Traveling to America’s Amish destinations is popular with tour groups because the trips offer an uplifting escape to a pastoral culture centered on faith and family-friendly entertainment.
According to the Elizabethtown College Young Center, the three largest Amish settlements are Lancaster County, Pennsylvania; Holmes County, Ohio; and the Elkhart/LaGrange counties area of northern Indiana.
Visiting communities where Christian beliefs are so central to daily life holds a special attraction to faith groups. They enjoy visiting craftspeople, savoring delicious cooking, and traveling roads where horses and buggies are the common mode of travel.
It’s an unplugged life, enjoyed at a slower pace, with scenic tours and multiple crafts from basket weaving to quilting, along with wineries, dinner theaters and concerts.
Visitors love learning about Amish beliefs and their peaceful antidotes to modern life, and that’s why the three largest settlements rank as major tour destinations.
“The Amish faith seeps into everything in a good way,” said Tiffany Gerber, executive director of Ohio’s Holmes County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau. “It’s family values and family traditions.”
Ohio Amish Country
One of the most popular destinations for faith groups visiting Holmes County is the Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center in Berlin, Ohio. It informs visitors about the varied faiths and lifestyles of the Amish and similar peoples, including the Mennonites and the Hutterites.
The center features a massive cyclorama mural that depicts the story of the Amish. They upset Europe’s religious community by promoting adult baptism and yet chose nonviolence in the face of persecution.
Not far from the Amish Center are many other popular attractions, including the Farm at Walnut Creek, Yoder’s Amish Home, the Village Antique Emporium, the Millersburg Glass Museum, the Holmes County Courthouse, Heini’s Cheese Chalet, Guggisberg Cheese and the Holmes County Historical Society.
Those wanting to experience local culture often take a backroad tour in a buggy to visit basket-makers, buggy builders or a family-owned store.
There are two theaters featuring comedy, concerts and plays: the Amish Country Theater in downtown Berlin and the Ohio Star Theater in nearby Sugarcreek.
Another local gem is the 23-mile Holmes County Trail. Built on a former railroad bed, the trail features a canopy of trees for walkers, runners, bicyclists and buggy drivers. Trail users can even rent an electric bike.
Gerber, the Holmes County tourism director, said that guests appreciate that faith, family and community are evident in Amish and non-Amish locals alike.
“When visitors come here, they feel safe,” she said.
Pennsylvania Dutch Country
William Penn established Pennsylvania as a haven for religious freedom, so it seems entirely appropriate that many Amish settled there in Lancaster County. The county is the largest Amish settlement in the nation, according to the Young Center at Elizabethtown College.
The Amish culture and multitude of attractions attract groups year after year, said Joel Cliff, director of communications for Discover Lancaster. Among these attractions are grand auctions, called mud sales because so many people walk in the fields where the auctions occur.
“It’s the simplicity of the lifestyle, the steadfastness of faith and family, and all the beauty of Lancaster County,” he said. “Those things are all interlinked with the Amish businesses and tour attractions.”
To learn about the culture, people visit the Amish Village and the Amish Farm and House, both in Lancaster. Also popular is the Amish Experience at Bird-in-Hand, which features a multimedia show that explains Amish history called “Jacob’s Choice.”
Northeast of Lancaster, the Ephrata Cloister offers tours of the grounds; there, a community of believers sought union with God and prepared for Christ’s second coming.
Visitors also enjoy the Lititz Moravian Church and museum to learn about the history of the Moravians; they can then walk the beautiful main street of Lititz to visit shops like Moravian House Antiques and the Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery.
The Sight and Sound Theatre offers epic live musical productions of the stories of biblical characters from Moses to Jesus. Show sets tower above audiences and include trained animals and spectacular special effects. Through the end of the year, Sight and Sound will showcase “David,” the story of the fearless warrior from the Old Testament.
Northern Indiana Amish Country
For groups wanting an unforgettable escape, northern Indiana’s Amish country offers a fabulous place to unplug and recharge, said Sonya Nash, director of group and experiential sales and marketing at the Elkhart Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“These are people who live very simply and welcome visitors and groups into their homes and businesses,” said Nash.
Because of strong interest in the origins and traditions of the Amish, hundreds of craftspeople built the barn for the Menno-Hof Visitors Center in Shipshewana, Indiana.
Across from the Menno-Hof, the Shipshewana Trading Place boasts a flea market the size of 30 football fields and the title of largest flea market in the Midwest.
There are many Shipshewana vendors, like Ben’s Soft Pretzels, where guests sample giant pretzels and can sign up for a pretzel-making class.
In Nappanee, Indiana, the Round Barn Theater is the main draw with a spring lineup that features “Beauty and the Beast,” and tours of Amish homes and farms, along with horse-and-buggy rides, are available.
Another favorite is a center of boutiques housed in the renovated building of the famous Hoosier Cabinet. Called Coppes Commons, its stores sell everything from antiques to gourmet popcorn. The selection of vendors in Nappanee ranges from bakeries to candy stores to restaurants and includes non-Amish treasures like Hunter’s Hideaway.
Just north of Nappanee live people from the Old Order Mennonite community of Wakarusa.
Visitors can step back in time and enjoy Wakarusa Pro Hardware, with its original hardwood floors and merchandise stored in more than 1,000 wood drawers that reach from floor to ceiling.
To satisfy a sweet tooth, the Wakarusa Dime Store sells jelly beans with flavors from jumbo chocolate-covered cherry to assorted fruit, along with many fine candies.
Near the Michigan border lies the town of Middlebury, Indiana. At Das Dutchman Essenhaus, guests dine on time-tested Amish recipes and can book a room, hold a conference or sample products made on-site.
Tour groups of all kinds go to northern Indiana to travel roads that Life magazine named among America’s most scenic drives and to disconnect from the stress of modern life.
“It’s a higher and different belief,” said Nash, “and it’s very appealing to groups because these folks have figured out a way to be healthy and happy.”
Amish Influence Continues To Grow
The Amish influence continues to expand: The Amish population has doubled over the past 20 years, according to the Young Center at Elizabethtown College.
With large families and high numbers of members who stay, the Amish today have expanded to 31 states and to Canada, Argentina and Bolivia.
Although Amish and similar faiths share many core beliefs, they have many differences in names, dress and rules. That includes differences in the use of technology.
Depending on the order, many Amish use technology, but they do not allow technology to infringe on the foundations of faith, family and community.
“It’s living without distraction,” said Tiffany Gerber, executive director of Ohio’s Holmes County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau.