Shipshewana Indiana is home to a large Amish community, a larger flea market and some of the best fried chicken and pie you’ll ever eat. It makes a great girlfriends’ getaway for shopping, eating and learning a little about Amish culture. But there are plenty of fun things to do in Shipshewana with kids, too.
The writer was hosted for some portions of this trip.
When Cadillac offered me the chance to test drive a self-driving SUV, how could I say no? The challenge: Choosing a destination along one of the 200,000 miles of ““Super Cruise” roads already mapped in America.
One of those roads, the Indiana toll road (Interstate 80/90) runs across northern Indiana. That made a road trip to Shipshewana, Indiana, and nearby Pokagon State Park a no-brainer.
More on the incredible experience of letting the Cadillac XT-6 drive my pal, Ami, and me in a minute.
But first, the fun things to do in Shipshewana with and without kids.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Make your first stop the Shipshewana LaGrange County Visitor Center at 350 S Van Buren St. to pick up a coupon book. It has deals on meals, souvenirs and activity admissions. Plus, the workers there were a font of information about the town and surrounding area.
Read More: Where to find hidden gems in Indiana.
Dutch Creek Farm Animal Park
This charming Amish-family-run spot is part petting zoo, part regular zoo and part zoo safari via horse-drawn wagon.
We joined a wagon full of preschoolers, their parents and teachers and a few older siblings who tried to be too cool for school — until it came time to feed the giraffes, zebras, zorses (that’s part zebra, part horse as its name implies) and a host of other exotic animals. Then they were at least as excited as the rest of us. You can read our full review of Dutch Creek Farm Animal Park here.
The park is open 9am-4pm from May 1 through mid-October.
SheBuysTravel Tip: The park takes credit cards, processed via a dial up phone system. Plan to bring cash. Besides, you’ll want some small bills to buy carrots and Fruit Loops for feeding the animals. They’re sold on a cash-only honor system. (Love those Amish!)
This is the place to learn about the faith and history of the Amish and Mennonite people through the lens of the history of organized religion.
Ami and I headed there, expecting to spend an hour or so. Two and half hours later, we left only because our tummies were growling and we needed lunch. We could have stayed at least another hour soaking in all there is to learn.
The museum is part guided tour and part independent reading. The volunteer docents were either Amish or Mennonite and well versed in the religious history.
For the young ‘uns, the best spot in the museum is a charming play area and reading spot with Amish books where older kids are encouraged to read to their younger siblings.
But the highlight for slightly older kids will be the tornado room. It’s a small space with a movie telling the story of a tornado that devasted the town. As the winds sweep across the screen, the warning lights flash and the room begins to shake. The docents say there are local kids who visit regularly just for another go at the tornado room.
SheBuysTravel Tip: The tour through the museum — and the history of organized religion — includes a stop in a room that depicts the many ways Christians were tortured in the Dark Ages. Plan to breeze right through if you’re visiting with younger, more sensitive kids.
Amish Buggy Ride
We visited on a whirlwind two-day trip, so we opted for the short 15-minute Blue Gate buggy ride through tiny downtown Shipshewana. There’s also a longer version that travels through the Amish countryside. And we rode in what I considered the princess buggy rather than the starker, more traditional Amish buggy.
Regardless, we got to meet Glenn. He’s an affable retired Amish farmer and father of 11 who enjoys driving tourists around town, pointing out the highlights and sharing insights into Amish culture. For example, he says there are about 30,000 Amish living in America, most of them in Pennsylvania and the Midwest. Shipshewana is home to about 600 — that’s 10 families, Amish-style.
If we had more time, I would opt for the Buggy Lane Tours instead. That Amish tour company offers a hands-on tour that includes a 20-minute ride to a 70-acre working horse and dairy farm where kids (and adults!) can learn to milk a cow, taste fresh milk, help feed the calves and take pictures of Belgian work horses.
If you book at least 30 hours in advance, you can add on a home cooked Thrasher’s Family Style Dinner and eat with a family in an Amish home.
Blue Gate Theatre
The marquee show when we visited in May 2022 was “Half-Stitched: the Musical.” We expected some campy fun for an hour or so. We got a deeply moving musical that was well acted and included some truly impressive singing.
The set up is a quilting class taught by an Amish woman who is a master quilter. The students are a mishmash of women and men, some of whom are excited to be there and others who aren’t. As the weekend class progresses, we learn the tradition of Amish quilt-making along with the characters’ heart-rending stories. Ultimately, the teacher’s good-heartedness helps heal each of them.
Next up is a new musical still being written, “Dear Soldier Boy.” I want to go back to see it.
In addition to the quaint theater, the Blue Gate Garden Inn operates a performing arts center that attracts some big names. When we were there, Marie Osmond was on the marquee and a host of country and gospel stars were on the calendar, including the Oak Ridge Boys, the Righteous Brothers and gospel singers Dailey & Vincent.
Shipshewana Auction & Flea Market
The Midwest’s largest flea market, this was Ami’s reason for visiting. She’s a committed shopper and antiquer. As she puts it: If it’s rusty and old, she wants it.
Lucky for her, there was plenty of rusty old stuff at the flea market. Lucky for me, there was lots of other stuff too.
Shipshewana Flea Market is not your average set-up-in-a-parking lot flea market. While there are some vendors set up under a tent with their wares spread across folding tables, most of the booths are permanent structures. And it’s huge! We walked up and down the isles and spent hours. After a while it became clear that many of the vendors sold the same or similar merchandise, often at different prices. So buyer beware!
For families, there are booths selling fun kids’ toys, books and clothing. There also are plenty of shops selling kitchen gadgets, t-shirts or socks, plus a few selling Amish specialties, such as beautiful Amish-made wind chimes. (Hubby will be getting one of those for Father’s Day. Shhhhh. Don’t tell!)
The market is open from 8am to 4pm only on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, May through September. There’s an antique and livestock auction every Wednesday year-round and a horse auction every Friday year-round.
SheBuysTravel Tip: There are several food vendors spread throughout. If you’re really hungry (like we were when we arrived at lunchtime), you don’t have to wait in the looooong line at the food stop just inside the entrance (like we did). Instead, pick up a map and head to one of the vendors inside the market. I never saw a line at any of them, although I suspect that will change as the summer gets into full swing. And whatever you order for lunch, save room for pie!
Yoder’s Shopping Center
Home to an actual Amish department store — my friend disappeared into the expansive fabric section and came out with several make-at-home projects, including pre-cut cloth pieces for a quilt — Yoder’s also houses a hardware store that seemed to have more souvenirs than a gift shop.
Blue Gate Restaurant
If you do nothing else in Shipshewana, stop here to eat. We had the buffet twice, just because the fried chicken and pie were so good. Buy the combined ticket for the Blue Gate Theatre and plan to eat your fill after the show. Or eat before the show. That’s a good option too.
And when you check out, grab a couple of the fresh-made caramels near the register and add them to your bill. You’ll be glad you did. Just wait for the pie to digest so you can fully appreciate the melt-in-your-mouth buttery goodness of the caramels.
Other Places to Eat in Shipshewana
There are so many places to pack in the calories that I was glad we stayed at the Blue Gate Garden Inn about a mile south of downtown Shipshewana. We walked back and forth and racked up 10,000+ steps each day to help counteract all of the pie, friend chicken and caramels we ate.
But the Blue Gate isn’t the only restaurant in the area. We also ate at Das Dutchman Essenhaus in nearby Middlebury. The fried chicken there was also good, but the pie (which, unlike the Blue Gate, was not a part of the buffet and cost extra) was not. If you’re only going to try one Amish buffet, make it the Blue Gate.
Another highly recommended eatery we didn’t have time to try is Jojo’s Pretzels in the 4-story Davis Mercantile building at 225 N Harrison St. That’s also the place to find a 1906 Dentzel Carousel where you can ride on a hand-carved farm animal.
Hotels in Shipshewana
We stayed as guests of the Blue Gate Garden Inn in a spacious two-bedroom, one-bath suite with a separate sitting area. It had one king bed (in a room with a door that closes!), a queen bed and a sofa bed. There were two TVs (one in the sitting area and one in the master bedroom), a refrigerator, coffee maker and microwave. In short, everything a family would need for a comfortable night’s sleep.
The hotel is within easy walking distance of the Menno-Hof, the flea market, the visitor center and Yoder’s Department store. The performing arts center is right next door.
Inside the beautifully kept hotel is a heated indoor pool and large hot tub, the cute Ice Creamery ice cream shop, pinball and air hockey machines and an inviting outdoor patio with gliding chairs, small tables, fire pits and a comforting babbling fountain.
Our room included a yummy breakfast buffet, complete with delectable biscuits and gravy (always my diet downfall). There’s also an omelet station and a make-your-own waffle station.
About that Self-Driving Cadillac
OK, the 2022 Cadillac XT6 all-wheel-drive SUV doesn’t actually drive itself, but it comes pretty darn close.
This is a true luxury vehicle. The model we drove retails for just over $73,000. It comes with all of the safety bells and whistles, including emergency automatic braking, forward collision alert, front and rear pedestrian alert and HD surround vision (which makes is super easy to maneuver in tight spaces).
And then it has lots of niceties, such as adaptive cruise control (it automatically slows down when you creep up on another vehicle, then automatically resumes speed when traffic clears), impressive 14-speaker Bose sound system, illuminated door handles and an air ionizer that cleared the interior air of all the nasty pollen blowing around outside.
But the star of this show is the “Super Cruise” feature. It uses adaptive cruise control, sensors and 360-degree cameras to keep the car driving at a set speed in the middle of its lane. It only works on road that have been mapped for the system. To date, that includes more than 200,000 miles of highways in the US and Canada.
How Super Cruise Works
While I couldn’t wait to set the system, my pal, Ami, was less enthused. She doesn’t even use regular old cruise control when she drives. She actually whimpered a little the first time I engaged the cruise control, hit the Super Cruise button and took my hands off the wheel.
I have to admit, it was a little unnerving at first. But it only took me a few minutes to relax and trust the car. At one point, I got so relaxed that the car yelled at me — flashing a signal on the steering wheel and buzzing my seat — to remind me to keep my eyes on the road.
The only time both Ami and I were a little uncomfortable was when we passed large semis. We both felt like the Cadillac was too close to the semi. I resolved that easily enough — as soon as I put my hands on the wheel, the autopilot disengaged and I was able to steer the car farther to the left side of our lane.
And, when the car thought it was time for me to take over, it let me know. That happened a few times as we hit a lot of traffic or passed through construction zones.
Overall, I loved it. I dislike driving long distances over the interstates. I find that my hands, arms, right foot and leg get tired holding in the same spot for hours. But with my feet flat on the car floor and my hands resting in my lap (except for those times when I was holding them inches from the steering wheel, ready to take over if the car, say, didn’t follow the curve in the highway), I arrived at our destination feeling much more relaxed.
Once we arrived, we were happy to have an SUV with easy fold-down seats (just press the button and down they go). It came in very handy when Ami started grabbing bargains at the flea market.