June is right around the corner.
For out-of-staters, that means fun trips to Amish Country with the family to see and remember all of the interesting things that plain folks do.
It means buggy rides, bus tours, photographs, and taking life a little bit slower.
For Lancaster residents, it’s a bit of a different story.
Summer — or “tourist season” — is the time when the roads become exponentially more dangerous, random New Yorkers photograph Amish children from a distance, and random people ask you unanswerable questions.
But there has to be a middle ground here, right?
After all, Lancaster County profits from tourism a great deal. Without tourism, Lancaster wouldn’t have any major source of external cashflow.
Tourism is a staple of the Lancaster economy.
But tourists can still get in our craws.
So with that in mind, here’s a list of some simple rules for touring Lancaster, PA.
Some of these rules might be tips. Others might be reminders. A few might appeal to your inner sense of human decency to think of others before you think of yourself.
Still — rules nonetheless.
#1. Don’t Photograph Amish Children
I know it sounds harsh to start with a major “don’t do this” kind of point, but this is a huge deal.
And no, this has nothing to do with the fact that the Amish have chosen to live a life shunning luxurious technology.
This has everything to do with the fact that it’s weird to photograph children, especially without their or their parents’ consent.
I — Chris, hi, nice to meet you — have lost count of all the times I’ve encountered tourists pulled off to the side of the road snapping photos of someone else’s kids on the farm, walking down the road, or otherwise minding their own damn business.
“But they’re the Amish,” you may say. “Everyone photographs them because they’re different.”
“Who cares?” I answer. “If you scoped out an elementary school and photographed children during recess, you’d be justifiably tazed.”
The same sentiment goes for Amish kids.
It doesn’t matter that they’re Amish.
#2. Remember Traffic Laws & Safety
Hopefully this one doesn’t require much explanation.
The traffic laws you obey at home still exist in Lancaster, even when the roads are surrounded by farms.
Most of the “back roads” that take you around the Lancaster countryside are two-way, double-yellow roads.
More importantly, they don’t have much of a shoulder.
So if you happen to be on a road and you see a really great view as you’re at the top of the hill, you might be tempted to pull over, pop your four-ways on, and take a photo.
Photos are great, but not at the cost of an F150 charging over a hilltop at 60 MPH and catapulting your hybrid into the next township.
Along those same lines, drive the speed limit.
I’m not saying this because tourists speed.
On the contrary — tourists more often drive way under the speed limit.
It can be frustrating and confusing for those who regularly drive those roads, particularly any of the back roads that twist and wind up and down hills.
Driving under the speed limit can be just as dangerous as driving over it.
#3. Don’t Pass Buggies on a Hill
Speaking of traffic laws, most tourists are surprised when they drive and see buggies on the road.
Buggies don’t require a license, so they can be driven by anyone of any age for any reason.
It’s shockingly common to see a child under the age of 10 holding the reins to a buggy’s horse.
Anyway, buggies tend to be traffic hazards because they go all of 3 MPH and horses don’t particularly care how late you are for your cousin’s bat mitzvah.
In Lancaster, you have to pass buggies to get anywhere in a reasonable amount of time. That means you also have to pass them on double-yellow, highly-trafficked roads with no shoulder.
Here are a few tips to handle your future buggy encounters:
- Don’t honk: You’ll spook the horse.
- Wait for visibility: Don’t pass until you can verify that no one else is coming in the opposite direction.
- Give the buggy a wide berth: Give four or more feet of room between you and the buggy, and only merge back into your lane when you can see the whole horse in your rearview mirror.
This is not only the polite way to pass a horse and buggy, it’s also smart and safe.
#4. Treat the Amish with Respect
Similar to photographing people without their consent, it’s important to remember that Amish people are not tourist attractions.
They’re people with hopes, dreams, families, and a sense of self-respect.
This means that they’re entitled to a basic degree of respect from everyone, including out-of-towners.
#5. Learn How to Identify Puppy Mills
An odd thing happens in Lancaster toward the middle of May — every farm in the county suddenly sprouts a fresh batch of new puppies.
Huskies, pomskies, golden retrievers — you name it, they’re here.
It’s nice to think that these puppies are the results of positive breeding practices and caring, loving owners.
The real story is that these are often puppy mills.
Puppy mills are any side “business” that someone runs where they own a mother dog for the sole purpose of getting her pregnant, delivering her puppies, and selling the puppies for $1000 (or more) per fuzzy butt.
Puppy mills start in the spring because Lancasterians buy the puppies in droves, and tourists bring an extra influx of cash into the county every year.
In other words, a well-timed litter can bring a single household something like $12,000 over the course of two weeks.
And none of it’s taxed.
After all, it’s all off the books.
The mother dog doesn’t live long in this configuration. Repeated pregnancies, especially when started at a young age, drive dogs to the grave like a diet of chocolate and razor blades.
But when the mills make money, they know they can make a profit if they do the same thing again next year.
And the next year.
And the next year.
Once the mother dog dies, the owners get another one to replace her. Then, the cycle starts again.
Puppy mills operate like this because they’re technically not illegal. They’re certainly animal abuse and untaxed income, but they’re hard to quantify in terms of what you can and can’t do with your pets.
You can recognize puppy mills by handmade signs advertising dogs at high prices (or no price at all).
If you really want to pick up a puppy while you’re in Lancaster, you can rescue from:
- The Humane League of Lancaster (it’s right near Dutch Wonderland)
- Operation Scarlet (Shar-Pei specialized rescue)
- Lancaster SPCA (South Prince Street)
So before you leave Lancaster, there are two things you should do that are really worth your time.
#6. Leave the Tourist Traps at Least Once
Intercourse (ha ha, we know), Bird in Hand, Strasburg, and a whole host of other tiny towns make up the “tourist trap” areas of Lancaster County.
They have a ton of great attractions and things to do — shopping outlets, museums, Dutch Wonderland, buggy rides, you name it!
Still, that’s not the real Lancaster.
If you want to see Lancaster County in all its countryside glory, here are a few towns you can check out:
- Willow Street
Among these seven towns, you’ll find all of the fun and interesting things that exist outside of the tourist traps — the “townie stuff,” if you will.
(But you needn’t.)
Lititz is like a mini Lancaster City.
Ephrata is a surprisingly important historical town.
Manheim has a famous auto auction.
Millersville is one of the largest college towns in the county.
Elizabethtown is another college village with its own charms.
Willow Street is a small town just south of Lancaster City.
Quarryville is a backwoods town way, way south of Lancaster City.
With those seven towns, you’re sure to get some breathing room outside of the regular Lancaster tourist traps.
You’re also sure to see some authentic Lancaster scenery that doesn’t require you to pay $50 to pet an ill-tempered horse.
#7. Remember Lancaster City Is Here, Too
Lancaster City is awesome.
It’s been called the New Brooklyn. It has a thriving art scene. It’s small enough to be personable.
There are about as many restaurants in the city as there were people at Woodstock (the good one), and the bar scene is such that you can spend two weeks here and never go the same place twice.
It can be a challenge to navigate if you don’t know how the streets are laid out, but that’s to be expected with a new city.
You can get to Downtown Lancaster City by:
- Travelling north on Queen Street (PA rt. 222)
- Travelling south on Prince Street (PA rt. 222)
- Travelling east on Chestnut Street (PA rt. 23)
- Travelling west on Walnut Street (PA rt. 23)
Whenever you’re within 10 miles of the city limits, you’ll start seeing signs. They’ll say “Lancaster” instead of “Lancaster City.”
So take a day trip. Leave the buggies and the attractions.
Check out a cool little city that’s on the up-and-up.
Learn More about the People Who Live Here
If you want to learn more about the people who call Lancaster home, you can check out our podcast Lancaster Limelight.
We talk to Lancaster residents to hear their thoughts, ideas, and experiences throughout their lives.
Want to give it a listen?
Check out Lancaster Limelight on Spotify!