I grew up in Northwest Indiana but never made it to Brown County State Park in south-central Indiana until last month when my extended family gathered here for a week-long vacation. The largest state park in Indiana offers a lot to see and do, whether you stay overnight on park property or simply pack a picnic and spend the day at one of the park’s many scenic overlooks.
What to Do:
Our main entertainment options at Brown County State Park were the small indoor water park, horseback riding, hiking, climbing the fire tower, and exploring the nature center. We also spent one day walking in the nearby town of Nashville, which features many unique shops and dining options.
The indoor water park at Brown County is located inside the Abe Martin Lodge, the park’s inn. Guests staying in the inn and in nearby cabins on the property receive a wristband that gets them admission to the water park, and all others who want to come swim can purchase wristbands from the front desk for $15 per person. Depending on what inn employees we asked, the inn either sells a limited number of wristbands each day to people who are not staying in the inn, or the inn sells an unlimited number of wristbands each day to people who are not staying in the inn. Our family arrived at the indoor water park around 10 a.m. on the day we swam, and we had no trouble purchasing wristbands for everyone. The bands are good for the entire day, so we swam in the morning, left to eat lunch, and returned for more swimming in the afternoon.
The water park includes one medium-sized water slide, a small lazy river, a volleyball play area, a whirlpool, and a zero-depth entry area with various fountains. It’s not big, but it kept our young kids entertained for much of the day. Older kids – perhaps middle school and older – may not find it as much fun.
For a more traditional pool experience, park guests can swim in a large outdoor pool, with an accompanying wading pool. This facility is separate from the water park in the inn, and the cost is $3 per person. A snack bar on site sells food.
Another favorite activity for my family at Brown County State Park is horseback riding. The saddle barn offers guided trail rides on horseback for guests age 7 and older. At the time of our visit, it was $16 for a 35-minute ride or $26 for an hour ride, with a $1 discount if you pay cash. Pony rides are available for younger children at a cost of $3.50 per lap around a large gravel track, with a 50-cent discount if you pay cash.
My 9-year-old daughter and I did the 35-minute guided horseback trail ride and enjoyed it. The horses walk in a single-file line along the trail that winds through the woods, and they’ve been trained to stay just a few feet behind the horse directly ahead. Occasionally, a larger gap between horses would form, and the horses would break into a slow trot to close the distance. I thought the bursts of speed added some fun without being too intense for amateurs. Our guide offered tips throughout our ride, explaining how to stand slightly in our stirrups to balance better while the horses trotted, how to lean back in the saddle for better balance while going downhill, and how to lean forward while going uphill. We did go up and down some steeper hills, so while our ride seemed very safe, the experience might not be the best if you’re looking to introduce someone who is wary of horses to riding.
Brown County also offers some great hiking trails. We had several young kids in our extended family group, so we didn’t do any rugged or long trails, but we did spend one morning hiking around Strahl Lake. It was a moderately difficult trail with some steps that winds around the lake. While hiking, we saw tiny toads, a green tree frog, and a northern water snake. The park also has mountain biking trails, which we didn’t do.
We spent a bit of time exploring the park’s nature center, with features exhibits of live snakes (including a timber rattlesnake) and turtles. The nature center has a bee hive visitors can view in action as well as a nice bird-watching room with seating in front of a large window looking out on a landscaped area with bird feeders. Before you leave the nature center, take a few minutes to walk down a short path behind the building to admire the view from an overlook, and maybe take a few pictures.
For the people in your group who are brave, the park has an old fire tower visitors can climb. The top observation deck was not open, but my family was able to climb the steps all the way to the door at the top.
If you feel like venturing out of Brown County State Park, it’s just a few minutes’ drive to the town of Nashville, which has a picturesque walkable shopping and dining district. We spent a morning browsing in toy shops, a hat shop, candy shops, a tea shop, fudge and ice cream shops, jewelry stores, a gardening store, and general souvenir/tourist shops. We ate lunch at That Sandwich Place, a restaurant decorated with Indiana basketball memorabilia, and we ate dinner one night at Big Woods Pizza.
Where to Stay:
My husband, daughters, and I tent camped on an electric site in the campground at Brown County State Park. The rate for an electric site is about $24 a night, but it varies based on whether you’re camping on a weekday or weekend. The campground is large, with several hundred sites, and our site was toward the back of the campground in the Taylor Ridge loop, so it took several minutes to drive there once we actually entered the campground. Sites are built fairly close together, and some sites are on the small side if you have a large tent like my family does, so it’s a good idea to research the size of each site and look at site pictures on the campground website before selecting your site.
The bath houses at the campground were pretty clean as far as bath houses go. Some of the sinks didn’t work, and the water temperature in the showers is not adjustable. It also can take up to 5 minutes for the shower water to warm up after you turn it on.
I was a little concerned about camping at Brown County because I’d read that a camper was bit by a copperhead snake last year in the campground, but we didn’t see any snakes at the campground. Only a harmless box turtle who was eager to crawl away from us when we approached.
Campground amenities include a playground and a camp store that sells firewood, ice, snacks, and souvenirs. There also is a separate horseman campground.
If you don’t want to rough it in the campground, you can stay at the Abe Martin Lodge. At the time when we planned our trip to the park, lodge rooms cost around $140 a night for two double beds. Near the lodge are rustic cabins and two-story family cabins. Reviews on the rustic cabins are mixed; some people love them while others complain they are old and musty-smelling. If you stay in the lodge or any of the cabins, you receive free wristbands for the indoor water park.
Where to Eat:
Inside the Abe Martin Lodge is the Little Gem Restaurant, which serves classic comfort food all day as well as a buffet. My family didn’t eat here during our stay, but we assume it is similar to the restaurants in the inns at Turkey Run State Park and Spring Mill State Park in Indiana. If you have time, it can be fun to eat here.
We made good memories during our week at Brown County State Park. The scenery is some of the prettiest in Indiana (aside from the dunes and lake views of my hometown in Northwest Indiana), and we had fun hiking, swimming, riding horses, and exploring the town of Nashville. Whether you camp, stay in the lodge, or rent a cabin, if you are looking for a getaway in the Midwest, Brown County State Park is a solid choice.
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