Perhaps a GOOD novel isn’t always the best read on vacation. Maps, for example, provide a pretty compelling story line of their own. Not convinced? Unfurl a map of Brown County, Indiana, and settle in for a tale.
Great blocks of green color much of the page, speaking of park and forest lands blanketing 85 percent of the county. Only thin lines penetrate most of the woods, tracing hiking and biking trails. Heavier lines squiggle along the routes of backroads and highways, weaving through rumpled terrain like irresistible plot lines.
But the best tales seem to wait behind place names almost too colorful for a mere road map: Hesitation Point. Bear Wallow. Gnaw Bone. Even as ink on paper, they evoke a sun-dappled, whiskey-soaked, weathered destination. And in person, on a weekend drive … well, the promise holds pretty true.
Brown County covers 316 square miles 60 miles south of Indianapolis and 18 miles east of the university town of Bloomington. But a curtain of tranquility separates the county from the rest of the state. Nestled here are Brown County State Park (Indiana’s largest at nearly 16,000 acres), Yellowwood State Forest and parts of the Hoosier National Forest. The topography prevents looking too far ahead on roads or trails, making the payoff all the sweeter when you round a corner to spot one of the famed covered bridges, or top out at a vista transformed by summer’s green, fall’s brush or winter’s white. browncounty.com
Bear Wallow Distillery Indiana-grown grains distill into whiskey moonshine and other craft liquors in Gnaw Bone. Watch the process during tours, then taste the fifths in a room meant to look like a backwoods shack. bearwallowdistillery.com
Bear Wallow Distillery
Bean Blossom Covered Bridge A winding two-lane road leads to the older of two covered bridges in Brown County. Stretching across Bean Blossom Creek, the 1880 bridge once served as a major passage into Nashville, Now it's a popular spot for painters and photographers. browncounty.com
Bean Blossom Covered Bridge
Brown County Playhouse and Performing Arts Center The curtains part on live events (plays, musicals, concerts and comedy acts) and movies in this 426-seat theater founded in 1949. browncountyplayhouse.org
Brown County State Park Climb a lookout towers for a bird’s-eye view of the 16,000 acres of forests, lakes and wooded campgrounds. The park’s 25 miles of mountain biking trails rank among the state’s best. stateparks.in.gov
Brown County State Park
Brown County Craft Gallery More than 30 area artisans show their works, including pottery, jewelry, silk scarves and baskets. browncountycraftgallery.com
Hoosier National Forest Picnic at one of the tables overlooking the 200,000 acres, and explore some of the 266 miles of trails. fs.usda.gov/hoosier
Rawhide Ranch Ride horses through the dense forests near Brown County State Park, then soar above the trees on five ziplines, which get progressively higher. Wind down with a hayride. rawhideranchusa.com
Shopping You’ll find antiques stores and crafts studios throughout Brown County, but if you’d rather walk, spend an afternoon in downtown Nashville. Find sweet treats at stores like Miller's Ice Cream House or Carmel Corn Cottage, and swing by the Brown County Art Guild to see works by more than 45 local and regional artists.
T.C. Steele State Historic Site Tours of T.C. Steele's home and studio teach about the Hoosier Group impressionist who is largely responsible for turning Brown County into an artists' colony. tcsteele.org
T.C. Steele State Historic Site
Yellowwood State Forest You'll have to hunt for the specimen yellowwoods, but plenty of pines, walnuts, locusts and oaks shade horseback and hikin gtrails. www.in.gov
Big Woods Pizza Company Artisan pizzas, such as The Smokehouse (pulled pork, grilled chicken, smoked mozzarella, barbecue sauce), pair with beers like Busted Knuckle and Six Foot Blonde from Brown County's only microbrewery, Quaff ON! bigwoodsrestaurants.com
Hobnob Corner Restaurant Original oak fixtures from 1873 set a casual tone, but the menu reflects fare both homey (liver and onions) and upscale (duck breast with red wine reduction on a butternut squash fritter). hobnobcornerrestaurant.com
Miller’s Ice Cream House A local favorite for 40-plus years, this spot churns out 23 flavors of homemade ice cream plus seasonal specials. millericecream.com
Nashville General Store and Bakery In a bright yellow wood building, snack on apple dumplings, biscuits and other homemade breakfast and lunch fare. Nashville General Store and Bakery Facebook
Our Sandwich Place Yes, you can order sandwiches, but the real draw is the cream-and-crimson interior crammed with memorabilia honoring Indiana University basketball and legendary coach Bob Knight. Our Sandwich Place on Facebook
Abe Martin Lodge In the heart of Brown County State Park, lodge rooms have patchwork quilts and furniture trim resembling branches. Families might want to opt for a cabin. indianainns.com
Artists Colony Inn Shaker-style furnishings, plank floors and four-posters decorate rooms at Nashville’s downtown inn. Munch on sweet potato Sun Fries with brown sugar sauce in the Colonial-style restaurant. artistscolonyinn.com
Robinwood Inn Friendly barnyard animals and a farm-fresh breakfast set a pleasantly rustic tone at this lodging a few minutes outside Nashville. A well-supplied art room encourages creativity for those staying at the cottages or treetop loft. robinwoodinn.com
Story Inn Ten miles of country roads lead to this escape outside of Nashville. You’ll be staying in the renovated buildings—mill, general store, cottages—that made up the village of Story in the 1800s. storyinn.com
For information: Brown County Visitors Center browncounty.com