This weekend we spent our days walking through beautiful gardens, biking the countryside, perusing artisan shops, visiting a few breweries, and getting to know the Amish in Indiana’s Amish Country. We spent the night doing what we call “tramping,” truck camping, which always seems to provide its own type of entertainment. What a surreal experience and only two hours away from Chicago!
I read about visiting Amish Country and driving the Heritage Trail, a 90 mile loop through multiple towns with quilt designed mural and flower displays. Maybe that doesn’t sound quite that interesting right out the gate, but when I saw the lovely pictures and read about some of the other things to do, I was hooked. The next step was to get the husband on board and in comes the biking and breweries. This weekend we decided to go tramping in Amish Country and we were both pleasantly surprised at what Northern Indiana had to offer.
Elkhart – Our First Town on the Heritage Trail
We headed to the Visitor Center in Elkhart first, to get maps of the Heritage Trail and Pumpkinvine Bicycle Trail. They also have a free audio driving tour available on CD or you can download it to your phone.
Our first official stop on the Heritage Trail was Wellfield Botanic Gardens, a unique spot for a garden as it sits on the site of the wells that supply the city with its drinking water. What a great idea to turn a functional space into a beautiful and peaceful walking area! They definitely have more work to do on the expansion of the garden, but it was a delightful stroll with tons of photo ops. They only charge a $5 admission fee, free for children under 12. On Tuesdays it is free for everyone. The garden can also be the start of a set-your-own-pace walk or ride on the RiverWalk Culture Trail, a trail that brings you to all the highlights of Elkhart.
From Wellfield, we headed over to Ruthmere Mansion to see our first quilt garden. Unfortunately, the mansion was closed or we would have loved to take a quick tour.
Elkhart is a small cute town situated on the St. Joseph River. The sides of the brick buildings were adorned with quirky murals and Main Street had a few stores and restaurants.
We stopped at Iechyd Da Brewery for lunch. Supposedly pronounced Yah-key-Dah, not sure how that works! It means good health in Welsh. The pizza was good and they had a large selection of beer: the hubby tried the Revolution IPA and American Black Ale (our bartenders favorite) and I had the Tatarosa Razz Berliner Weisse and Summer Wheatley Hoppy Wheat. We liked that they had half pints so we could try a few and still remain functional.
I’m not sure how to describe our next quilt garden stop, Linton’s Enchanted Gardens. It is a home and garden center, but with a strange and genius twist. Entering the store you are thrown into sensory overload with gifts galore. They have jewelry, wall art, clothes, home decor, and many other items. There’s a small cafe next to a trickling waterfall that serves breakfast, lunch, and an assortment of drinks. The Enchanted Garden area is enchanted alright and a genius way to get additional income from random attractions; it has a small petting zoo, gemstone mining, a real tree house (top of a 200-year-old hollowed out tree), paddle boat, and train rides all among the huge selection of plants, flowers, and trees. It’s definitely worth the stop as we have never seen anything quite like it.
We enjoyed looking at all the grand homes on the river along Indiana 120 heading to the campground we were staying at, Eby’s. We were done with the sights for the day and I was quite disappointed that we hadn’t seen any Amish families yet. I hoped the next day would bring some excitement on that front.
Time to set up camp.
Have you heard of glamping before? Well truck camping, “tramping”, is nothing like it! I remember the first time my husband asked if I wanted to go camping. It’s not my preferred method of lodging, but it is so much cheaper than hotels, it’s hard not to at least consider. So I did consider it, and decided it was worth the cost savings.
I dug out my tent and he says, “Why do you have that out? We’re going to sleep in the truck.” What? Who is going to? Why? Oh and the questions continued to flow and flow. After a LONG discussion, I finally agreed but with the compromise to stay at a hotel if it ended up being a horrible experience.
We ended up tramping in our Santa Fe four nights and had a great time. I have to admit, it was pretty genius: being in the truck cut out any noise, I felt safer, and it was more comfortable than sleeping on the hard ground. I didn’t want to admit that I completely enjoyed it because I figured every trip from that point on would have been me sleeping in my truck! So I just said it wasn’t too bad. From then on, I’ve been tramping with my husband whenever we can (that just sounds hilarious).
Bristol – Second Town on the Heritage Trail
Bonneyville Mill County Park was one of my favorite stops over the weekend in Amish Country. We had never been inside an 1880’s working flour mill before and we had our first Amish sighting there as well! I hate to say it like that, as if they are an attraction, but their whole lifestyle piques my curiosity.
Middlebury – Third Town on the Heritage Trail
We decided to bike a portion of the Pumpkinvine Bike Trail and were limited on time so we only rode from Middlebury to Shipshewana, about 10 miles round trip. The paved trail was great! Some sections were lined with wildflowers and as we passed through the Amish countryside, we saw many working farms and families using the same path as us to bike to town.
Afterwards, we stopped at Rise ‘N Roll, an Amish bakery, for some much-needed sugar. The cinnamon roll was good but the cinnamon caramel donuts and the apple fritters stole the show. SO GOOD! Don’t forget to pick up a free 8 oz coffee with your snacks. They had many samples so even if you’re not in the mood for a donut, stop by and try all the other goodies.
Shipshewana – Fourth Town on the Heritage Tour – Our Favorite!
Shipshewana was our favorite town we visited in Amish Country. It is quaint and charming with a theater, artisan shops, and restaurants. We stopped in the Davis Mercantile, a four floor shopping complex, for a coffee break, then wandered through the shops.
While driving on the way from Shipshewana to Goshen, we encountered a group of Amish people on bikes to the left of us and two horse buggies to the right. There’s something you don’t see every day!
Goshen – Fifth Town on the Heritage Trail
Goshen was another delightful, small town. The Elkhart County Courthouse, a stately brick building with a large clock tower, sits at the heart of town. We didn’t eat there, but heard Olympia Candy Kitchen was a great place to stop for lunch or ice cream. The Old Bag Factory, built in 1896, is another great stop for specialty shops.
Nappanee and Wakarusa – Final Towns on the Heritage Trail
We didn’t spend much time in the last two towns on the Heritage Trail, but we did find our favorite quilt garden at the Nappanee Center. It is a recreated Amish garden with stepping stones, a water pump, and bench. Make sure to stop by the Wakarusa Dime Store, it’s every child’s fantasy with countless candy options.
Notre Dame Campus and 3 Floyds Brewery Stop
We ended the weekend with a bike ride through Notre Dame’s beautiful campus in South Bend. Then for dinner we headed over to 3 Floyds Brewery. The food and beer were amazing!
We had a wonderful weekend tramping in Northern Indiana’s Amish Country! We covered a lot of ground in two days, but we could have easily made it a full three day trip.
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Have you been to Indiana’s Amish Country? Did we miss anything?
Highlights of the Trip:
Wellfield Botanic Gardens, Biking the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail, and the town of Shipshewana.
Other Things To Do Not Listed Above:
Elkhart: Time Was Museum, The Lerner, NYC Railroad Museum, Midwest Museum of American Art, New Paradigm Brewery, & RV Hall of Fame
Bristol: Elhart County Historical Museum
Middlebury: Das Dutchman Essenhaus, Dutch Country Market
Shipshewana: Flea Market & Auction, Yoder’s Meat & Cheese, & Menno-Hof
Elkhart Campground, Middlebury KOA, Shipshewana Campground South, Pla-Mor Campground
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