by Tony Coppi
photo by George Bredewater
The hills of Brown County provide a playground for those
seeking outdoor recreation. You can fish, swim, camp, ride horseback,
picnic, bicycle, ski and hike. Brown County State Park, the largest
state park in Indiana, attracts nearly two million visitors a
year. It spans over 15,000 acres, and ranks ninth among the ten
most visited parks in the United States.
Before the park was established in 1929, the scenic hills
and valleys were homes for several farmers and the village of
Kelp. During the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)
workers planted thousands of trees in the park for erosion control.
The CCC also built many of the shelters, picnic tables, roads
and trails that still exist today.
A diversity of plant and animal life can be studied through
the park's gardens and trails, and at the Nature Center. There
are over 200 species of flowers that bloom in the park between
June and November. The variety of wildlife includes white-tailed
deer, raccoon, squirrel and various birds.
The Nature Center is one of the park's most popular attractions.
The building houses a turkey habitat display, some snake and
reptile cubicles, a turtle tank and a display (know as Mother
Nature's Gallery) of many objects found on the walking trails,
left or lost by hikers. There are educational displays and a
wildlife observation room for bird watching. Naturalists offer
classes in natural history or wildlife and present nature-related
projects and demonstrations.
There are 12 miles of hiking trails in the park through wooded
areas. At the access of each trail there are signs describing
the trails obstacles, the elevation, the surface and width. The
longest of the nine trails is a 3.5 mile walk near the West Gate
entrance with a beautiful view from the overlook at Hesitation
Point. The trails are classified as "easy", "rugged"
The Ogle Hollow Nature Preserve, is a self-guided nature trail.
Maps are provided at the beginning of the trail noting the points
The park's lakes are man-made. Ogle Lake (17 acres) was built
in 1934 by the CCC, and Strahl Lake (7 acres) was built earlier
in 1929. Bank fishing is permitted in both lakes.
The Saddle Barn offers rental horses to explore three and
a half miles of guided trail rides on two different trails. Children
can take a pony ride in a corral behind the saddle barn and evening
hayrides are available.
The Horseman's Camp is reached through a separate entrance
eight miles south of the North gate. It is in the extreme southern
part of the park and is operated and maintained by the park.
It is for riders who bring their own horses and come to camp.
The camp has electric hook-ups, water, showers, flush toilets,
picnic areas and hitch rails. 70 miles of bridle trails provide
challenging hills and scenic views through the park.
There are three campgrounds in the park. The largest section
is the Taylor Ridge campground. It is a wooded area that is well
spread out. Buffalo Ridge is suited for RV campers and is near
the camp store but with few trees. Raccoon Ridge is more wooded
and there are about 25 sites without electricity.
The fire tower, near the park office, was primarily used to
spot forest fires. With an elevation of 1058 feet it offers a
spectacular view of the park for those who venture up its steep
steps to reach the top of the tower. It was built in the 1930's
on the highest ridge in southern Indiana and now serves as a
radio communications and public observation tower.
The double-lane bridge at the north entrance on State Road
46 East, is the oldest bridge in the state and the only covered
two lane bridge. It was built originally in 1838 to span Ramp
Creek in Fincastle, Indiana. In 1932 it was dismantled and moved
to the park where it was renovated and installed over Salt Creek.
Frank McKinney `Kin' Hubbard, a former staff artist and satirical
cartoonist for the Indianapolis News, created the legendary
cracker-barrel philosopher Abe Martin in 1904. Hubbard's works
were syndicated in over 300 daily newspapers. Will Rogers called
him `America's greatest humorist.'
Abe Martin became a favorite son of Brown County after being
portrayed in the cartoons as one of its native people. The park
commemorated Hubbard with his work by naming the Abe Martin Lodge
after the principal character in his cartoons.
The Abe Martin Lodge was built in 1932 of hand-hewn oak timbers
and native stone cut in the park. There are 30 rooms in the main
lodge and 54 in the annex located adjacent to the main building.
In addition to the 84 rooms there is a conference-banquet facility
accommodating up to 400 people. There are also twenty cabins
in the woods surrounding the lodge.
Other features in the park are picnic areas, tennis courts,
playgrounds and an Olympic size swimming pool. On the picnic
grounds, some have shelters equipped with fireplace and some
have comfort station located nearby.
The Brown County State Park received international attention
in 1987 when the United States hosted the Pan American Games
and the park was selected as the site for the men and women's
bicycle road racing competition. Athletes and spectators from
37 North, Central and South American countries competed in the
games. The site was chosen because it offered one of the most
difficult courses found in the world for bicycle road racing.
The course was 11.7 miles long and the topography of the course
had rises and falls of 400 feet. Downhill speeds reached up to
60 miles per hour, uphill ranged between 8 to 30 mph depending
on the terrain.
Most of the activities and sightseeing in the park occur in
the spring, summer and fall, but there are also winter activities.
The Abe Martin Lodge is open year-round as are some of the cabins.
The Nature Center is open during the winter. Ice-fishing at Ogle
and Strahl lakes are permitted. Several hills are suitable for
sleds near the Saddle Barn and some cross-country skiing on closed
park roads and trails.
The scenery of the park can be appreciated any season, but
the beauty explodes in October when the golden flames of the
tree leaves are at their peak. The vivid colors viewed from the
many breathtaking vistas create scenes more beautiful than any
artist could ever put on canvas.
For more information you can write
Brown County State Park P.O. Box 608
Nashville, Indiana 47448 or call 812-988-6406.
Back to Top