There’s not much provided in the form of activities in the Johnson County area of Indiana. You could “just be” like my mother says they were back in the days growing up in the county. They would bowl with their leagues, go swimming and boating on the lake, and read. During the weekends they would drive up to Indianapolis to go dancing and follow the local bands from hotel lounge to hotel lounge. Of course there are local fairs and festivals, but a trip can’t really be planned around those. Fast-forward to the present and not much has changed, the same bowling alley Hi-Way Lanes still stands. There is Rascals, the local go-kart racetrack that is pretty popular, but my mom says that didn’t exist while she grew up. However, about 30 minutes away, depending on traffic, an active paradise can be found at Indiana’s largest state park in Brown County, which opened in 1929.
The park’s rugged hills and hollows are said to resemble the Smoky Mountains and gained the nickname “the little smokies”. There are two entrances into the nearly 16,000 acre park: the North Gatehouse and the West Gatehouse. I recommend the north entrance off highway IND 135 & 46 because you get to pass through a covered brige, which crosses over Salt Creek. A lot of covered bridges are hard to see these days, being torn down or replaced with modern bridges that are more structurally safe.
The park entrance fee is $5 for in-state visitors and $7 for those out-of-state. Visitors can find plenty of camping and picnic areas around the hills and among the trees that cover the park. For those just exploring the park for the day or afternoon, there are vistas that offer breath-taking views, playgrounds for children and the Nature Center.
The best activities one can do inside the Brown County State Park are hiking and mountain biking. The park offers eight different types of mountain biking trails (which are noted as alphabetical letters on the park map) that range from easy to more difficult, most difficult and extremely difficult. You can connect with the other trails in certain instances. Their length vary from 1.2 miles to 4.1 miles, such as the Schooner Trace. As for hiking, there are about 12 trails (represented by numbers on the park map) ranging from easy to moderate or rugged. None is longer than three miles, unless you combine them just like you can with the mountain bike trails. Some trails can connect with each other like the one my parents and I hiked around Ogle Lake in the Ogle Hollow Nature Preserve.
The Preserve is home to a special species of tree. The Yellowwood are rare all across Indiana but seem to prosper in Ogle Hollow, which was dedicated in 1970 as a preserve. It is classified as a mesic upland forest because of its medium moisture of soil, which is drier on the slopes and wetter in the hollows.
We started on Trail 4, which is a moderate 1.25 mile path that descends through bush and a forest of all sorts of trees with thick and thin trunks. Their branches reach out at all angles interweaving with each other to create a green canopy overhead. This creates a cool atmosphere with plenty of shade. A haziness brought about by a mixture of humidity and patches of sunlight breaking through the clusters of leaves make you feel like your in a whole other realm.
The trail ends with a view of the lake but we continued forward and met the start of Trail 7, which is a 1.5 mile hike that loops around Ogle Lake at a moderate level. It takes you over slopes, across wooden plank bridges, and up and down wooden stairs over ravines.
People are allowed to fish in the designated areas off the trail. After you circle the lake, the trail re-connects with Trail 4, eventually turning into the rugged Trail 5. There are two steep climbs on stairs that will get your heart racing and lungs pumping, but should be expected to get you back up the hill you descended earlier. When you make your way out of the lush forest you’ll realize you made a complete 3.5 mile circle from your starting point.
We finished our visit to Brown County State Park with a climb to the top of one of the few remaining Fire Towers for a panoramic view of the park. The actual cabin at the top was locked and we were unable to get in, but the view from the highest point was still worth the scary climb up the steps that got smaller and smaller with each turn.
Overall, Brown County is a popular spot for tourists, especially the shopping village in Nashville, Indiana, but the vastness of the State Park will make you feel as if you are getting to see a remote and untouched part of Indiana.