Make your next visit to Ohio’s Amish communities a family outing, with buggy rides, penny candy and the World’s Largest Cuckoo Clock.
If your children or grandchildren have never hugged a big-eyed calf, seen how Swiss cheese is made or ridden in a horse-drawn vehicle, this may be the autumn to make new memories by visiting Ohio’s Amish country.
Yes, girlfriends can shop until they drop in Amish country. Couples can celebrate a wedding anniversary in a romantic bed-and-breakfast inn. But the Amish are family-centered and know what matters most in family life. You will smile at their little girls in bonnets and little boys in straw hats. And many Amish will smile back at your kids.
Ohio has two main Amish communities: One is centered in Holmes, Wayne and Tuscarawas counties. The second is farther north in Geauga and Trumbull counties. Both offer unique opportunities for family day trips, weekend getaways or longer vacations.
The distance from Millersburg in Holmes County to Burton in Geauga County is about 100 miles, so families traveling with young children may wish to consider the regions as two separate destinations. There is much to see, and families need to build in extra time for the special travel needs of kids.
And we warn you, it will be hard to pull the little ones away from feeding the llamas at the animal parks.
The First Stop
How much do you really know about the Amish? If your perception is formed by reality TV shows, then it’s probably not very accurate. The Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center in Berlin is the place to start learning more about the cultures and introduce your children to Ohio’s Amish country.
The center is home to Behalt, a 10-by-265-foot circular mural that depicts the history of the Anabaptist movement. The 30-minute narrated tour explains the mural and is suitable for older children. A kid-sized table and chairs with children’s books is available in the middle of the mural room for younger ones.
School-aged kids will enjoy the South Bunker Hill School that was used by the Amish from 1857 to 1951. The restored building was moved a short distance to the property. The center’s Pioneer Barn, built in one day by local barn raisers, displays farming tools, a restored Conestoga wagon that brought settlers to the area and two Amish buggies.
Now that parents can answer some of their children’s questions (“Why don’t the Amish use electricity in their homes?”), families can better appreciate what they will see in Amish country.
Several well-run animal parks in Amish Country are great for families. Plus, a visit to them is a good way to interact with Amish employees and visitors.
Take the horse-drawn wagon tour through the wooded and beautiful Rolling Ridge Ranch Animal Park in Millersburg and you’ll think you’ve stepped into Edward Hicks’ “The Peaceable Kingdom” painting. Texas Longhorns, Brahmas and fallow deer graze side by side.
Visitors can drive their own vehicle through the park. But feeding is only allowed from the wagons — they are by far the best way to view the more than 500 animals. Be sure to hold on to your bucket of pellet feed. The giant bison are hungry and the ostriches stab their beaks into the food containers as if they don’t believe another tour wagon is coming ’round the bend. Kids on the wagon may also get a chance to take the horses’ reins.
The Farm at Walnut Creek’s animal tour in Sugarcreek does not quite have that “Land of the Lost” look, but it more than makes up for it with beautiful landscaped grounds and other kid-friendly amenities. Llamas, giraffes, dromedary camels, Watusi and long-eyelashed Scotch Highland cattle and more than 500 other animals call the 120-acre farm their home. And trust us — there is nothing cuter than a Vietnamese pot-bellied piglet.
Also featured at The Farm at Walnut Creek is a typical contemporary Amish house to tour, as well as a horse barn, dairy barn, pony rides and more. The Farm Guidebook, available for free in the gift shop, is a great animal directory and also includes this line: “You are not allowed to feed your children to the animals, no matter how bad they are behaving.”
Every day a Holstein calf is born at the 600-cow Hastings Dairy in Burton. About 70 are currently in the nursery, many of which can be petted by kids. The calves aren’t as intimating as their 1,400-pound mothers, which are very gentle, but overwhelming to a little kid.
This is the third year Brenda and Lad Hastings have offered educational tours of their 104-acre farm, and they have done everything right to welcome families. A beautiful classroom and a large Junior Dairyman playroom in the contemporary milking barn give families somewhere to go in inclement weather. Clean restrooms, educational displays (created by Brenda, a mother of two young sons) and a wagon tour instead of a walking tour when it is too muddy, make the destination a favorite of parents.
Kids watch cows being milked and ride the Chugga Chugga Moo Moo train. (The cars are made from barrels crafted by an Amish man and look like cows.) Cow Tales Adventures, Sept. 19, is geared for kids 5 and under. Fall Dairy Days, Sept. 22 and 28, are for the entire family. Groups are welcome all year; reservations are required.
“We want children to have fun here, but we also want them to have a real understanding of where milk and other food comes from,” says Brenda Hastings.
The horse and buggy is the unofficial symbol of “the simple life” that Amish people embrace. Ma & Pa’s Buggy Rides just outside Burton offers a safe way to experience the Amish mode of transportation. Buggies are driven by their owners, including 17-year-old Rhoda, an Amish girl whose father is a blacksmith. Ten-, 20- or 30-minute rides meander through a woods or field. In September, buggy rides are offered Fridays and Saturdays; in October, Saturdays only. Surrey rides (for larger groups) and winter sleigh rides are also available, weather permitting.
Tammy and Scott Puleo, the proprietors of Ma & Pa’s Buggy Rides, rebuilt a deconstructed 1880s log cabin on their property 11 years ago. Two additions now make the cabin a three-story building that serves as the ride office and charming gift shop. Kids will like the ice cream and maple-flavored popcorn, and will giggle about Horse Droppings, which, thankfully, are really chocolate covered peanuts.
Other opportunities to see animals and farm life up close include Hershberger’s Farm and Bakery and Yoder’s Amish Home in Millersburg. Hershberger’s offers pony, horse-drawn covered wagon, draft horse and buggy rides as well as an animal petting area. Yoder’s has two homes, a barn, animal petting area, buggy rides and a one-room school. Amish Country Riding Stables in Charm welcomes trail riders at least 7 years old and offers hay rides for groups. Reservations are required.
Century Village Museum in Burton is a 65-acre, 1800s Western Reserve settlement. Twenty-two historic buildings allow kids to peek into an Ohio where farming and rural life were the norm. Allow several hours to appreciate the village fully.
The late, great, model steam engine carver Ernest “Mooney” Warther would be very proud of his grandson, who opened David Warther Carvings in Sugarcreek this spring. David Warther II is a master carver who looked to the seas instead of railroad tracks to find his inspiration. “The History of the Ship” collection includes more than 80 models made from legally obtained ivory, the first of which Warther carved at age 17.
Older children learn the history of the world as well as the sailing ship as they view to-scale models of Viking vessels, a pharaoh’s royal ship and the three ships that brought Christopher Columbus to the New World.
While in Sugarcreek, drive by what is called the World’s Largest Cuckoo Clock. Longtime visitors to Ohio’s Amish country may remember the clock from its first location at the defunct Alpine Alpa Restaurant. Today, the restored clock is located on the village square. Every 30 minutes the hand-carved wooden dancers and band members celebrate their new lease on life. (Parent alert: Only view the clock if you can tolerate your kids saying, “Cuckoo! Cuckoo!” every five minutes for the rest of the trip.)
Fry Pies, Oh My!
Families can easily eat and shop their way through Amish country. (Cheese samples, anyone?) The internationally known Lehman’s in Kidron stocks a huge selection of soda pop and old-fashioned “penny” candy. The huge store’s Lego loft is a destination for kids who can’t get enough of the plastic building blocks. But also look for sweet little Amish doll dresses and wooden toys including the Climbing Bear, Lehman’s Racer (a wooden sled) and an Amish-made croquet set.
Hungry kids are cranky kids. Take them to Der Dutchman Restaurant in Walnut Creek with its Amish-style food, Amish servers and a 10-and-under kids’ menu, which includes sweet potato puffs and homemade noodles. The dining room’s wall of windows provides a terrific view of Goose Bottom Valley, whose name makes kids giggle.
Buy a bag of caramel corn for the kids to munch on at Coblentz Chocolate Company in Walnut Creek or Berlin, or go for a house-made, 14 percent butterfat ice cream cone at Troyer’s Country Market in Berlin. The 16 flavors feature fresh berries, fruits and nuts. At the Guggisberg Cheese Factory in Millersburg, families watch cheese being made in copper-lined vats.
Some candy really is a penny at the End of the Commons General Store in Mesopotamia. Shoppers also will find licorice, jelly beans, ice cream, fry pies, popcorn balls, bulk food items and a great jam and jelly tasting bar. In operation since 1840, the store is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
If you can tear your kids away from the toys, show them the giant checker board that customers are encouraged to use and the old-fashioned player piano. The old floors are sagging and the entrance screen door doesn’t fit well. But loyal customers and tourists wouldn’t have it any other way.
If your visit to Amish Country is more than a day trip, family-friendly lodging is a must. But consider that many people travel to Amish country for its serenity and slower way of life. They don’t always appreciate noisy kids in the next room.
Families are welcome at traditional hotels in the area and many bed-and-breakfast inns. Always ask first about lodging policies for children. Loretta and Paul Coblentz are proprietors of The Barn Inn and neighboring Gehrig House in Millersburg. For families, they often recommend the latter, which is spacious, private and comfortable.
WHEN YOU GO
Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center
5798 Co. Rd. 77, Berlin 44610
Amish Country Riding Stables
5025 St. Rte. 557, Charm 44617
The Barn Inn/Gehrig House
6838 Co. Rd. 203, Millersburg 44654
Century Village Museum
14653 E. Park St., Burton 44021
Coblentz Chocolate Company
4917 St. Rte. 515, Walnut Creek 44687 or 4860 E. Main St., Berlin 44610
Der Dutchman Restaurant
4967 Walnut St., Walnut Creek 44687
End of the Commons General Store
8719 St. Rte. 534, Mesopotamia 44439
The Farm at Walnut Creek
4147 Co. Rd. 114, Sugarcreek 44681
Guggisberg Cheese Factory
5060 St. Rte. 557, Millersburg 44654
13181 Claridon Troy Rd., Burton 44021
Hershberger’s Farm and Bakery
5452 St. Rte. 557, Millersburg 44654
4779 Kidron Rd., Dalton 44618
Ma & Pa’s Buggy Rides
15161 Main Market Rd., Burton 44021
Rolling Ridge Ranch Animal Park
3961 Co. Rd. 168, Millersburg 44654
Troyer’s Country Market
5201 Co. Rd. 77, Millersburg 44654
David Warther Carvings
1775 St. Rte. 39, Sugarcreek 44681
World’s Largest Cuckoo Clock
Corner of Main St. and N. Broadway, Sugarcreek, 44681
Yoder’s Amish Home
6050 St. Rte. 515, Millersburg 44654