Our family recently stepped out of our faced-paced city lives and into the leisurely back roads of Indiana’s Amish country, where the rolling hills, wooded trails and flowing rivers soothed our senses and took us back in time.
We started our Amish journey in the charming village of Shipshewana, where we literally stepped out of our car and into a horse-led buggy. Our host was Kenny Stutzman, owner of Buggy Lane Tours (140 North Harrison Street; Tel. 574/825.5474), a local company that offers guided buggy tours and dinners designed to introduce visitors to Amish culture. My children, ages 2 and 11, were delighted as we rolled over the hills to a dairy farm run by an Amish couple and their three beautiful and hardworking girls. The kids climbed bales of hay, played with the barn cats, fed two-week-old calves their baby bottles, milked cows with their own two hands, and then drank a cup of that fresh, raw milk. I appreciated having the chance to talk with an Amish mother and father and learning about traditional farm life.
In the evening, we enjoyed a full course, family style Amish dinner at the Blue Gate Restaurant (195 North Van Buren St.; Tel. 260/768.4725). The fried chicken was both crispy and tender, the dessert pies were delectable, and we all savored sweet Amish peanut butter spread atop fresh-from-the-oven wheat bread as we waited for our meal to arrive. Afterwards, we headed just across from the restaurant to the Blue Gate Theater (Tel. 888/447.4725), where we took in a musical show. Check the Theater’s listings to see what’s scheduled during your visit – you’ll be surprised at some of the bigger names that stop in tiny Shipshewana on their tours.
Many visitors come to Shipshewana solely for the Auction and Flea Market (345 North Van Buren St.; Tel. 260/768.4129), held every Tuesday and Wednesday from 8am – 5pm. You’ll find everything from antiques to animals at this lively market – the largest in the Midwest.
Davis Mercantile (225 Harrison Street) is a collection of shops in downtown Shipshewana. Be sure to stop in Aunt Millie’s Fresh Candy and Nuts on the 3rd floor, as well as Lolly’s Fabrics on the 1st floor, which specializes in Amish quilts. Nestled amidst the shops, you’ll find a magic carousel, created in 1906 and featuring hand carved farm animals, in keeping with the country spirit.
We capped off the final day of our backroads adventure with a 10-mile canoe trip down the Pigeon River in Mongo, Indiana. Trading Post Canoe (7525 E 300 N, Mongo; Tel. 260/367.2493) outfitted us with life jackets, paddles a canoe and a kayak (our 11 year-old chose to travel in a one-person kayak; my 2-year-old kept my husband and I company in our canoe). The shallow and slow-flowing Pigeon River was just right for a family with younger kids; we spotted birds, fish and sunbathing turtles as we paddled down the quiet, peaceful, and clean river.
We stayed at Amish Log Cabin Lodging (5970 N SR 5; Tel. 260/768.7770). Our small log cabin was just right for our family, with its queen bed and bunk bed, church bench style dining table and rocking chair. Washroom and shower facilities were just across a wooded path, and the view from our windows of a tranquil farm with grazing horses was unbeatable.
If you’re looking for more standard hotel lodging, the Amish Country Inn (800 South Van Buren St; Tel. 260/768-.7688) is another great place to stay.
- Grab a soft, hot pretzel at JoJo’s Pretzels, in the Davis Mercantile. The house-made mustards are especially tangy!
- Shipshewana is especially magical at Christmastime, when the streets are lit with thousands of tiny white lights. The annual Ice Festival features larger-than-life ice sculptures from famed ice artists.