix of rural businesses—many are Amish-owned and sogoshme are off the beaten path. Miller’s Variety Store is packed with fun finds. The Amish are known for their woodworking skills. The Schmucker brothers at Homestyle Furniture specialize in hand-crafted furniture. 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.
A former kitchen cabinet factory dating to 1876, Coppes Commons has been turned into an inviting attraction filled with restaurants and specialty shops selling locally made, handcrafted products—furniture, home decor accessories, quilts, toys and rugs—and fresh-baked goods. Spend some time browsing through the shops then visit its museum displaying Hoosier Cabinets handcrafted here in this factory in the early 20th century recalling a bygone era of American home life.
Head about a mile east back through town to Coppes Common where there’s plenty to do the rest of the afternoon.
Nappanee to Elkhart (20 miles)
Return to Elkhart via Indiana State Road 19 making a slight detour to Wakarusa about eight miles north out of Nappanee. There, pick up delicious pastries, pies and breads at Grandma’s Pantry, a bulk food store, deli and bakery.
In Elkhart, make one final stop at the stunning Southgate Crossing barn, just south of downtown. Built by Amish craftsmen in 2006, the 51,000-square-foot barn is a beautiful example of woodworking craftsmanship. If you’re still in a buying mood, the barn is a combination antiques-artisan shopping complex where you can purchase home-decor pieces, quilts, and foods including noodles, peanut butter, and fruit jams.
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
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