This past weekend, my husband, Bob, and I went camping in Brown County, IN. We had heard that Brown County State Park was beautiful and often referred to as the “little Smokies” for the hilly terrain. Neither of us had been there before and we were pleasantly surprised by how awesome it was.
We took off after work on Friday and started driving south. Brown County is a little over an hour south of Indianapolis, so from South Bend, the total drive is about 3.5 hours. We decided to take a quick pit stop in Indianapolis for dinner. Yelp took us to an excellent place on the east side of the city – Caplinger’s Fresh Catch – which is just off the highway and is currently rated number one in the city for best restaurant. About 45 minutes before we arrived in Indy, we placed a carry-out order on their website since our initial plan was just to pick it up and eat in the car. When we arrived around 8:30 p.m., the place was packed with people waiting for their food – in fact, it was so busy many people had been waiting for over an hour (it’s a walk-up counter). Luckily, our order was ready and we snagged an open table to chow down. As the name suggests, Caplinger’s Fresh Catch is a fish restaurant and, damn, was it good. It was also cheap. We each got the Caplinger’s Special, which is a dinner of breaded or grilled swai, hush puppies, and two sides. I had cajun coleslaw and fries and Bob had collard greens and fried okra. The dinners were only $9.49 and the portions were huge – we actually nearly had a whole dinner left over. We also got a side of fried shrimp and a piece of coconut cream pie – yum! The have tons of different varieties of fish, all of which can either be grilled or fried.
After dinner, we drove in a food coma down to Brown County. Unfortunately, Brown County State Park’s campground was full (October is evidently the most busy month in Brown County due to the insane number of leaf-peepers in town), so we made a reservation at the Last Resort, an RV park and campground that was conveniently located just across the street from the state park and about about 5 minutes east of downtown Nashville, IN. While the sites were close together, the facilities were great. All of the sites had water pumps and electrical outlets (which allowed me to charge my iPhone when the battery died so I could take more photos for this post). The bathrooms were clean and had flush toilets and the showers were hot – which I appreciated, since the overnight temperature, much to my dismay, was a freezing 25 degrees. If it was warm, the pool would also be a great amenity.
As Bob can tell you, I have lukewarm feelings about camping. I actually never went tent camping until I met Bob in college (Bob was a Boy Scout growing up and camping is his happy place). The first time I went camping, I was convinced I would be abducted by aliens (no joke). But, over the years, camping has grown on me. It’s an inexpensive way to see a new place, waking up in beautiful scenery is quite enjoyable, and if you have the right gear (a sleeping pad for under your sleeping bag is essential), you can be pretty comfortable. Besides the frigid overnight low, it wasn’t so bad. However, I think our spoiled dog, who doesn’t seem to be into sleeping anywhere besides the couch or a bed, thought otherwise. (Don’t worry, she had her own sub-zero sleeping bag.)
Anyway, when we arrived at the campground late Friday night, we pretty much just set up the tent in the dark and went to bed. On Saturday morning, we woke up to light streaming through the beautiful autumn leaves and saw that we were on a ridge line. The terrain was incredibly hilly. After eating some cinnamon rolls that Bob made in his dutch oven over the fire pit, we jumped in the car and drove across the street to Brown County State Park.
Brown County State Park was impressive. We started by driving around the park to get our bearings and check out the different lookout points. We also took two short hikes – a quick 1.5 mile hike around Ogle Lake and a mile hike from the Nature Center to Strahl Lake and back. The park has a large stable on site, and horseback rides seemed to be a super popular way to see the park. There are also copious quantities of mountain bike trails for the bike enthusiast. The campgrounds looked to be in great shape.
In the afternoon, we drove down the street to Nashville, Indiana, the largest town in Brown County. I did not expect Brown County to have such a cute town. While I had heard of the state park, I had never heard of Nashville, so it was a pleasant surprise. Bob and I compared it to a southern-themed version of Saugatuck, MI, with Indiana prices. Nashville is a large art community, with tons of galleries, shops, and restaurants. Despite the throngs of tourists (October may not be the best month to go if you don’t like crowds), we had a great time walking around town and checking out the shops. We had an excellent cup of hot chocolate at the Daily Grind Coffeehouse and Cafe, saw a short marionette pupped show demo outside the “Slightly Haunted” Melchior Marionette Theatre, considered getting a pedicure (and passed) at the Hillbilly Foot Wash, watched a man carve a dragon out of a tree stump with a chainsaw, ate some awesome fudge and toffee at the Nashville Fudge Kitchen, and bought a really cool fused glass piece of art for our kitchen. If you have a dog with you, be prepared to be stopped by every fifth or so person who wants to tell you about their dog at home or pet your dog.
On our walk, we stopped at the Brown County Visitors Center, where we got a map of the Backgrounds of Brown County Studio Tour. In October, artists around Brown County open up their home studios to the public. We decided to take a short drive into the scenic countryside, stopping at the Farmhouse Cafe and Tea Room at the Flower and Herb Barn to check out the gardens and greenhouse. The restaurant has excellent reviews, and I’ve added it to my bucket list for next time.
After a quick nap back at the campsite, we headed back into town to have dinner at the Big Woods Brewing Company. Big Woods has two locations in Nashville – the Brewing Company and Big Woods Pizza – which are located next to each other. The Brewing Company is much smaller than the pizzeria and serves sandwiches, salads, tacos, flatbreads and a few entrees. Big Woods Pizza, as the name suggests, specializes in pizza, but has a few other items on the menu such as sandwiches and salads. Oddly enough, the much smaller Brewing Company had a shorter wait, which was great, since we weren’t in the mood for pizza. We started with the pulled pork nacho appetizer. I had the Triple B burger, which won a national competition for its tastiness. Bob had the steak pasta in a blue cheese cream sauce, which was also delicious. We also tried the seasonal pumpkin ale, the red ale, the stout, and the pale ale – all of which were great.
On Sunday morning, we woke up early and drove to Indianapolis. Despite living in Indiana for the past five years, we haven’t spent much time in Indy, so we wanted to see some of the places our friends had told us about in the city. We stopped in Broad Ripple, one of the historic neighborhoods, for lunch, and took a walk along the Monon Trail, a 10.4 mile bike and walking trail, with the dog. For lunch, we ate at Brugge Brasserie, a Belgian restaurant. I had the roasted pork tenderloin, leek and goat cheese crepe with fries (you can choose from 12 dipping sauces for the fries) and Bob had the beer and tomato braised meatball sandwich, both of which were delicious. After lunch, I ran into a great store, The Bungalow, which is both an art gallery and home goods store.
Overall, our trip to Brown County, with a couple of short pit stops in Indy, was a great success. I would highly recommend to Brown County to anyone who is looking for a beautiful and fun weekend getaway.