For a taste of the Smoky Mountains in America’s heartland, check out one of the largest state parks in the Indiana park system. The park is actually referred to as the “Little Smokies” since it looks like a smaller version of the Great Smoky Mountains. The rolling hills, lush foliage, and tranquil streams of Brown County State Park attract over 1.2 million visitors a year. Springtime and fall are especially good times to come to this park while the trees are in bloom, and the colors are changing.
Two large lakes are great for fishing, and they also provide water for the park’s wildlife. The abundant wildlife population led to the creation of a game preserve in 1924. Today, the preserve encompasses over 12,000 acres. Deer thrive in this area, as do many species native to Indiana forests, such as broad-wing hawks, timber rattlesnakes, and red bats.
Visitors enjoy a wide range of outdoor activities almost all year long. This includes swimming at the pool, paddling in the lakes, and enjoying the tennis courts during the summer or ice fishing, skiing, and sledding during the winter. Hiking, biking, and horseback riding are also popular, with over 30 miles of trails in the park to explore. In fact, there is so much to do, you will have to stay for more than one day. Luckily, the park also offers over 400 RV and tent campsites as well as a lodge, group camp, and youth camp.
From Bloomington, take the recently upgraded but still curvy IN-46 to the aptly named West Gate Entrance Road, which is not far east of Wise Hollow. From the Indianapolis area, take Interstate 65 south to Columbus and then go west on I-46. From the Louisville area, take Interstate 65 north to Columbus. Stop in the nearby Indiana town of Nashville, just two miles north on IN-135. The quaint little village is known for its entertainment, art, dining, and shopping.
RVs and other large vehicles must use the West Entrance. The North Entrance has a very picturesque covered bridge that has a nine-foot clearance and a three-ton weight limit. You should also note that the GPS directions you get to the park may not take you to the correct entrance you need to use.
There are a number of large vehicle parking areas in the park. The biggest ones are around the campgrounds, around Hesitation Point, and near the West Lookout Tower. Other parking areas are close to the park office, adjacent to the lakes, and near most trailheads. Brown County State Park is also a cruising park. There are some twenty miles of paved, wide roads that are ideal for spring and autumn viewings.
In the southeastern section of the park, the equestrian campground features 100 electric sites and 100 primitive sites along Horseman Camp Road. These spacious and wooded sites offer parking spurs up to 55 feet long, picnic tables, and fire rings. You will also have access to drinking water spigots and pit toilets. Being a horseman’s camp, of course, it has tie-ups for your horses too. Please do not tie your horses to any trees or other structures.
Just a few feet from Strahl Creek, this campground offers the benefits of water play as well as horseplay. You’ll also have your own entrance off of IN-135 South, as nobody is allowed through except equestrians camping at the park. And with 18 bridle trails equaling over 30 miles, you and your pony will have plenty to keep you busy. Reservations can be made up to six months in advance, and you have to have a horse permit for each horse, with up to six horses.
If you come to Brown County State Park for solitude and scenery, Taylor Ridge, the most remote campground in the park, might be for you. With 258 campsites, this is the largest of the campgrounds and the most popular as well. Eight of these sites are ADA-accessible and nine of them are pull-thru sites. The RV length limits range from 15 to 80 feet, so it is important to check this when reserving your spot, which can be done up to six months in advance.
You will be able to cook indoors with the 30- to 50-amp electric or outside on the campfire grill provided by the park. A picnic table is also provided so you can enjoy your meal without having to balance it on your lap in a camp chair. Generators are allowed, if needed, but must be off during quiet hours from 11 PM to 6 AM. The kiddos will love the playground, which is just south of the camp off of Chestnut Oak Road. Fido can join you as well but must be restrained and supervised at all times.
Just to the south of the Buffalo Ridge Campground, the slightly more rustic Raccoon Ridge Campground has 18 hookup and 31 non-hookup RV sites on Sassafras Road. All of the sites are pet-friendly, have electric hookups, and there are potable water faucets located around the camp. About half of the sites are wooded with natural surfaces but the others are all paved sites, making it easier to level your RV. Speaking of your RV, the length limit for Raccoon Ridge sites is 30 feet. Water and restrooms are closed from November until April for winterizing.
Being so close to the park nature center, amphitheater, and picnic pavilions, you can spend the day learning more about the area’s natural flora and fauna before enjoying a picnic or BBQ afterward. The amphitheater and camp store may not be open during winter months; however, so check with the park staff for more information if you plan to visit during the off-season. Reservations are needed, and you can book your spot up to six months in advance.
Located along Persimmon, Mulberry, and Sycamore Roads, the Buffalo Ridge campground has 111 electric hookup sites with 10 of them being ADA-accessible. With the electric, you can cook inside your rig on the stove or take it outside on the provided campfire grill. The park also provides a large picnic table so you can all sit together for a meal. RVers can also find potable water faucets dotted around the camp. In addition, the campground has two comfort stations with hot showers and modern restrooms. If you need to dump your tank, the RV dump station is set off to the side off Walnut Road by Mulberry.
Buffalo Ridge is the closest campground to the 17-acre Ogle Lake, where you and the kids can enjoy some time in and on the water. Speaking of kids, they will also love the fun play area near the entrance to the campground across from sites 1 – 3. The store is also nearby in case you need to grab some ice, snacks, or even some souvenirs. You can make your reservations early since booking opens six months in advance of your visit. And bring your furbaby because they are welcome to join in the fun.
Located on a wooded bluff in the rolling hills of southcentral Indiana, the Brown County / Nashville KOA is easy to reach but tucked away. Enjoy the wooded trail, popular with people and their pups. Pull-through RV sites can accommodate big rigs, and most have 50-amp electric hookups. Visitors have access to all amenities including a nature trail, showers, pool, and even a doggie park for Fido. The children will enjoy the playground and basketball court as well. Less than two miles away from the historic artist community of Nashville, Indiana, this campground offers both city amenities and country living.
If you are a group leader of a youth group like the scouts or a church group, you should consider a road trip to Brown County State Park. With enough space for a group of up to 75 people, you and the group can pitch tents near the picnic tables and fire rings provided. Pit toilets, potable water spigots, picnic tables, and campfire rings are provided. Pets are allowed here as well, and you can book your spot up to six months in advance.
Located just north of Buffalo Ridge, this group campground is a nice combination of a prepared campsite and backcountry camping. It’s road-accessible and perched on the edge of the Ogle Hollow Nature Preserve. The camp has four different sites. Two of these can accommodate up to 75 guests, one can accommodate up to 50, and another can sleep up to 150 guests. Picnic tables, fire rings, pit toilets, and drinking water spigots are also provided. Pets are welcome, and reservations can be set up to six months in advance.
If you were thinking of doing something different on this road trip, maybe you could make a reservation at the Abe Martin Lodge. Located in the northern section of the park by the North Gatehouse, guests may choose from 84 cabin suites, lodge rooms, family cabins, patio rooms, or electrified rustic cabins. They even have pet-friendly options so your furry family members can come along too. Make sure to mention that when making your reservation.
The Abe Martin Lodge was originally built in 1932, when the Civilian Conservation Corps significantly expanded the park facilities. Inside the lodge, you can also find two cozy lobbies (one has a fireplace), a dining room, verandas, gift shop, and an indoor water park and pool like you don’t usually see at a lodge. Reservations can be made up to six months in advance, but you can also find a room on a first-come, first-served basis if they are available when you visit.
One of the most family-friendly trails in Brown County State Park is also one of the most scenic ones. It loops just north of the park office, so it’s quite accessible. The trail is also wide, well-marked, and relatively flat. It’s also in one of the highest spots in the area, so there are lots of scenic views along the way. You’ll want to have a good camera for this trek as well. As in other parts of the park, there is also wildlife viewing, especially wild turkeys.
This rugged .75-mile hiking trail cuts through the heart of the Ogle Hollow Nature Preserve. Yellowwood trees are among the prettiest ones in eastern North America, and also among the rarest ones. These trees flower in early June with large and fragrant white petals. The fruit is attractive as well, but basically inedible. Yellowwood trees also attract a wide variety of birds. Bring along your hiking shoes and a good camera so you can share your experience on your favorite social media sites.
These fire watchtowers are about nine stories high. The West Tower, which is near the West Entrance, offers great views of the lakes in the southern part of the park, as well as the nature preserves. The North Tower, which is near the Abe Martin Lodge, overlooks the meandering Salt Creek as well as the rolling hills which dominate this part of the park. There is lots of RV parking near the West Tower, and there is a large picnic area close to the North Tower.
Reaching this excellent vantage point for scenic views can be quite challenging. The trail is rather steep and has a lot of tight switchbacks and difficult terrain. Only experienced hikers or bikers should attempt it. Or, you can just drive your RV to this scenic overlook. There is ample parking nearby. Other facilities include backcountry camping and a recreation building. Visiting Hesitation Point should be on everyone’s list of to-dos at the park, where you can enjoy the beautiful sights while enjoying a picnic lunch.
There are vistas near Hesitation Point, Hohen Point, and the park office. All three of them have ample parking, as well as picnic areas. Early mornings and late afternoons, the hills create a spectacular interplay of light and shadow. Also, the light catches the tree limbs in a way that’s hard to describe. Pack a nice breakfast and start your day by watching the sun come up in a way you just cannot see it in the city, and don’t forget the camera.
When snow is on the ground, this 1838 covered bridge is a great photo opportunity, so you need to make sure you pack your camera in the rig before hitting the road. It’s one of only four double tunnel covered bridges in the United States. Moreover, this bridge is the oldest covered bridge in Indiana. Originally built in Putnam County, preservationists moved it in 1932 when construction would have demolished the bridge, and it is still a sight to behold.
Do you remember sledding when you were a kid? Snow days when schools were closed seemed like the perfect days to get out there and fly down any hill you could find, even your own driveway? The hills near the park swimming pool are a lot steeper than your driveway at home. For some reason, this area is known as the Archery Target Range. Despite the ominous-sounding name, it’s really just a collection of gentle, rolling hills where families can have some fun together.
Equestrian activities are the latest thing at Brown County State Park. Altogether, the park has some two dozen trails that cover about 70 miles. Eleven of these trails are sufficiently wide to accommodate side-by-side riding. The longest trail is about 12 miles; the shortest one is about a half-mile. Kids of all ages love the fall hayrides. There are also guided horseback tours and pony rides. The main equestrian center is in the south part of the park, where horseback riders have their own park entrance. There’s also a saddle barn in the northern part of the park that’s open most of the year.
The park does not rent ski equipment, so be sure to pack your skis and poles in the rig before heading out. There are a number of open hills where cross-country skiing is lots of fun. The hills make these excursions challenging, but not terribly difficult. The eastern, southern, and western portions of the park are the best cross-country skiing areas. No skis are allowed on the hiking or biking trails. Be sure to practice proper trail etiquette.
Accessible by either RV or a 1.5-mile moderately challenging hiking trail, this 12-acre lake is a great fall-winter destination. During the fall, kayaking and canoeing are quite popular, as the water is usually rather choppy this time of year. In winter, if the lake freezes over, there are ice fishing opportunities. Lots of people also snowshoe along the trail this time of year. So, depending on when you plan to visit the park, bring along your hiking boots, snowshoes, or ice fishing gear. And don’t forget to wear layers.