Brown County State Park located in Nashville, IN, is the largest state park in Indiana at nearly 16,000 acres. The park is referred to as "the little smokies', which is surprisingly appropriate with rolling hills, water features, and great vistas.
Upon arrival, we were able to secure site #1 at Buffalo Ridge Campground, the only year round campground within the park. We joined about ten additional campers with the campground for the holiday weekend - try that any other holiday weekend of the year in a park with 1.3 million visitors annually. Our site was a short walk to the heated, large bathhouse, backed to the playground, and had easy access to numerous trails. In season, it is also near the camp store. We had electric with water nearby and the site was slightly sloped with a gravel pad.
We were joining my brother and his wife, who stayed in the Abe Martin Lodge within the park. The Lodge features a nice indoor water park for guests. For $10 per day, campers are able to visit the water park as well. The water park is open 10-10, making it a great winter evening activity when the sun sets so early.
We enjoyed an afternoon walking the shops in Nashville, For a community with a population of 1000, we were surprised with the number of shops, cafes, restaurants, galleries, and artists that were located in the downtown, We ate at Big Woods Restaurant at Hard Truth Distillery, the largest distillery in Indiana, located just outside Brown County State Park. The food, drinks, and the grounds of the distillery were outstanding.
One key reason we chose this location was that it was about thirty minutes from both Columbus and Bloomington, two cities we'd been looking forward to visiting.
We started with Columbus. The American Institute of Architects ranks Columbus sixth in the nation for architectural innovation and design, right behind Chicago, New York, Boston, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. We purchased a $3 walking and driving map that helped us find a number of the buildings and sculptures designed by some of the great architects located throughout downtown and across the city. We found awesome coffee at Lucabe Coffee which was next to The Commons. The kids had a blast at The Commons, a free indoor playground located in downtown. We also visited KidsCommons just across the street, which is a hands-on museum featuring a giant toilet that you can climb down! After all of this, we found great burgers at Joe Willis Burger Bar.
Our research for Bloomington started with the food and drinks we wanted to try. We love the dining in college towns. Our tasting tour began with the Rainbow Cafe, a vegan and gluten free bakery. We had amazing oatmeal cream pies, strawberry donuts, and chocolate-banana muffins, in addition to good coffee and tea. We also tasted wines at Oliver Winery, one of the largest wineries east of the Mississippi, also one of Travel and Leisures top wineries to visit. After tasting a wide selection of nice red wines, we headed back into town looking for a pick-me-up. We discovered Hopscotch Coffee. Hopscotch is a local roaster, roasting coffee beans at one of their two locations, with coffee also available at other locations (including Rainbow Cafe) and by subscription. After receiving a couple recommendations, we had dinner at Upland Brewing. Upland has amazing everything: good food, outstanding burgers, really good tofu, great beer, and a nice selection of sours. Confession: we enjoyed ourselves so much that we visited Upland two nights in a row.
Our visit to Bloomington wasn't solely alternating between coffee and cocktails. We took the kids for a full day to WonderLab. We were there open to close while the kids explored everything this ASTC-member Museum of Science, Heath and Technology had to offer. we built machines, laid on a bed of nails, learned about coral at the fish tank, and took part in a STEM activity.
As we prepared to head home on the morning of New Year's Day, we had one more item on our to-do list: a first day hike. We planned to join a ranger-led hike at the lodge but instead decided to explore the hikes around our campsite. We used REI's Hiking Project App to plan our hike. Following the tips provided for a good loop, we followed Trail 4 until it spilt off into Trail 5 and then finished were we started. Although a bit muddy, we all had a happy first day hike.
We were pleasantly surprised with both the beauty and the number of great activities and attractions Brown County and the surrounding cities had to offer. This was a great end to an amazing camping year and a good way to start 2019.
Shane and Jessica
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