I had heard about the Heritage Trail while researching my trip to Northern Indiana's Amish communities. Much of what you find on the internet speaks to it being "one of the top places to see in your lifetime" by the editors of Life Magazine. Readers of USA Today give an equally glowing recommendation. So when I checked into my hotel in Nappanee, IN I was pleased to learn that the desk clerk had a copy that had been left by a prior guest.
The driving tour spans roughly 90 miles and covers sights of local and historical interest in the counties of LaGrange and Elkhart taking mostly rural roads through the countryside. Admittedly, as I took off out of Nappanee, I quickly became disinterested when the route took me to a more heavily traveled Hwy 19 north to Elkhart. It wasn't so much that I wasn't interested in Elkhart as I was more interested in staying on the back roads that connected small Amish farms and pastures.
I found the Heritage Trail to be the same south of Shipshewana on Hwy 5. Although I must say, I did get one of my favorite photos on that section of highway, where two Amish buggies were heading south towards me, another was heading north just in front of me, and a fourth was traversing across Hwy 5 heading east to west. In one photo, I was able to capture the hustle and bustle . . . Amish Style . . . with four horse & buggies on a Sunday afternoon.
I understand that the general purpose of the Heritage Trail marketing plan is to get people to explore the small towns that make up the framework around these Amish communities. The route takes traffic through Nappanee, Wakarusa, Elkhart, Bristol, Middlebury, Shipshewana and Goshen . . . the location of the first Amish settlement in Indiana. In each of these communities there are Main Street merchants eager to serve your buying needs. Sorry to sound a bit jaded, but my thoughts are that while shopping is a fun experience, often it is shallow in terms of cultural learning.
I also found the Heritage Trail to be very busy on the day I traveled it in and around Nappanee. Admittedly, it was a Sunday afternoon with lots of folks out and about. Because it seemed folks were following the routing provided on the CD, at times there were long lines of cars backed up behind a buggy heading home after church. There was nothing enjoyable about that sort of experience for me so I quickly diverted off the "beaten path" onto roads even less traveled and more out of the way. I was so happy that I did!
As I read the colorful brochure that is contained in the CD jacket, I was intrigued by the description of the quilt gardens that can be found along the trail May 30th through October 1st. These quilted pattern gardens create colorful quilt like designs using more than 100,000 flowers in bloom. That is something that I would like to see in the future, so perhaps a return is in order.
About the CD kit . . . it contains two CDs with the first providing an introduction plus coverage of Elkhart, Briston, Middlebury and Shipshewana. The second picks up in Goshen and heads west to Nappanee and on to Wakarusa. The driving route is in a clockwise direction with each area noted by track number. You are instructed to pause play when you are interested in stopping your vehicle or getting out to explore a particular area. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a pause button on my car's CD player so it became a bit of a hassle to try to follow along with the tour directions.
The Heritage Trail CD kit is available at the Elkhart Visitors Center and at local merchants along the trail. If you do not have a CD player or don't want to use it, you can download the tour guide to an MP3 player from their website: http://www.amishcountry.org/things-to-do/heritage-trail .
Perhaps the most valuable part of the Heritage Trail driving tour kit is the map contained in the CD jacket. I used it often, especially when venturing off the trail into more remote areas in search of a road less traveled and people out and about, not so mindful of the tourists looking to catch a glimpse of them going about their day-to-day lives.