Heading to Northern Indiana? Or maybe just looking for a fun weekend getaway? Consider a trip to Elkhart County. This post includes things to see and do; great places to eat, and unique accommodations in this list of 15 fun things to do in Elkhart county, Indiana!
I want to thank the Elkhart County Convention & Visitors Bureau for hosting my trip. All opinions, as always, are my own.
Where is Elkhart County Indiana Located?
Elkhart County is at the very top of Indiana – it borders Michigan. It’s about an hour and a half from Chicago (and easy to get there from the city as the I-80/I-90 toll road runs through it), and a little over two hours from Indianapolis.
What cities are located in Elkhart County?
The 5 main cities in Elkhart County are Elkhart, Goshen, Nappanee, Middlebury, and Wakarusa. Elkhart is the largest city, but Goshen is the county seat. You’ll find that these 15 fun things to do in Elkhart County Indiana will take you through all of the county!
👉Related post: Double down on your Elkhart County Indiana getaway with these great places to visit specifically in the city of Elkhart, Indiana!
Are there Amish in Elkhart County?
Northern Indiana ranks 3rd after Pennsylvania and Ohio for the largest population of Amish in the US. The Elkhart – LaGrange Amish settlement was established in 1841, so the Amish lifestyle and traditions are well rooted in the area.
The Amish are an integral part of the community providing much of the workforce for the RV and other local industries. Throughout Elkhart county, you’ll also find many small shops that are Amish-owned selling beautifully handcrafted items, food products, and more.
What are fun things to do in Elkhart County Indiana?
Ready for a great visit? Get started here …
1. What is the Heritage Trail in Indiana?
The Heritage Trail is a terrific place to start your visit to Elkhart County as it will take you to most of the highlights of the county. It’s an audio tour that (without stopping) will take about 3 hours and covers about 90 miles.
You can pick up a CD or USB at the Visitors Center for FREE, or stream “The Heritage Trail Audio Driving Tour” from your favorite podcast platform (I found it easily as the July 13th, 2021 episode of the People & Places along the Heritage Trail podcast).
Because the tour starts at the visitors center (located at 3421 Cassopolis Street in Elkhart), it might be easiest to pick up the CD and start from there.
Depending upon how much time you have for your visit to Elkhart County, you may decide to just drive the trail straight through and then go back to spend more time at the places you are most interested in, or you could use it to guide you from spot to spot. Either way, it’s a unique and fun way to see the best of Elkhart county!
2. What are the Quilt Gardens in Elkhart County?
Another really interesting thing to do in Elkhart County is to check out the quilt gardens. If you are visiting Elkhart County between late May and Mid September, viewing at least a few of the quilt gardens should be on your list of fun things to do in Elkhart County.
Every year, local businesses and tourist attractions around the county create beautiful, colorful gardens based on quilt patterns. Each one is unique and there will be a sign sharing the pattern it’s based upon, flowers used, and more.
If you happen to visit outside of the quilt garden season, you can still enjoy lovely quilt patterns by checking out the 25 hand-painted, super-sized quilt murals.
For maps to the Quilt Gardens and/or murals, stop at the Elkhart Visitors Center or you can pick up a map at most of the gardens themselves if you happen to see one as you are driving around the area (perhaps while on the Heritage Trail!).
BONUS for 2022: In 2022, along with the 17 gorgeous quilt gardens, you’ll also get to enjoy 23 Seward Johnson life-like bronze sculptures. They are incredibly lifelike and a ton of fun to enjoy. Definitely Instagram-worthy!
3. Ride a bike along the Millrace Canal or PumpkinVine Trail
On a gorgeous sunny day, there is no better way to fully relax than to grab a bike and pedal your way along one of the lovely trails in Elkhart County.
The Millrace Canal Trail is about 2 miles and runs through Goshen and provides peaceful views of the canal and plenty of wildlife. You can even stop at Goshen Brewing for an ice-cold beer after your ride!
Known throughout the region, the PumpkinVine Trail is another terrific choice for a relaxing bike ride. The PumpkinVine covers over 17 miles, so it’s a unique way to experience a lot of Elkhart County! Start in Goshen and ride all the way to Shipshewana, or stop off in Middlebury if you prefer.
Don’t have your bike with you? No worries, there are several bike shops located in Elkhart County that can provide bikes to rent. On my recent visit, we used bikes from Lincoln Avenue Cycling in Goshen, and the bikes were in tip-top shape and ready to roll!
4. Explore the history of the area at the Nappanee Center
After all that exercise, it’s time to learn a little something about Elkhart County. Stop at the Nappanee Center to immerse yourself in the history of the area. The Nappanee Center is actually considered a “branch” of the library, but in reality, it’s more of a museum.
In addition to a fully restored home(attached to the center), it houses dozens of Emma Schrock paintings. She was a folk artist who painted the scenes around her – and as she was part of the Old Order Mennonite faith, her paintings depict a lifestyle many people don’t know much about.
There are so many other interesting exhibits housed in the Nappanee Center – from NASA to nationally known cartoonists. And, you can see a quilt garden, Seward Johnson sculpture, and quilt mural out back. Plan on spending an hour or so soaking up the interesting history of the area when you visit.
5. Learn how Bonneyville Mills grinds cornmeal or flour
As the oldest continuously operating gristmill in Indiana, Bonneyville Mills should absolutely be on your list of the best things to do in Elkhart County Indiana. The mill was built in 1837 and is part of the National Register of Historic Places.
Not only can you learn how the gristmill operates, but you can also see it in action. Plus, you can purchase your own bag of freshly ground cornmeal or flour to enjoy at home. They’ll even be happy to share recipes with you for tasty treats using your purchases!
The county park around the mill is absolutely gorgeous, so be sure to save a little time to walk around and enjoy it fully.
What are some unique things to do in Elkhart County?
One of the coolest parts of your getaway will undoubtedly be some of the unique things to do in Elkhart County. Check out these unusual experiences and add them to your itinerary!
6. Observe how motorcycles are made at Janus
Visiting Janus motorcycles will give you a new appreciation for the beauty of a well-made bike. The Janus factory is open for visitors and if they are free, they’ll be happy to show you around the shop.
It’s fascinating to watch the care put into the creation of these gorgeous bikes. They are handmade, handpainted, and thoroughly tested before leaving the shop. The motorcycles are made for each customer – no mass production here. For a fun and friendly experience, stop in and meet the folks behind Janus Motorcycles.
7. Watch hand-crafted wooden baskets being made
Elkhart County is full of artisans, and Teaberry Wood Products is a prime example. The baskets and wood decorations are all handmade and absolutely lovely. If the family is around, you can ask to see the workshop and hopefully even get a demonstration as to how the baskets are constructed.
The shop is full of beautiful decorations and baskets, and you can also order them online. However, once you experience the shop itself, you’ll be hard-pressed not to bring home something pretty!
8. Learn a bit about the Amish with a guided tour or meal
If you’ve ever been curious about the Amish lifestyle, there are several unique opportunities for you to learn more about it while visiting Elkhart County.
The Visitors Center can connect you with an Amish guide who will help you get around the county, learn more about the Amish and even enjoy a meal in an Amish home or a cooking class.
Although you can learn a bit when visiting the Nappanee Center or the Essenhaus, the real understanding comes from interacting with the people who make up the community. From my experience, the Amish are super friendly and as interested in learning about my lifestyle as I was in learning about theirs. I think we definitely have more in common than not!
9. Shop at Coppes Commons
Include a stop at Coppes Commons when you are in Nappanee. This fun shopping center was originally the home of the Coppes factory, one of the largest manufacturers of the “Hoosier Cabinet”. The Hoosier Cabinet was popular in the 1920s as a functional kitchen cabinet – perfect for the modern household.
Today, Coppes Commons houses a variety of shops full of interesting goods – they are very fun to explore. You’ll find a bookstore, toy store, antiques, delicious baked goods, unique Amish goods, and more. I think anyone visiting would be hard-pressed not to find something they find interesting!
10. Try some flash-frozen ice cream at Rocket Science
A fun new trend can be found at Rocket Science Ice Cream located in Coppes Commons. This unique ice cream shop uses liquid nitrogen to freeze your ice cream right before your eyes. This process makes for tasty, smooth ice cream.
It’s fun to pick your flavors and then walk around to the side to watch your treat being made. Kids will especially enjoy this! Rocket Science offers a variety of flavors, so it’s easy to find one you love to indulge in,
What are the best restaurants in Elkhart County
With all these activities, you are bound to work up an appetite. That’s why I’ve included 3 delicious stops on my list of fun things to do in Elkhart County Indiana.
11. Goshen Brewing
Visiting a local brewery is always a good idea, and Goshen Brewing Co. is an excellent example of why! Located right along the Millrace Canal Trail, the brewery has plenty of indoor and outdoor seating and a fun and exciting ambiance.
When the weather is nice, the garage doors open and the whole place feels like a fun party. There is a huge outdoor lawn with a concert stage, so live music is often a part of the evening. The variety of beer on tap is excellent – with everything from IPAs to sours.
The food is delicious, and they have a few fun twists such as Pad Thai Tuesday where they only serve Pad That (but a TON of it!). Absolutely check out this brewery when you are visiting Elkhart County – it’s an ideal way to spend a few hours kicking back and perhaps planning your next adventure.
For a fabulous dining experience, and drinks worth driving for, plan on enjoying at least one meal at Ruhe152 in Nappanee.
The upscale atmosphere and innovative menu items are a far cry from what you’d expect to find in a small town of about 8K residents. As both a brewery and distillery, the drink selection is outstanding, and you can buy both liquor and beer to take home if you find something you enjoy.
This destination restaurant deserves a slot on your Elkhart County itinerary!
13. Das Dutchman Essenhaus
Although I do love a good brewery or upscale restaurant, there is always a time perfect for enjoying down-home cooking, and a trip to the Amish country in Elkhart County seems made for it, right?
A trip to the Das Dutchman Essenhaus restaurant is a trip down memory lane for many folks. With a delicious buffet serving traditional favorites like fried chicken, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, and more, you’ll definitely not go hungry.
Although all the food is deliciously comforting, my favorite part is the wide variety of pies! With everything from sugar cream (an Indiana staple) to fresh strawberry-rhubarb (in season), there are plenty of pies to pick from. So, although it’s hard to resist that delicious home cooking, make sure to save room to indulge in a piece of homemade pie.
Where should I stay when I visit Elkhart County?
Just as food is an important component of the things to do in Elkhart County Indiana, so is your lodging. And who wants to just stay in a standard old chain hotel? Not me, and definitely not when you have better choices …
14. Hotel Elkhart
The Hotel Elkhart is a beautifully restored boutique hotel in downtown Elkhart. It’s an excellent choice if you enjoy sumptuous beds, a convenient coffee shop, and a hip vibe.
As part of Hilton’s Tapestry collection, the Hotel Elkhart pays attention to every detail, so you can be sure your stay is comfortable, luxurious and fun too!
I love a boutique hotel, and this one definitely delivers. If you plan on spending a bit more time in Elkhart (including some of the fun activities in my Elkhart, IN post), the Hotel Elkhart is the ideal location.
15. Essenhaus Inn
If you enjoyed a meal at Das Dutchman Essenhaus, you got a nice glimpse of the Essenhaus Inn. It’s quite a lovely property and perfect for a family getaway with a nice-sized indoor pool, putt-putt course across the street, and plenty of dining options on-site.
Plus the rooms are very homey and each one is decorated differently. It feels very much like a bed and breakfast but with the benefits of a hotel. The common areas are also lovely and perfect for gathering with family in the evening to play games or read by the fire in the winter.
There are actually two parts to the Inn, the “new” part which is set up more like a modern hotel, and the Atrium section which has rooms that are a bit oddly shaped, and a really large common area with a kitchenette ideal for large groups to convene. Both sides are lovely, so it’s really just a matter of preference.
If you enjoy shopping, connected to the Essenhaus Inn is the rest of the campus with an entire village of fun shops – perfect for those who love to browse.
NOTE: The Essenhaus campus is dry, so there is no alcohol on premises, nor can you bring any in. So be sure to expect that up front and follow the rules if you visit.
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Conclusion: Things to do in Elkhart County Indiana
There are so many fun things to do that I had a tough time narrowing it down to just 15 fun things to do in Elkhart county, Indiana. And really, I didn’t – if you check out the Elkhart-specific post you’ll find plenty more! So, I did cheat a little! But it was worth it – this is an absolutely wonderful place to visit!
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