Before this week, we’d barely done any autumn traveling at all. With Steven’s history as a high school teacher and private tutor, fall semester has always been a time that we’ve focused on buckling down, working hard, and banking money.
But all that past saving has bought us the comfort of passive investment income today, allowing us to dial back to just a few hours per week of (mostly remote) contract work. So we’re out on a month-long road trip to see the leaves change — something that definitely doesn’t happen in our home state of Florida.
As we pulled into the main entrance of Brown County State Park, we were treated to a quaint covered bridge surrounded by trees full of vivid yellow, red, and orange leaves. It set the tone for the rest of our visit.
Hikes and Bikes and Horses, Oh My
This park has a ton of recreational options, including designated trails for hikers, mountain bikers, and those on horseback.
None of the hiking in Brown County State Park is all that difficult, but it’s not totally effortless either. The 13 hiking trails in the park range from 0.5 miles to 3.5 miles each. Rather than sheer length, their difficulty comes in the form of boardwalks with stairs, trails with uneven, root-covered surfaces, and moderate elevation changes.
When we were just starting off on the CCC Trail, we witnessed a couple in their 70s decide to turn back immediately because of those things. It was definitely cool to see older people out exploring and enjoying nature, but it also made us stop and think about how many people wait until age 60 or 70 to retire only to find that they’re very limited in what they can physically do when they get there. It made us reflect on an advantage of early retirement that we don’t think about too often.
As the sun made its way across the clear blue sky, we made our way through the park, hiking the Lodge Trail, parts of the CCC and Ogle Lake trails, and the full loop around Strahl Lake. We also stopped at several roadside vista points — one even had a little overlook tower we climbed up for a better view.
Everywhere we looked, we were treated to a brilliant display of fall foliage, made even brighter by the warm wash of the late afternoon light. The colors of the leaves were truly captivating, and we paused frequently on the trails just to take it all in. The chilly October air was refreshing, and it gave us an excuse to huddle closer than we usually do when hiking.
Plenty of Camping Options — and Some to Avoid
No matter where we go, we like to stay in our converted Nissan NV200 camper van as much as possible to cut down on lodging costs. At Brown County State Park, there are five campgrounds to choose from that range in price based on amenities, like flush toilets versus vault toilets (aka fancy holes in the ground), and electric sites versus primitive plots (aka dirt parking spaces with a picnic table). The campground use fees were lower than most other parks we’ve been to.
We showed up late at night and grabbed a hot shower at Horsemen’s Campground on the southeast side of the park. What we didn’t realize was that “Horsemen’s Campground” isn’t just a name — almost all our fellow campers brought their horses with them, which meant the entire campground smelled like manure. We ended up parking in a lot just outside and sleeping there to escape the smell.
If you’ve got horses with you for the equestrian trails, then you should obviously ignore our bad review and head to Horsemen’s Campground. It’s got a ton of room to spread out and even offers posts you can tie your horses to instead of keeping them in a trailer. Otherwise, pick one of the others.
We didn’t check in ourselves, but Brown County State Park also boasts a full-featured lodge, complete with an on-site restaurant and a water slide(!) attached to the indoor pool. There are also some standalone cabins you can rent near the Abe Martin lodge that seemed kinda intimate and woodsy, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Other Stuff to Consider When Visiting Brown County State Park
Indiana residents get to pay less to enter Brown County State Park than out-of-state visitors like us, which isn’t the case at our State Parks back home in Florida. Either way though, pretty much all State Parks are cheap entertainment, and you’ll really get your money’s worth out of this one if you visit during autumn to catch the leaves changing colors.
There are two main entrances — north and west — that will get you into the park, and they’re both on Highway 46. The road follows along the perimeter of the park. While the eastern entrance at Horsemen’s Campground will probably show up as an option in your GPS, the guard won’t let you in unless you’re camping there, even though it’s connected to the rest of the park. So unless you’re camping there, navigate to a different entrance.
Speaking of navigation, cell service is inconsistent throughout Brown County State Park, so it’s best not to rely on it. You’ll get a map of the park at the entrance, but we also recommend downloading an offline map of the entire region (in Google Maps or whatever app you use). That way you can get in, around, and out of the park regardless of your connection.
We visited Brown County State Park on a Tuesday in the middle of October, and it was surprisingly not empty. Normally, when we stop into a natural place (like a park) on a random weekday, we have it to ourselves. Not this time. It’s probably a good bet that weekends during peak season (between Memorial Day and Labor Day) would be packed.
Overall, Brown County State Park delivered exactly what we were looking for — some fresh fall air, lots of activities to choose from, and a dramatic splash of color across the leaves.