Courtesy Hardy’s Reindeer Ranch
Hardy’s Reindeer Ranch
If you don’t believe that reindeer really exist, you haven’t been to Hardy’s Reindeer Ranch in north-central Illinois. Owners Julie and Mark Hardy bought a herd of Alaskan reindeer as a marketing tool for their Christmas tree farm but soon found that the animals were more popular than the evergreens.
“We had no idea that it would turn into a tourism attraction,” Julie Hardy said. “But people are fascinated with our story, with how we raise the reindeer and how the babies are born. It’s more educational for the adults than it is for the kids.”
The ranch specializes in tour group visits, offering a variety of special experiences for groups. The Reindeer Experience tour starts with a buggy ride, during which Mark Hardy introduces guests to the ranch, the Christmas tree farm and the 10-acre corn maze. Next, the group visitors get to meet some of the 17 reindeer that live at the ranch, and those brave enough can try a “reindeer kiss.”
“The reindeer kiss is very famous,” Hardy said. “Reindeer love graham crackers, and they’ll eat a graham cracker right out of your mouth.”
Northern Indiana Amish Country
Agriculture and Amish culture go hand in hand in northern Indiana, where large populations of traditional Amish have maintained their farming communities for generations. When groups visit, they can experience both heritage farming and the Amish lifestyle.
“We have an older Amish man named Kenny Stutzman, who has a company called Buggy Line Tours,” said Sonya Harman-Nash, travel trade marketing manager at the Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “They run buggy rides from Shipshewana to his son’s dairy farm. Groups can visit the farm, help milk the cow and be immersed in an Amish dairy farm. You can also go into his sister’s home and have an Amish-style meal.”
Another local man operates the Barns and Centennial Farm Tours. This step-on guide takes groups around the northern Indiana countryside to see barns that are more than 100 years old, telling them about each building’s history and architecture.
The area is also home to Sunrise Orchards, where workers take groups on hayride tours of the farm and walking tours through the processing plant. Along the way, visitors get to taste apples and freshly pressed cider.