Recently, we had a situation where we had to stay in an area that we weren’t too keen on visiting, at least under the circumstances surrounding our visit. We were having to take our RV back to the Crossroads factory to have some engineering flaws repaired.
We decided that if this unwanted trip was going to cost us $1,200 out of pocket, then we were going to do our darndest to get much more than $1,200 worth of fun out of it. And thanks to staying in Indiana’s Amish country, we did!
While we had initially been chomping at the bit to get out of Shipshewana (because $170 in hotel rooms every night, for something that wasn’t your fault, is mighty expensive), all those carriage horses and buggies lining the roads and parking lots were somehow charming, relaxing, and home-like.
We found Shipshewana a relaxing place to hang our hats for a few days, and we’re sure that we have never stayed in a more family friendly area.
While our family unanimously decided that our five-day trip to this charming area was not long enough to discover all that Shipshewana offers for RV travelers, here are some of the best stops, with the most local flavor, that we found during our short stay.
Menno-Hof Amish-Mennonite History Museum
The Menno-Hof Amish-Mennonite History Museum offers an informational and intriguing look into the life of the Anabaptist movement. The museum grounds are the ideal first stop when visiting Shipshewana.
During your tour of the museum, you will learn about the beliefs of the Amish and Mennonite cultures that immerses visitors to the area. Here you will learn what the Mennonite and Amish believe and why, and will get a glimpse into the evolution of the Anabaptist Movement, as well as a look into what life is like for their followers around the world.
The Menno-Hof is open Monday through Saturday, and has a great family rate (including all children up to age 14). Plan one to three hours to tour the museum and grounds. www.mennohof.org
Guggisberg Cheese Factory
Guggisberg Cheese Factory is a working cheese factory that gives you a peek, through one of their factory viewing windows, into what is involved in making world class cheeses. Cheeses are made in the morning, so put this one at the top of your list to visit early in the day, ideally before noon.
Guggisberg cooks up more than 40 varieties of cheeses. So, while you are at the factory, try their generous sampling area; especially the world-famous Colby, and their 2015 USA overall Champion Swiss. The Guggisberg factory is a great place to stock up on cheeses as their prices are very affordable. www.babyswiss.com.
E&S Sales Bulk Foods
E&S Sales Bulk Foods was my favorite stop in Shipshewana. I’m not even sure I can tell you why. Maybe it’s because we have a family of 10 and they specialize in bulk foods. Maybe it was due to the fact that the store carries unique and local products like lilac bar soap and Amish peanut butter.
Maybe it was just an experience to shop where you can find gallon tubs of marshmallow crème, purchase ice cream from the deli (under $20 for all 10 of us), and saunter down long aisles lined with bulk candy!
It should be noted here that E&S does not take debit or credit cards. However, the store does have an ATM machine with a $200 per transaction limit. Thankfully, there is no limit on the number of transactions you can complete at the ATM, which is very handy when you have been tempted by 15-pound rounds of cheeses and five-pound slabs of sliced bacon.
E&S Sales Bulk Foods does not have a website, but it is located at 1265 N. State Road 5 in Shipshewana.
There are several shopping malls in Shipshewana, including Yoder’s Department Store and Yoder’s Red Barn Shops where you should NOT take your little girls to make overpriced lip gloss and sugar scrubs because the ‘experience’ means watching an older lady do it for them. (sigh).
Our favorite of the malls was Davis Merhantile where we found a fabulous quilt shop, a high-end toy store, an old fashioned candy shop and an indoor carousel, mixed in with many other fun, upscale store fronts.
We got to know the Mennonite gentleman running the carousel fairly well, since I had a botched lip gloss experience to make up for, and the whole family enjoyed the fruits of our visits to the candy store with its plethora of taffy flavors. You can find Davis Mercantile’s line of shops at www.davismercantile.com.
Yoder Popcorn is a small retail shop located a few miles out of town. This Amish-farmer-owned shop was a fun stop for us. Selling locally grown popcorn, in many different varieties, I really appreciated the information provided about each different variety of popcorn. Some were extra tender, some had fewer hulls, others were big on nutty flavor.
The shop is run by the Amish owner-family, and guests are given a bag of popped popcorn when entering the store to munch on while they browse. Our rig may or may not have left Yoder’s over 50 pounds heavier.
Barn Quilt tours
If Barn Quilt tours interest you, this area of the country offers some great sighting opportunities! Barn Quilts are large pieces of wood, generally 8-by-8-feet that are painted like a quilt square and hung on a barn, but can also be found on the sides or porches of homes, on sheds, or hung from fences and gates.
Barn quilts have risen in popularity in recent years, and a Barn Quilt Tour is a route that is mapped out to take you past each barn quilt in an area. Barn quilts are typically hung in plain site where they are suitable for photographing from the road/in your vehicle (please do not enter private property without permission).
If you would like to learn more about barn quilts, fulltime RVer Suzi Parron is an expert on the subject; you can find her website on barn quilts at www.barnquiltinfo.com.
Amish dining at its best
It seems that in Amish country, it really IS all about the food! One of the things that we love to do in each area we visit, is to try the foods that are unique or popular in the area. Amish “family dinner experience” eateries are a must-do when visiting Shipshewana.
There are several restaurants in town that offer the family experience, which is where groups of strangers sit alongside one another down stretched tables filled with mounded bowls and platters of home-cooked foods. While there are waitstaff, the guests typically pass food dishes along to one another, just like in a family setting, and each person fills their own plate.
It is fun to meet new friends in this relaxed and pleasant setting, while you converse with others sitting around you at the table, not just your travel companions.
The Amish are not only known for their cozy family dining experiences, but also for their adept baking skills! Be sure to check out one of the multiple bakeries that are found in town, such as Ben’s Bakery. At Ben’s, you will find a tempting assortment of cookies, breads, and pies, including fried pies. Ben’s is located right across the side street from E&S Sales.
Twin Mills Camping Resort is a 500-site campground located just 7 miles east of Shipshewana. The campground is situated between a lake and a river, although it is split by Hwy. 120. It offers such fun amenities as a drive-in movie area for golf carts, mini golf, a pool, multiple playgrounds, and a kids’ fishing pond. Twin Mills is an off-season Thousand Trails/Encore resort, so if you are there in the spring or fall, your membership may just cover you. www.twinmills.net.
Shipshewana South Park Campground is conveniently located right in town, and within walking distance from many of the best destinations and experiences in the city. This 150-site campground is open seasonally, from April 15 to Oct. 15. South Park offers 50-amp sites, some shaded sites (these are 30-amp sites), free Wi-Fi, an RV wash area and community fire pits. Reservations are highly recommended. www.shipshewanacampground.com
Suds n’ Duds is a stop in Shipshewana that doesn’t fit comfortably under any of the other categories, but is definitely of interest to us in the RV world! Sud’s and Dud’s is located on the north end of town, and offers a plethora of amenities to RVers, such as a car/truck wash, a self storage area, propane sales, and a large clean and attended coin laundry.
Our tips for visiting Shipshewana
Closed on Sunday — Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, is open on Sunday in Amish country. Sunday is their day of rest, so plan to visit and do your activities (including grocery shopping) on other days.
You may be able to pick up take out from a whopping two of the restaurants in town, so if you are staying in a hotel while your rig is being worked on in the factory, learn from our mistake, and be sure to plan ahead for food and meals for Sunday.
Share the Road — Driving in Amish country is incredibly interesting, but it also takes a high level of awareness. You will be sharing the road with casual cyclists as well as horses and buggies. While they generally stay in the shoulder lanes, they do sometimes have to come out into the road to pass each other, turn into a lane on the other side of the street, or to get to their destination.
There are a few suggested tips for traveling politely in Amish country, and they include passing buggies at 5 mph, being vigilant to watch for buggies traveling on the shoulder when turning onto and off of roads, and not blocking access to parking areas designated for Amish buggies.
Take your camera — But please do not take up close or facial photos of the Amish and Mennonite. For some of these religious groups, not having their “image” made by photos being taken is a religious conviction. But, for the rest, it boils down to the fact that we are visiting their turf and should show common courtesy when taking photos to remember our visit. Be discrete, and do not publish photos to social media of people without their permission.
Go with an empty freezer — We found Shipshewana to be a fabulous place to stock up on meats and cheeses. At the same time, we were disappointed at the availability of fresh fruits. However, we did not take the time to travel to the nearby big box stores. If you will be staying in and around Shipshewana and not heading out toward the larger surrounding towns, be prepared in what you take with you.
Biking encouraged — If you have pedal bikes, bring them. Shipshewana’s charm will only grow from the seat of a bicycle. Bikes are very common in Shipshewana as many Amish and Mennonites use them to travel to work or shopping.
Even though we had a fabulous time exploring Shipshewana and the nearby towns during our short stay in the area, Shipshewana is still on our bucket list! The family unanimously wants to return to the area and check it out more in depth.
If you can block off a week to block out the world, Shipshewana promises to deliver an intriguing, family friendly, and relaxing visit.
For more information on the Shipshewana area, visit www.shipshewana.com