Have you ever taken a trip to Shipshewana Indiana, Amish Country? If not you are missing out. Amish country is a world of amazing history, culture, and contradictions.
Very few places in the US where roads are still populated with horses and buggies.
In the 21st century; a place famous for its Flea markets, a flourishing countryside with breathtaking farms and a people so religious that taking a photo is out of the question?
Anyone looking for a great getaway that is out of the ordinary should sample what we experienced last fall.
Bill and I needed to take our fifth wheel in for its first checkup in Lagrange Indiana at Cross Enterprises that specializes in Mobile Suite RV’s.
Since we would be there a few days we were able to explore the area. Shipshewana Indiana is a beautiful place, so many things to see and do. You could easily spend a week to enjoy all that Amish Country has to offer. We thought it was worth sharing with fellow travel-enthusiasts.
Why travel during the fall?
Something that any traveler might like about fall is that the prices are lower, the crowds fewer and the weather is milder in most of the popular destinations around the globe.
About Amish Country in Shipshewana
Shipshewana is a tiny town with an area of about 3.06 km sq has a small population. The 2010 census placed the population at 658 people. Tourism plays an important role in the economy of this area.
We had heard about Cook’s Bison Ranch, we decided to pass by to see them up close. Our minds were fed with the sights and sounds of country life and the enormous but beautiful bison.
The farms are also home to some of the best horses compared to what we have ever come across. The value Amish people attach to the horse is evident from the great care they give to their animals. It’s not only horses they raise but a blend of farm animals as well but most noticeable were the cows. We made a brief stopover in one of the farms and were impressed by the hospitality of the Amish. Here we were served with some great tasting milk and ice cream before proceeding with our journey.
As soon as we started entering the city we started seeing the trademark horses and buggies on the road. Due to their religious beliefs, Amish people do not drive cars but they still need to get from point A to point B and back. The most popular mode of transportation to members of this community is the horse and buggy. The Amish use this combination for travel to church, and to meet their daily transport needs such as excursions to town.
Though Amish businesses use vehicles for their transport needs such vehicles are driven by non-Amish drivers.
Well, horses, buggies and modern 21st-century automobiles jostling for space on modern highways is not a thing you will encounter anywhere in this part of the world. But here it is the norm; you will see this intriguing blend of old and new even in gas stations and restaurants.
Any time you get into a dollar store parking lot you expect nothing but conventional motorized traffic. Well, not in Shipshewana. For the first time in my life, I came face to face with a dollar store parking lot full of horse and buggies and of course some horse droppings.
The RV phenomenon
Talking of transport we cannot forget to mention something we noted about Recreational Vehicles in Shipshewana. Despite the fact that the Amish do not drive vehicles, we still noted an impressive number of RVs in the area. This was surprising. Our curiosity got the better of us especially after noting the diversity of RVs around, from motorhomes and campers to fifth wheelers like ours.
It soon became clear why this is, 80% of the RVs in the US are manufactured in Northern Indiana and overtime this industry has become a leading employer of Amish men. The high number of RVs partly accounts for one of the leading attractions in Amish County, the Shipshewana RV Parks.
Why is the Amish Community is such an attraction?
Refusal to drive cars and use horses and buggies is just is not the reason why this community and its way of life is such an attraction. One has to understand and appreciate what motivates this otherwise old fashioned way of doing things. The best way to do this is not just textbook knowledge you need to get there and interact with them. Why?
The third largest Amish community in the US is in Shipshewana and LaGrange County. Our own background research revealed interesting facts about the Amish Community. For instance, did you know that this community, in general, traces its routers back to the 17th century among staunch followers of Jacob Amman in Switzerland?
A schism between within some two groups led to a separation with one group following Ammann and finally becoming the Amish Church. Members of this religious outfit started migrating to North America sometime in early 18th Century first settling in eastern Pennsylvania. A large settlement still remains there to date.
It’s the religious beliefs and way of life that make these communities a great attraction. During our stay, we saw first-hand the practical application and implications of these beliefs. The first thing we noted is that citizens of Amish Country are best known and identified by their plain and mostly self-made clothing, nonconformist lifestyle.
These people place a high premium on family, community, humility, and separation from the world as the main cornerstones of the Amish way of life. The implication of this lifestyle was plain to us. it’s important for visitors to respect the beliefs and practices of these uniquely religious people.
In summary, we noted the following:
- Upon arrival, we quickly noted the need to take extra caution as we traveled; we had to slow down since the roads are almost always filled with bikes, horses and buggies and people walking as well as kids riding pony carts. With this kind of scenario, visitors have to take extra caution on the roads
- Honking is largely out of question. The sound easily spooks the horses.
- The Amish in this area knows that visitors come here to know them but this is not a blank check to you as a visitor. Understand that within limits they will visit some area with you but if they decline a request, that’s okay. Though some will not get into a conversation with you they still will smile and nod at you.
- Photographs are considered graven images by the Amish. So as much as you would want to take a memoir photo with them, you have to honor their culture and wad off the impulse of taking such photos.
- Sundays are the wrong days to go shopping here. Most shops are closed on this day to allow the Amish to honor the Sabbath and spend time with their families. So factor this in your travel arrangements.
Places to go and Things to do in Amish Country
We landed in Shipshewana on a Tuesday after checked in at the Shipshewana Trading Place – RV Park. Our online research had indicated this park is close to the Flea Market which was to be our starting point the next morning. Our plan was to visit at least or two major attractions every day.
This Flea Market with its nearly 900 vendors, is the largest in Midwest. With that many sellers, we were sure we would find something for each member of the family. True, the market didn’t disappoint.
The Flea Market is open every Tuesday and Wednesday between 1st May and 26th September from 8:00 a.m to 5:00 p.m. Special holiday openings include 4th of July, Memorial Day and Labor Day same time.
Its main season comes during spring when on average of more than 12,000 people come to shop here each week.
As planned, our itinerary took us there on a Wednesday. Due to its proximity to the RV Park we just took a stroll and in a few minutes, we were at the market.
The range of products available was amazing. Our Wednesday visit coincided with the Miscellaneous and Antique auction which offered a broad spectrum of hard-to-find items.
From bags to jewelry, cell phone accessories, sunglasses, leather goods, vintage items, party supplies, silk flowers and anything in between was on sale.
ii) The Blue Gate Restaurant and theater
A modern and highly welcoming facility, The Blue Gate Restaurant and theater it proved to be the cream of our visit. The rich restaurant menu featuring American & Amish. Upon our arrival here we found a warm and soothing atmosphere; the kind that you need after a long but exciting day. The home-style cooking is simply great.
Though we had to wait briefly for our dinner table to be set we spent this time shopping in the numerous Riegeckert family shops within the facility’s marketplace. The good thing is all the shops use the same paging system so we were able to hear our names read though we were a number of shops from our table.
Once you are through with your meal do not forget to visit the famous Blue Gate Bakery for freshly baked yummies like cookies and bars, home-made bread, pies and much more.
The Blue Gate theater features over 280 shows annually with 75 different performers, three hit musicals and much more. Why should you miss concerts by multiple Grammy-winning artists, Southern Gospel favorites, hilarious comedians and other family-friendly entertainment? The Blue Gate Restaurant and theater is the best place for your evening entertainment in Amish Country.
iii) Amish in-home dining
For an authentic Amish dining experience, there are several arrangements you can make. You can book a meal with Miller’s Buggy which offers Amish dining experiences catering to groups of people.
iv) Heritage Ridge Creamery
Our next stop major stop was at the Heritage Ridge Creamery. Here we took time to taste delicious, fresh cheeses made at the creamery. Some of them included Colby Jack, Colby, garden vegetable cheese cheddar Amish cream and siracha cheese. This visit gives you an opportunity to watch the cheese-making process right in the creamery.
v) Menno-Hof Amish- Mennonite Information Center
If you want to learn more about the intriguing history and origins of the Amish this is the place to be. The multi-image presentations, colorful displays, and historical environments are used in this center to drive the point home leaving visitors with a clear picture of how and why Amish and Mennonites ended up in the US.
vi) Dutch Creek Farm-Animal Park
Here we joined other guests in not only feeding the animals but also petting and touching them in the process. This is a great stopover for families. But you might be wondering about a few other issues as you plan your trip. How are the restaurants, can we get good campgrounds and so on. Let’s share some insights with you.
Just to be sure about Shipshewana we decided to spend our one-week sampling various restaurants in this tiny town. Of course, lunch break provided the most convenient time to satisfy our stomachs and curiosity.
We realized Shipshewana is home to some fine restaurants catering for all budgets and appetites. You can sample Amish as well as your usual diet in most of these restaurants. In case you are looking for pricey dinner restaurants you can try out the following:
- 5 and 20 Country Kitchen
- East of Chicago Pizza
- Pumpkin Vine Café
- El Zorito 2 .among other
For cheap eats, you can try out
- Jojo’s Pretzels
- Shipshewana Trading Place
- Ben’s Soft Pretzels
- Wana Cup Restaurant
- Red Bud Gourmet Coffee and Tea
Shipshewana RV parks and campgrounds
If you are planning to use an RV don’t scratch your head too much about the availability of convenient RV parks and campgrounds in Amish Country. Like many other visitors before us, we were impressed by the fact that Shipshewana Indiana is home to numerous RV parks and campgrounds. Thus we hardly had a problem locating an ideal park for our overnight stays.
All the campgrounds and RV Parks here have reasonable but varying offers ranging from park features hookups, connectivity, amenities and recreational facilities.
Here’s a list of the most popular parks and their respective rates.
RV Park / Campground and the average rate per person per day
- Shipshewana Campground, South Park at $47.00
Local history museums, as well as the RV/MH museum, are nearby. There’s a number of Amish restaurants ideal for a family outing.
•Shipshewana Campground, North Park at $40.00
It’s quite close to Amish and RV makers. The Menno-hof visitor center nearby offers a multi-media tour with valuable hands-on of the Mennonite and Amish story.
•Shipshewana Trading Place – RV Park at $39:00
The Flea Market is just next door; in fact, most RVers staying here opt to walk to the market rather than drive there. Across the street, you find Menno-hof Museum and lots of interesting shops
•Elkhart Co / Middlebury KOA at about $50.00
The hamburger joint at the top of the hill is quite addictive. You can easily make RV plant tours from this location. Within reach is Meadow valley which is a reasonable golf course.
•Eby’s Pines Campground at about $41:00
Lots of RV dealers are located nearby so one can walk around and see different makes of RVs. Raber golf course is just about 5 miles away.
•Twin Mills Resort at about $165 – $203
Close to the RV manufacturers in Amish Country and the RV museum. On weekends plenty of Amish pastry items and ice cream are available for sale right at the front of this park.
Our one week trip to Amish Country was hardly enough to cover all that was there to be covered. Just like us, you too might never get enough of this country. The best thing is to plan ahead for your trip. Make sure your RV is in top-notch condition and you have all the necessities for the journey.
Most importantly remember you are visiting a unique community. As earlier said, visitors do well to respect the values of the Amish people; do not take photos of them if they don’t want, do not honk at the horses and most importantly remember to have the best of times at Amish Country, Shipshewana Indiana.
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