Bicycling through Holmes County gives a close and leisurely look at daily life in the valleys and villages of this getaway destination. Wandering the back roads of Amish Country provides glimpses into this rural community that might otherwise be missed.
The bike ride outlined below is a circular route, designed to begin and end in Walnut Creek. The ride covers 13.7 miles, most of which are on secondary roads. Hills cannot be avoided in Holmes County, but this route has only two significant climbs. Otherwise, it rolls through a pleasing variation of ups and downs so typical of the area. There are no bike lanes and often not even a wide berm. Water and restrooms are available along the way.
This route samples beautiful farming countryside and the village of Charm. Much of the populace along this route is Amish, and the scenes are typical, many small businesses, large barns and farmhouses, Amish schools, horses and buggies, and friendly people that almost always acknowledge with a wave.
One decision will change the experience of this route: the day of the week chosen for the bike ride. If the bicycle tour is on Sunday, the countryside will be quiet, shops closed. Cyclists may pedal past Amish church gatherings, and most of the road traffic will be walkers, bicyclists, and buggies. A Sunday ride also means that food, water, and restrooms might not be available, but it will truly be a “Sunday” experience in Amish Country.
From the Covered Bridge at Stutzman’s Crossing to Charm Village
Begin in the Walnut Creek valley. A good starting point is the parking lot of the Mennonite Church at the bottom of the hill just south of Walnut Creek. From the parking area, go north through the covered bridge at Stutzman’s Crossing and turn left onto Holmes County 114.
Follow 114 across State Route 39, past the site where the first permanent white settler in eastern Holmes County built his home. The road curves to the left and follows a beautiful farming valley that changes every week of the year. Many of these fields are still farmed with horse-drawn equipment; and depending on the season and the crop rotation, there will be a patchwork of grain fields or hay bales or corn shocks.
Pass the Farm at Walnut Creek and take Holmes County 70 to the right, following the small yellow sign that points toward Charm. Along this road, watch for an old, moss-covered watering trough, a relic from bygone days. In the spring, wildflowers line the creek banks.
At the upper end of the valley, three miles into the ride, the road begins a gradual climb. A half mile farther, the climb becomes steep and strenuous; but once at the top of the hill, riders can stop and savor the reward: views of the surrounding hills and ponds.
Charm Village to Guggisburg Cheese
The little village of Charm waits at the bottom of the long hill; cyclists could fly down into town, except that caution is needed. Loose gravel is common here, washed from the roadside by rains. There is also unexpectedly heavy traffic. A large lumber and hardware store in town draws constant traffic; and around five o’clock, many trucks and bicycles will be entering the highway.
Charm is a bustling corner of Holmes County. A restaurant sits at the center of town, and interesting businesses line the streets and call for a return trip. The lumber company’s showroom has become a destination in itself, and cyclists will find a cafe on the second level of the building. The restrooms here are by far the best on this route.
At the stop sign at the center of Charm, turn right onto State Route 557. This stretch of highway is extremely busy and has almost no shoulder. It would be easy to be distracted by businesses along the way and picture-perfect homes and gardens, but attention and care are necessary.
Rounding a turn, cyclists catch sight of a structure resembling both a church steeple and a castle turret, complete with bell and clock. The Swiss businesses here include a restaurant, a cheese house, and an ice cream stand. Directly across from the clock tower, turn right onto Berlin Township 370.
Back Roads to Walnut Creek
This quiet road is narrow, but there’s usually only local traffic. Look for a parochial school complete with a ball diamond, an old covered bridge, beautiful gardens, and the little buildings housing phones used by the Amish. In the summer, cyclists ride through a welcome stretch of shade; and in the autumn, through showers of color floating down from the surrounding woods.
At the end of 370, turn left onto Berlin Township 369. This is the second of the steep climbs, although it is not as long as the first. At the top of the ridge, cyclists will get a glimpse of the Walnut Creek Valley below and to the east.
Turn right onto State Route 39. This is another busy highway, but the berm here is wide and well-maintained. Just after a bright row of garden cottages, turn right onto Holmes County 135.
This county road immediately heads downward, which may be a relief after the uphill climbs. But at the bottom, a sharp curve could be disastrous if it’s not expected. Then the hills moderate, and an easy ride curves through the valley and ends at a stop sign. Turn left onto Holmes County 114, cross State Route 39, and head back through the covered bridge to the church parking lot.
This bicycle route can easily be done in a morning or an afternoon. Frequent stops will, of course, lengthen the time, but that’s the purpose of the ride, to give cyclists a closer look at the heart of Amish Country.