Take some of the best scenery southeast Minnesota  can throw at you, add bucolic bike trails, trophy trout streams, and the old order way of life, mix with a dash of luxurious indulgence, and you get Fillmore County, southern Minnesota’s most popular destination.
While this is primarily a summer and fall destination—the Root River Valley is a remarkable fall-color canvas—more and more people are heading here in the winter to ski.
Most of what is detailed in this section lies along or near Highway 16, the federally designated Historic Bluff Country Scenic Byway, a winding 88-mile ribbon coming up the bluff-lined Root River Valley from La Crescent  on the Mississippi River. West of Lanesboro the road leaves the valley to wind through the rolling farm fields trimmed with patches of forest and streams.
If you are here to cast a fly, the South Branch Root River above Preston  and the streams that feed it are considered by many to be the best trout waters in the state, while Duschee Creek outside Lanesboro and Trout Run Creek east of Chatfield also come highly recommended.
The state’s largest Amish communities ring Harmony , and a chance to brush up against their way of life is a big draw, but the bike trails snaking through the deep valleys bring in most of the masses and have given Lanesboro  hegemony in the county’s tourist trade.
The country roads around Harmony are lined with Amish farmsteads. Spend even a little time here and you’ll pass bearded men (sans mustaches since they associate these with the military) and bonneted women in their plain, home-sewn clothes clopping along in horse-drawn buggies or out working the fields.
Scattered pockets of Amish dot Minnesota  farm country, about 1,000 in total, but Fillmore County’s community is the largest. Driven west by rising land prices, the first Amish relocated here from Ohio in 1974. Southeast Minnesota appealed to the transplants because of the abundance of wood, natural springs, and creameries. From just an initial few, the tight-knit community has grown to about 114 families (800 people) in five church districts.
A second and entirely separate group of about 40 families came up from Iowa in the mid-1990s and now resides to the southwest of Harmony. Both are strict Old Order sects. A less austere community, also relocated from Iowa, resides not too far away to the north near St. Charles.
Though the Amish were born of the Radical Reformation, today they constitute the most conservative faction of American society. While some Amish sects are less strict, the Old Order of Fillmore County have retained much of their 17th-century culture. They travel by horse and buggy, light their homes with kerosene lamps, and cook on wood-burning stoves. Children study English in school, though their mother tongue remains the German dialect known as Pennsylvania Dutch (Deutsch), and Sunday worship is conducted in High German.
Among the modern developments that they reject are indoor plumbing, musical instruments (emotions might be stirred), daylight savings time, zippers, rubber tires, and insurance.
Amish doctrines, while varying slightly from community to community (there is no central Amish organization), all stem from the core belief that the Bible is the literal word of God and are maintained in the Ordnung (Order), a strict, unwritten moral code. The twin tenets remain separation and obedience; the latter referred to as Gelassenheit (literally “submission to authority,” though often translated as humility), which promotes exclusive and tightly knit communities. The simplicity and self-denial that defines the Amish lifestyle wards off temptation and promotes self-sufficiency.
Church elders are willing to strike a balance between change and tradition, and though they always aim toward the latter, the Amish are not quite as stuck in the past as they appear. While they do not use electricity in their homes (if you see an Amish household with power lines it is because most deeds require the electrical system to remain in working order until the property is paid off), diesel engines are one technology that the Amish have widely embraced.
Motors are used in woodworking shops, to pump water, and in many aspects of farming. Commercial dairying in particular requires adherence to strict storage and sanitation laws that simply cannot be met without a touch of technology.
Automobiles too are an accepted part of Amish life, though owning and driving them are not, since this would result in inequality and make travel too easy. Just about every Amish family in Fillmore County has a close relationship with someone who owns a car whom they can pay for rides. They also ride Greyhound and Amtrak when visiting relatives back east.
From the start the Amish have been at conflict with the society around them, or more accurately society has been in conflict with the Amish around them. Today’s Amish are almost completely free to practice their beliefs as they desire, though problems occur when their strict biblical interpretations run counter to the law.
One of the most important examples is in education. Amish children attend private one-room schools through the 8th grade — the Old Order prohibits formal education beyond this — a belief that by the 1950s had created quite an uproar in many places. The issue was, for the most part, settled in 1972 by a unanimous Supreme Court decision (Wisconsin v. Yoder) exempting the Amish and similar groups from compulsory school attendance laws.
A more recent and enduring example is the use of slow-moving vehicle signs. In the interest of public safety many Amish affix the familiar orange triangles to the rear of their buggies, but others, mostly elders, refuse because doing so means putting their faith in “worldly symbols” rather than God. An outline of silver reflective tape was a solution accepted reluctantly by most states, but not Minnesota .
Back in the 1980s the Highway Patrol argued that this method was insufficient because it only let drivers know that something is ahead but does not communicate that it is moving at a slow speed. A 1986 compromise permitting black triangles with a white outline pleased neither side completely and lasted just a year.
he state and other proponents of mandatory signage, including most Harmony area residents, argued that safety concerns outweighed a religious view that was not even held by all church members. Additionally they pointed out that the Amish opposition to the orange safety signs was inconsistent with their use of orange hunting attire. As many Fillmore County Amish ended up in jail over repeat violations, the Minnesota Supreme Court, citing Wisconsin v. Yoder amongst other things, overturned the convictions. Today very few use the orange triangles.
Signs like “Quilts” or “Eggs and Honey” fronting Amish farms don’t just advertise what the farm produces, they invite you to stop and buy. In some cases you will meet the family, though many rely on the honor system. On Saturdays during the summer and fall many drive their buggies into Harmony  and Lanesboro  or park along U.S. Highway 52 to sell their wares: Bread, produce, jellies and jams, honey, candy, baskets, furniture, and one-of-a-kind quilts are all common.
Though you are welcome to ask, they tend not to like discussing their culture or religion with the English, as all outsiders are called. Fact is, they don’t let you onto their property to be sociable, they just want your money. To learn about their lives and customs or just get an explanation of what you are seeing, join a tour or hire a ride-along guide in Harmony or Lanesboro.
A typical tour lasts about 2.5 hours and visits a woodworking shop and around five farms with different items for sale. While the van tours are becoming the method of choice, the ride-along guides have the advantage of letting you set the route: Decide what sorts of things you wish to see or buy and they will lead you to a farm that has it.
Whether touring with a guide or on your own, do not take photos of people, a practice they believe is forbidden by the Second Commandment. Also, never stop at an Amish house on a Sunday or a religious holiday.