Mountains in the Midwest? When I first heard Brown County, Indiana’s nickname, “The Little Smoky Mountains,” I was skeptical. I spent a lot of my childhood growing up in the table-flat farmland of Indiana and Iowa and decided I had to see these mountains to believe it. Was this just a case of a marketing campaign literally making mountains out of molehills? The drive there started out just as I expected: vibrant green fields of corn and soybeans stretching to the horizon. Pretty, but flat. Then, almost without warning, we were embraced by the mountainous heavily wooded hills of Brown County! The area definitely captures the spirit of the Smokies and provides lots of activities you won’t find in other parts of the state: rustic pine vacation cabins, rugged hiking, mountain biking, zip-lining, gem mining, local bluegrass music, and an amazing shopping district in the early 1900s artists’ colony, Nashville.
While driving up to a rental property, we all wonder if it is actually going to live up to it’s description online. With Big Pine Lodge, we were in love at first sight. On a secluded 10-acre lot with a private pond, this cabin was beautifully decorated with lots of unique details, including an eagle head carved into the ridge pole. But the outside was the best part: hot-tubbing after a day of hiking, making s’mores around the fire at night, and enjoying the wildlife were some of the highlights of our stay. Our seven-year-old got the surprise of her life when she walked out the door and found a whole herd of deer in the driveway one morning!
One of the best ways to enjoy the mountainous terrain is to head to eXplore Brown County Zip-Lining for high-flying adventure. This adventure campus includes 15 different ziplines, as well as lots of other outdoor activities. We had an amazing time flying on the Superhero: a unique zipline that lets you glide through the air face first. My seven-year-old would have flown all day if she could have, and her grandma loved it, too.
Next on our list of mountain adventures was hiking. Brown County State Park is Indiana’s largest park and offers a great variety of activities and lodging. We loved the beautiful scenery and hiking, but our favorite thing was the well-designed Nature Center. It didn’t look like much from the outside, but inside the kids were fascinated by bees who created honey in a display case. Also, we could have spent hours watching a dozen species of birds and small wildlife attracted to the feeders and water elements.
Downtown Nashville, the heart of Brown County, offers hundreds of little shops, galleries, and restaurants. The area has a fascinating history from the pioneer days, but Nashville really became a destination in the early 1900s when its rustic beauty drew artists to live and paint. It quickly became an artists’ colony. There is still a flourishing art community in the area and many galleries to tour. While there are some kitschy touristy places, many of the shops offer beautiful arts, crafts, and pottery from local artisans. Are the kids tired of shopping? Take them to Copperhead Creek Mining Company, located right in the shopping district. It is the perfect cure for the shopping blues. In addition, Miller’s Ice Cream House, which offers homemade local specialties, was a great place for a cool treat!
Our visit to Brown County, Indiana was so much fun. We can’t wait to go back. From adrenaline-pumping mountain adventures to laid-back shopping, Brown County offers something for everyone and is the perfect family getaway. In the end, I was convinced. There are mountains in the midwest!
Join in! Have you ever taken a vacation that you were skeptical about at first, but ended up a true believer? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments below.
Katie Thornton is a 2013 Trekaroo Superoo from Middle Georgia, kept busy by her very active outdoors-loving seven-year-old.