My sister Wendy had been anxious about this horseback trip, but being in Brown County State Park has a way of sapping the nerves right out of you. I turn back to see her smiling on a docile mare. Ahead, my longtime friends Debi and Lori chat. And me? I’m just feeling blissful, out on a gorgeous fall day with my best gal pals in one of the prettiest spots in Indiana.
Of course, when I suggested this trip, I’d forgotten how horseback riding makes you feel afterward. (Saddle sore takes on new meaning with middle age!) Thank goodness for the outdoor hot tub at our cabin, a short drive from the park. Just as I’m settling into the steam, Wendy tries to call her boys and looks stunned. “No cell service.”
First, we panic. Then we laugh. The real world suddenly feels even farther away. Like girls at a slumber party, we go from sleepy to silly in an instant, spilling our deepest secrets. Lori’s is the real jaw-dropper. Usually the picture of a professional businesswoman, she stands up dripping and exposes a tiny flower tattoo on her rear. Only the deer are around to hear the howling.
The next day, I spot an old-time photo studio among the antiques stores and crafts studios in nearby downtown Nashville. Before anyone can object, I have the whole crew inside trussed up in corsets like saloon girls. No texts, no tweets, just us. Four friends preserved in sepia—muscle aches, tattoos and all.
What to do
Horseback riding Three companies in Brown County offer guided trail rides. Brown County Saddle Barn is located at the north entrance to Brown County State Park. Admission charged. (812) 988-8166; browncountysaddlebarn.com Rawhide Ranch offers guided rides as well as accommodations. Admission charged. (888) 947-2624; rawhideranchusa.com Schooner Valley Stables is the least developed facility, but their trail though Yellowwood State Forest is lovely. Admission charged. (812) 988-2859; schoonervalleystables.com
Shopping You’ll find antiques stores and crafts studios tucked in the woods throughout Brown County, but if you’d rather walk, you can park and spend a day in downtown Nashville. (812) 988-7303; browncounty.com
Where to eat
Artists Colony Inn Nashville’s signature downtown inn serves cozy lunches by a stone fireplace. Try Sun Fries, made from sweet potatoes and served with a caramel dipping sauce. (800) 737-0255; artistscolonyinn.com
Story Inn The on-site restaurant at Indiana’s oldest bed-and-breakfast has a relaxed yet elegant atmosphere. Many herbs and veggies come from the inn’s garden, so ask what’s in season. (800) 881-1183; storyinn.com
Where to stay
The restaurants above both offer lodging. If you’d like to rent a private cabin, the Brown County Convention and Visitor Bureau website (browncounty.com) has links to more than 200 in the area. The one pictured in our story is Bittersweet Farm Cabin. From $225. (812) 988-6429; browncountylogcabins.com
For more information: Brown County Convention and Visitors Bureau (812) 988-7303; browncounty.com
(A version of this story appeared in Midwest Living® September/October 2010. Prices, dates, and other details are subject to change, so please check specifics before making travel plans.)