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Brown County State Park Guide — Hiking, Bridge, and More 

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Amar Hussain
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Amar Hussain

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Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications incl...
Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
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Keri Stooksbury

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Brown County State Park in Indiana is nicknamed the Little Smokies as it resembles the Great Smoky Mountains. This park has much to offer, including horseback riding, fishing, camping, hiking, and mountain biking. It is one of the state’s most visited parks and incredibly popular during summer and fall.

How To Get to Brown County State Park

Where Is Brown County State Park?

Brown County State Park is in Nashville, Indiana, about 20 miles from Bloomington, Indiana. Other nearby cities include Columbus, Indiana, and Seymour, Indiana. This park stretches over 16,000 acres and consists of hills, lakes, ridges, ravines, and wooded areas.

Brown County State Park Opening Hours and Seasons

The park is open year-round daily from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Some park facilities are open seasonally, so it is wise to call ahead to ensure you can enjoy all the activities on your list.

Nearest Airports to Brown County State Park

The closest major airport to Brown County State Park is Indianapolis International Airport (IND), which is about an hour away. This airport offers nonstop flights to over 40 destinations around the world.

Airlines that serve IND include well-known names like Air Canada, Allegiant, Delta, Frontier, Southwest, and United. Several rental car kiosks are available with representatives to help you arrange the last leg of your journey to the park.

Driving to Brown County State Park

There are 3 entrances to the park. Your route will depend on where you are coming from. Those from the Columbus area will head west on IN-46 for approximately 16 miles, and the park will be on the left. From Bloomington, take IN-46 East to Nashville for 26 miles. The park will be on your left. 

Taking the Train to Brown County State Park

There is no train service to this state park other than the Nashville Express, which takes visitors on a scenic tour through the city of Nashville. This 25-minute tour shares the town’s history and is offered seasonally from May to October.

Taking the Bus to Brown County State Park

Traveling by bus is a great way to let someone else take over the stress of driving. There is no bus service directly to the park, but there is an option that can get you very close. Greyhound offers service to Bloomington, which is about 20 miles from the park. You can easily arrange a ride-share service or rental car to get to the park from there.

Getting Around Brown County State Park

The best way to get around this state park is a combination of driving and walking, biking, or horseback riding. The park has nearly 20 miles of scenic roads that wind through its boundaries, 30 miles of biking trails, and 70 miles of horseback riding trails.

There are several parking areas throughout the park, so you can drive to different areas, leave your vehicle, and then explore the park in your preferred way. The park offers a printable map showing the trails, roads, and parking areas throughout the park.

What To See and Do in Brown County State Park

Whether you seek a thrilling adventure or simply want to view historic landmarks or something in between, there are plenty of sights and activities every visitor will enjoy here.

Covered Bridge

Brown County State Park
Image Credit: Steven Van Elk via Unsplash

The Ramp Creek Covered Bridge is located at the park’s north entrance and crosses Salt Creek. It was originally built in 1838 and relocated in 1932 to its current location. It is the oldest covered bridge in the state.

The covered bridge is a beautiful structure that is a fantastic place for photography and appreciation of history. It is the only double tunnel bridge in Indiana and 1 of 4 in the entire country.

Bottom Line:

You won’t want to miss the opportunity to take in this stunning bridge and appreciate its history and architecture.

Fire Tower

The park has an impressive Fire Tower near the park office. This 90-foot tower showcases stunning views of the surrounding hills. Visitors can climb to the top of this tower and enjoy panoramic views of the park.

Fishing and Boating

Fishing and boating are popular activities at this state park. Ogle Lake is 17 acres, Strahl Lake is 7 acres, and both are filled with incredible opportunities to reel in a catch. The most common fish caught here are bass, bluegill, channel catfish, and redear sunfish. Fishing can be enjoyed during the warm weather but also in the winter months for anglers who enjoy ice fishing.

A valid state fishing license is required to fish in this park. Licenses can be purchased online or at the park’s main office. Boating is permitted at Brown County State Park as long as you intend to use non-motorized boats like canoes, rowboats, and kayaks. Boats with electric trolling motors are permitted exclusively on Ogle Lake. It is important to note that no boat ramps or rentals are available in the park, and a lake permit from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources is required.

Hiking Trails

Ogle Lake
Image Credit: Indiana Department of Natural Resources

Over 18 miles of hiking trails wind through this state park, ranging in distance and difficulty. There are 12 trails here, and some of the popular trails are the Ogle Lake Trail, the Lodge Trail, and the Ogle Hollow Nature Preserve Trail. Many visitors enjoy the Saddle Barn Loop trail because the Abe Martin Lodge Audio Tour can be enjoyed during the hike.

Mountain Biking Trails

Cyclists are thrilled to have the opportunity to enjoy the mountain biking trails that are offered at Brown County State Park. Around 30 miles of trails here vary in difficulty from beginner to expert. These trails traverse around hills, across streams, through ravines, and have 400 feet of elevation change. These trails were built and are maintained by the Hoosier Mountain Bike Association.

Hot Tip:

Cyclists must have an off-road cycle permit to ride any trails above the beginner skill level. These permits can be purchased online, at the park office, or at the gatehouse.

Nature Center

The Nature Center offers a wealth of opportunities for park guests to learn about the cultural and natural aspects of the park. This facility features a bird-watching area, a snake exhibit, and many informative displays and interactive exhibits to explore. Guests can also explore the gardens and outdoor exhibits.

This facility provides year-round interpretive naturalist services and cultural arts programs. Some of these programs include history talks, guided hikes, guest speakers, evening programs, and a junior naturalist program.

Play Area

There are several playgrounds throughout Brown County State Park. These are the perfect places for children to let loose and engage in imaginative play with others. Parents can supervise and relax on one of the benches along the perimeter of the play area. Playgrounds can be found near Horsemen’s Campground, inside the campgrounds, and next to many of the reservable shelter houses.

Saddle Barn

Saddle Barn
Image Credit: Brown County Visitors Center

Saddle Barn offers a full-service trail as well as pony rides. Visitors can participate in horseback riding and choose from 35-minute or hour-long rides throughout the park. From late May through June, Saddle Barn offers hayrides throughout the park. Taking in the park on the back of one of these majestic horses is a fantastic way to enjoy the park’s beauty, flora, and fauna.

Swimming

This park has an Olympic-sized outdoor swimming pool and wading pool for visitors to enjoy. The pool areas are open from Memorial Day weekend until Labor Day. Lifeguards are on duty when the pool is open. Should hunger strike while you are having fun in the sun, a Snack Bar and Grill is nearby. The pool house offers restrooms, changing rooms, and a shop for purchasing pool equipment like goggles.

Tennis Courts

There are 2 tennis courts near the North Gate House. These courts are open to the public and available on a first-come, first-served basis. Open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., they offer endless fun. The park does not supply tennis balls or rackets, so be sure to bring your own.

Best Times To Visit Brown County State Park

Brown County State Park is an incredible place to visit, regardless of which time of year you are able to. However, some times are better than others to plan a trip, especially if you are hoping to experience a particular event or activity.

Best Time To Visit Brown County State Park for Fall Foliage

Brown County State Park for Fall Foliage
Image Credit: Steven Van Elk via Unsplash

Fall is a beautiful time of year at Brown County State Park. The trees are bursting with shades of red, orange, and yellow. The best time to visit this park to appreciate fall foliage is late October. You won’t want to forget your camera so you can capture the stunning scenery.

Best Time To Visit Brown County State Park To Avoid the Crowds

Experiencing this park without crowds is a dream for many visitors. November is the best time to visit for a crowd-free experience. The park sees a dip in visitation, and this is the least busy time for tourists in the surrounding town of Nashville.

Best Time To Visit Brown County State Park for Ideal Weather

Weather can truly make or break a trip, so researching typical weather trends is wise when planning your vacation. Brown County experiences 4 distinct seasons throughout the year. If you want to experience ideal weather during your visit, you should plan to come in September. The temperatures range from the mid-50s to the high 70s, and there is only an average of 6 days of rain, which is significantly less than other months throughout the year.

Annual Events in Brown County State Park

This park regularly hosts various events throughout the year, including guest speakers, wildlife talks, and guided hikes. Tourists and locals alike look forward to several events here annually.

The Epic

The Epic is an annual mountain bike festival at the park in October. This 2-day event features fantastic cycling opportunities, bluegrass music, delicious food, camping, and enjoying the fall season in the park. There are a variety of routes to be enjoyed, perfect for every skill level. Proceeds from this event go toward improving the park trail system.

Bottom Line:

This event is a wonderful way to meet other cycling enthusiasts, enjoy the great outdoors, and appreciate the beauty of Brown County.

First Day Hike

Every year on January 1, the park hosts a First Day Hike event. Participants can kick off a new year with a guided hike throughout the park and enjoy the views and information shared by park staff. After the hike, guests can warm up with hot chocolate and visit different naturalist tables to learn more about the park and its flora and fauna. There are also games and activities for everyone to enjoy.

Where To Stay in Brown County State Park

One of the first orders of business when planning any trip is determining where to stay. Thankfully, there are abundant choices within and outside Brown County State Park.

Inside the Park

There is a variety of accommodations offered inside the park. From rustic cabins to a lodge to hundreds of campsites, there’s something for every visitor’s preference.

Abe Martin Lodge

Abe Martin Lodge is the only hotel-style lodging option within the park boundaries. It was built in 1932 with native stone and oak timbers brought in from the park. The lodge is open year-round and has 2 spacious lobbies, each with a cozy and welcoming fireplace.

There are 30 rooms in the main lodge and an additional 54 rooms in the new addition. The rooms at this lodge offer all the comforts you could need on a vacation, including private restrooms and comfortable linens and furniture. All guests receive complimentary wristbands to the on-site indoor aquatic center. The lodge also features a gift shop, campfire pit, game room, and an on-site restaurant that features live music and delicious food.

Cabins

Family Cabin at Brown County State Park
Image Credit: Indiana Department of Natural Resources

There are dozens of cabins and cabin suites available for rent at Brown County State Park. From family cabins to rustic cabin rooms and suites, there’s something to suit every traveler’s needs. There are 20 family cabins available here year-round. These cabins have 2 bedrooms and can sleep up to 8 guests.

The 12 cabin suites have 2 queen beds and a sofa bed. Rustic cabins, available between April and October, have either 1 or 2 beds. Staying in one of the cabins is ideal for visitors who seek a retreat in nature with the comforts of a roof overhead. 

Campgrounds

There are 3 developed campgrounds at Brown County State Park: Buffalo Ridge, Taylor Ridge, and Raccoon Ridge. These feature amenities such as picnic tables, fire rings, modern restrooms and shower houses, and drinking water. Campers who prefer a more primitive experience can camp in 1 of the 31 non-electric campsites in Raccoon Ridge. The Horsemen’s Campground has both electric and primitive sites. Groups have the option of Rally Campground and the Youth Tent Area.

Towns Near Brown County State Park

Brown County State Park is in the perfect location for a vacation. There are many options to choose from when setting up a base camp outside the park.

Bloomington, Indiana

Bloomington is 20 miles from Brown County State Park. This town is known for being home to Indiana University, one of the oldest and largest state universities in the U.S. This bustling city makes an excellent home base for those visiting the park, as it has countless accommodations, dining, and recreation.

Visitors can choose from luxury hotels, charming inns, and secluded retreats in nature. There are over 150 restaurants in this town, ranging from pizza parlors to international cuisine and everything in between. There’s plenty to do for entertainment and recreation as this town offers unique shopping opportunities, a vibrant arts scene, and adventurous activities like hiking, zip lining, and fishing.

Bottom Line:

This town has everything needed for a memorable vacation and is just a hop, skip, and jump away from Brown County State Park.

Nashville, Indiana

Nashville is the town where this park is located, so you couldn’t find a more convenient option for staying near the park. This small town has a special charm that appeals to locals and visitors alike. There are eateries, lots of lodging, and so much to do for entertainment and recreation.

Nashville has several locally run inns, well-known hotels, and campgrounds. The restaurants here range from cafes to bistros to family-owned diners. Some of the top attractions and activities in this town include a variety of distilleries, parks, theaters, and historic sites.

With its proximity to Brown County State Park and the plethora of activities, it makes perfect sense to make this town your home away from home during your visit.

Where To Eat in Brown County State Park

Deciding where to eat during your Brown County State Park visit won’t be too difficult, thanks to the park’s amazing location. Within the park is a full-service restaurant, a seasonal snack shop by the pool, and plenty of opportunity for picnicking. Additionally, there are even more options just 2 miles down the road in the bustling city of Nashville.

Big Woods Pizza

Big Woods Pizza is one of the most popular restaurants near the park. This pizza parlor in Nashville, just under 2 and a half miles from the park. This restaurant offers pizza, sandwiches, salads, other mouth-watering specialties, local craft beer, and spirits. The parlor is on the main drag of Nashville, surrounded by unique shops and art galleries you can check out after you finish your meal.

Hobnob Corner Restaurant

Hobnob Corner Restaurant is a highly rated restaurant in Nashville, just a 4-minute drive from the park. Set in a historic building, this restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner every Wednesday through Sunday. Top off your meal with a glass of fine wine and a homemade dessert before you head back out for your Brown County adventures.

Little Gem Restaurant

Little Gem Restaurant is inside Abe Martin Lodge. It is the only full-service dining option on the park’s premises. Little Gem is open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Visitors can enjoy indoor dining or have a seat on the patio and enjoy the views overlooking the park. This restaurant serves classic American cuisine and features sandwiches, salads, and Hoosier homestyle dinners.

Brown County State Park Facts

North Lookout Tower at Brown County State Park
Image Credit: Steven Van Elk via Unsplash

1. A New State Park Established

Brown County State Park opened to the public in 1929.

2. Weed Patch Hill

Weed Patch Hill is one of the highest points in Indiana. This hill is located in the park and stands at an elevation of 1,058 feet in height.

3. Civilian Conservation Corps

The Civilian Conservation Corps began working in this park in 1934. It helped build many of the park’s buildings, facilities, trails, and lookout towers. It also built Ogle Lake and the roads that wind through the park.

4. Indiana Birding Trail

Brown County State Park is one of the stops on the Indiana Birding Trail. This park has excellent birding opportunities as it is a prime migratory zone within the Mississippi Flyway.

5. National Register of Historic Places

Brown County State Park was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2021. The park is the sixth Indiana state park to be listed on the register.

Final Thoughts

Brown County State Park has something to offer everyone, from hiking to camping and horseback riding to exploring historic landmarks and buildings. With so much to see and do, it’s no wonder this park is one of Indiana’s most visited state parks. Book your trip to this state park and discover what brings in over a million tourists annually.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to visit Brown County State Park?

There is an entrance fee for visiting Brown County State Park. It is a $7 fee for Indiana residents, and out-of-state visitors have a $9 charge. From early November to late March, there is no fee for visiting Monday through Thursday.

How much time should I spend at Brown County State Park?

You should spend a minimum of a full day exploring this state park. For a more immersive experience, staying overnight at one of the campgrounds, in the rustic cabins, or in the historic lodge is recommended.

Can I swim in the lakes at Brown County State Park?

Swimming is prohibited in the lakes at this park. There is a swimming pool and an aquatic center for visitors who want to swim.

What attractions should I visit near Brown County State Park?

Some of the popular attractions near Brown County State Park include TC Steele State Memorial, Yellowwood State Forest, and downtown Nashville.

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About Amar Hussain

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications including Forbes, the Huffington Post, and more.

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