Weaving through charming hometowns, historic sites, fresh Amish food and an abundance of festivities, Northern Indiana’s Heritage Trail is so much more than a stunning scenic drive.
Since Elkhart County was established in 1830, its communities have welcomed visitors with homely sensibilities, rustic influences and a myriad of natural beauty. In 1841, the area brought the Amish population to live amongst the lush backdrop, which is considered one of the most scenic driving tours in the country. Free guided audio tours or step-on escorts for groups in large buses and vans can illuminate the rich history of the land and ensure you don’t miss out on the lively festivals, intriguing museums or those freshly-baked Amish pies.
Get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the Amish way of life, see a living patchwork quilt garden or take a stroll downtown to explore shops bursting with handcrafted goods. In addition to being the nation’s RV capital, the area is dotted with museums, including the Midwest Museum of American Art, the Elkhart County Historical Museum and the world’s only superhero museum. Groups looking for a homespun experience in one of the most beautiful trails in the nation will want to contact the Elkhart County Visitor Center to customize their trip.
In a colorful fusion of quilting, gardening and art, Elkhart County is home to the nation’s only living quilt garden. Ideal for gardening and horticulture societies, photography clubs and anyone with a quilting hobby, the gardens are unique in their designs. Each year, the area boasts more than one million blooms, the vibrant colors forming quilt-like shapes and patterns. In addition to the 17 supersized quilt gardens, the area features 21 hand-painted art murals which follow a quilt pattern theme.
Groups can expand their trip to a full quilting tour which includes activities, a themed shopping experience and hearing from quilting historians and experts. Visitors can pick out their fabrics at local shops and let their craft be inspired by the garden patterns.
Brown Bag Tour
Groups looking for a new twist on their visit to Amish Country will be delighted by the surprises offered along the Brown Bag tour. On this mystery tour, each member is given a brown bag. As they explore the quaint, locally owned shops filled with handcrafted items, groups will collect special objects and treats. Tours are customizable, and include trips to Amish country stores such as the bakery and noodle shop.
Groups will receive items such as wooden magnets and Amish popcorn, and travel the scenic backroads of the Heritage Trail alongside horse-drawn buggies. Step-on guides explain the history and traditions of the Amish as they travel through the picturesque countryside, which is dotted with barns and charming farm houses.
The Real Housewives of Amish Country
How do you run a business without a computer? Or complete household chores without any help from electrical appliances? As homemakers, business partners, mothers and integral members of their communities, Amish women are inventive and driven. With this tour, groups can learn how a basket weaver sustains her successful business, and hear how an Amish school teacher runs classes in her one-room school.
Join in watching a demonstration of how to make the perfect peanut butter crumb pie before tucking in for a haystack lunch. Whether you’re drooling over the freshness of their homemade cinnamon rolls or marveling at the talent behind their impeccable homemade baskets, reality TV is nothing compared to this behind-the-scenes glimpse of daily life for Amish women.
Art and History Tour
Elkhart County has hundreds of years of tradition, art and culture to explore, so it’s no surprise there are plenty of museums which reflect this rich history. The Elkhart County Historical Museum features more than 30,000 artifacts which tell the stories of the county, including permanent galleries and frequent temporary exhibitions. Keep an eye out for the unique programming and events the museum has to offer year-round.
Life imitates art, and nowhere will you find more of it than in the Midwest Museum of American Art. The permanent collection presents works from more than 500 sources, including significant historical artists. Visitors can peruse collections from Norman Rockwell and exhibits featuring Chicago Imagists or American Impressionism.
Overlooking the junction of the two main county rivers is the Ruthmere Mansion and Gardens. The three-story Beaux-Arts mansion, the most prominent historical residence in Elkhart County, was built in 1908 and was home to the wealthy Albert and Elizabeth Beardsley. The impressive home and the neighboring Dr. Havilah Beardsley House now function as walk-through museums, allowing visitors to explore the architecture and design of the county’s most prominent historical residence.
Superheroes, Festivals and More
The Heritage Trail has surprises around every corner. In the winter, you’ll find towns draped in a soft glow as more than one million Christmas lights are put up for the annual walk-through light display. Visitors can see Broadway musicals and Grammy-winning performances at the Blue Gate Theatre, ride on a restored carousel from 1906 or get lost in the Shipshewana Corn Maze.
Meanwhile, the nearby Hall of Heroes museum houses Chris Evans’ Captain America shield and celebrates more than 75 years of superhero and comic book history. Between the spring Maple Syrup Festival and the wealth of pies, pretzels and other Amish favorites, there is little wonder that a trip through town is nicknamed “the 10-pound tour.”