Indiana has this weird habit of stealing city names from all over. There’s a Columbus and a Brazil, an Atlanta and a Long Beach. And a Nashville, Indiana which is where we spent a surprisingly temperate summer weekend camping at Brown County State Park to celebrate a-not-so little girl’s 9th spin around the sun. We packed my mom car to the brim with as many of the essentials as we could fit and headed south, not before stopping at Portillo’s for Chicago dogs and a free slice of chocolate birthday cake for Harper.
Nashville is about two hours south of our home on the North end of Indianapolis and our drive down was surprisingly mundane considering the kids were packed in three across in the middle seat so we had room for all our junk.
Camping at Brown County State Park
The drive through the park was beautiful, winding and verdant with breaks in the trees that grew more impressive as we rose up to the top of the park. Brown County State Park has a couple different campgrounds. One is the horseman’s camp for those traveling with their horses. The park has miles of equestrian trails making it a worthwhile mid-trip stop or destination for equine enthusiasts or at least from what we heard from some fellow campers on horseback. We don’t have any horses…yet.
For anyone traveling without livestock, the family camp is split into two different sections, Buffalo Ridge and Racoon Ridge. Buffalo Ridge is newer with flush toilets and full electrical hookups but the sites are close. Like trading paint close and the weekend we were there every single sites was full of RVs or campers.There was a lot of traffic since there is also an overflow parking lot and the camp store in this section of the campsite. Since we don’t have anything we need to hookup, we opted for the other quieter, more primitive (ie: pit toilets and no-hookups) option for tent camping, Racoon Ridge.
After fees we paid $23 a night plus a parking fee of $7 when we first entered the park that was good for our entire stay. During the summer, there is a two night minimum to book a site but you can get around it by checking for partial cancellations or days stuck between other two night bookings. If the nights on either side are already booked, you’ll be able to book the single night.
The site we picked was huge. It was easily the largest, best campsite we’ve ever stayed at. We had our pick of places to pitch the tent and a whole field for the kids to play in. Our campsite backed up to a thickly wooded forest which provided shade and a couple stalwart trees to hang the hammock from.
The camp store is small and has more souvenirs, as in toys that my kids know better than to beg for, than stuff you might actually need for camping. They do have wood for $5.99 a bundle along with some staples like shampoo, matches, flashlights, batteries, and lanterns. We did forget all kinds of stuff but ended having better luck finding what we needed at the ACE Hardware and IGA in town. We did end up letting the kids pick out a treat to take over to the playground since they had been so good about getting camp set up before we did any exploring.
The playground is nothing special but that didn’t stop my kids from spending over an hour bouncing, sliding and swinging before starting their loop over again. It is well maintained and clean. That four way teeter-totter was the clear winner and then ended up trying it every which way before we headed back to camp to start making dinner.
The nature center at Brown County State Park is pretty standard. They have several local animals that are unable to be rehabbed and released for one reason or another. It’s also where you go for access to maps, the day’s activities and presentations, and other info about the park and surrounding area. The big highlight for us was the beehive that leads from their garden outside. The sides are clear do you can watch the bees make honey. The nature center is also wonderfully air conditioned. On the day we were there, it was in the 80s and humid after a few days of summer showers so just a few minutes in the air felt amazing. The day we were visiting Indiana Raptor Rescue sent out a rep to do a show about predator birds indigenous to Indiana. It also made a good meeting place since anyone who isn’t camping, can’t take their car beyond the check-in kiosk at the very front of the campsite. Our friends drove up for Louisville and spent the day letting our kids eat all their food, carrying one of more or our kids, and being very glad they got to drive away from the sticky, whiny mess all three of them were by the end of the day.
Hiking with three children can be challenging. Usually our kids are up for most things and Hank is still content trapped in the baby carrier (the Beco Gemini has been a favorite for all three kids) but we try to take our own patience into considering trails. We did a short half mile loop called the Discovery Trail and the Strahl Lake Trail which was another loop, about three quarters of a mile but the first quarter mile and the last one are just a series of stairs that go straight up the side of a hill. Neither would be good for anyone with mobility constraints or strollers. Overall the park has nearly 20 miles of trails in varying levels of difficulty. The trail map has difficulty and terrain levels for each one so you don’t get in over your head. Our friend did end up carrying Indy up the steps on the way back for expediency’s sake
You can’t swim in either of the two lakes but they do have a swimming pool that is open when seasonally appropriate. We made this our very last stop before we headed home. It was crowded but clean and well-staffed as well as lifeguards are concerned. The pool is split into sections with ropes, including a couple of lanes from swimming laps and the deep end with two diving boards which Harper quickly became obsessed with and Indy pouted about. We didn’t eat there but they did have a snack bar that served summer standards like hot dogs and burgers.
Nashville is cute, and quaint in a way that feels a little fabricated. The streets are lined with trinket shops and old timey candy stores along with overpriced sunscreen and gas priced fifteen cents more than anywhere else in the state . We spent all of two hours in two over the course of our three day weekend because we were there to play in the dirt but we did stop at Big Woods Pizza and Quaff On Brewery for a late lunch before starting our trek back up north. The pizza and wings were solid, as were most of the beers we tried in the sampler flight Guy and I split. Everyone left full and happy. With three kids, that in itself is a win.
For Next Time
The park has it’s own saddle barn with daily rides as long as the weather is preferable. Rides start at $21 and kids have to be at least 7 to ride since they don’t allow any form of double riding. They do have pony rides for the under seven crowd. We skipped it this time since our weekend was already full of swimming, birthday celebrations, swinging in the hammock and playing in the dirt but we did go look and decide we’d have to put it at the top of our next time list.
The Fire Tower
Guy really wanted to climb this thing and in his defense it looks cool and undoubtedly offers an astounding view of the park and surrounding area but after all the steps on our hike, we were starving and had jello legs so it’ll be our first stop the next time we visit.
Abe Martin Lodge and Water Park
Brown County State Park also has a hotel and water park settled deep in the trees. Since year round camping isn’t a think here. Or at least not for us west coast wimps with babies, Guy thought it would be an amazing stop in the dead of winter when a day of swimming is a faint summer memory. Plus you know, water slides.
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