photo courtesy eXplore Brown County

Experience the Forest

by Jeff Tryon

Brown County has many attractions—the art, the history, the shopping—but the most amazing thing about it is the woods.

The great forest is immense, dominating the county and the southern half of the state, incomparable in its diversity and beauty.

It is an accepted matter of lore around these parts that you will feel better if you take the time to somehow connect with nature, to touch the face of the forest.

It’s as easy as a walk in the park. Brown County State Park, that is.

In addition to all the usual amenities of destination tourism—a first class lodge and restaurant with an indoor water park, an Olympic size outdoor pool, extensive and well-developed campgrounds for RV and tent camping, two pristine and beautiful fishing lakes, dozens of rustic shelterhouses and picnic facilities—the 16,000-acre park features an extensive network of hiking and horse trails.

A dozen well-marked and maintained hiking trails covering 18 miles in total will lead you out into the forest, into spots renowned for generations for instilling the spirit of peace and welcoming the “Aha!” moment.

horseback riders
photo by Cindy Steele

The state park has a horse barn with riding tours (and pony rides for the kids), and a separate horsemen’s camp with top notch facilities and 70 miles of developed backcountry horse trails.

The park has a national reputation as a top mountain biking destination. With five independent loops and three connector trails, the single track trail system covers a 600-foot change in elevation over a two mile descent through steep hills, contour trails, natural rock outcroppings, creek crossings, and other features.

There are other paths into the Brown County woods.
The 23,326-acre Yellowwood State Forest spreads out over the northern and western part of Brown county, centering around Yellowwood Lake and featuring fishing, hunting, hiking, and camping with developed campsites, primitive camping, and horsemen campsites.

Yellowwood has boat ramps and rowboat rentals by the hour or day. Once you have rowed yourself and perhaps a loved one to the center of the 133-acre acre lake, pause for a few minutes to look around.

There is good hiking in Yellowwood, including a pretty modest and short trail and some more challenging, longer hikes.

Opportunities to experience miles of marked and mapped trails don’t end there.

Near the little town of Story on State Road 135 South, you can connect with a number of excellent trails in the Hoosier National Forest, including the 8.6 mile Nebo Ridge Trail, for hikers, bikers, and horseback riders.
Also near Story lies the Charles Deem Wilderness, the state’s only federally designated wilderness in a 13,000 acre area. According to their literature it “managed to preserve a natural condition and provide opportunities for solitude.”

There it is. Opportunities for solitude in a pristine natural setting. It may not seem like a big thing, but in today’s hustling and bustling world, it can be a rare and precious commodity.

The 4.9-mile Sycamore Trail is the only one in the Deem Wilderness Area exclusively for hikers. Horse riders share the other 37 miles of trails.

The latest trend in wilderness preservation and access is land trusts like The Nature Conservancy Project and the Sycamore Land Trust which both manage properties you can visit and enjoy in Brown County.

One of the newest is the 46-acre Stafford Family Preserve located at the end of Upper Schooner Road, which will be open to the public once a parking lot and hiking trail are built.

The 260-acre Trevlac Bluffs Nature Preserve features rare Eastern Hemlocks and the namesake 200-foot bluffs.
In southwestern Brown County, forest lovers can visit the Laura Hare Nature Preserve at Downey Hill off of Valley Branch Road. The Hoosier Hikers Council is currently building a trail through the rugged nearly one square mile preserve, “part of a huge block of contiguous forest habitat, protected forever for the benefit of songbirds, raptors, and box turtles.”

Near Bean Blossom, the 350-acre Hitz-Rhodehamel Nature Preserve, located off of Freeman Ridge Road, features a three-mile trail through the oak covered ridges and ravines.

There’s a relatively new way to touch the face of the great forest—the zipline.

“The dense hardwood forest of Brown County and the Hoosier National Forest provide a true canopy style adventure flying tree to tree top over a lake and deep wooded ravines,” states promotions from eXplore Brown County, located on Valley Branch Road in southeastern Brown County.

Don’t worry, you’ll be “wearing a harness and tethered to a safety cable” while you walk across the 68-foot “Walking on Air Sky Bridge” or fly “across the lake over 395 feet of cable, reaching heights of 50 feet before finally landing in a tree platform 18 feet above ground.”

There are other zips around including “The Holler Hoppin’ Ziplines” at Rawhide Ranch on State Road 135 South, which also features hiking and bridle trails.

Or you could just take a short walk down a well-maintained path like the Salt Creek Trail—maybe find a bench or a log and sit still for a few minutes. Listen to birds, the wind, whatever goes on out there.

Experience the forest. Take time to enjoy the beauty and restorative properties of nature.

You owe it to yourself.