NASHVILLE, Ind. -- For many people, Brown County is a beautiful tourist destination to visit in the fall. But for me, it’s home. So, it’s only fitting for me to be your guide as I show you how to do Brown County like a local.
Almost a century ago, Brown County began really establishing itself as an artist’s colony, as artists from all over moved here to the picturesque, rolling hills carved out by glaciers during the last Ice Age.
Growing up here is a bit of a different story. For tourists, the hundreds of unique shops and restaurants are exciting and different. For a local kid, you look at the shops as your summer job or your first job, where you bused tables and cleaned up after the autumn rush of tourists. So it was easy to take this quaint place where I was raised for granted. When you’re young, you simply want to get out and find new adventures. But now, adventure is what I come back seeking. And I know just where to find it.
A few miles from where I was raised in Gnawbone, off State Road 46, Explore Brown County offers paintball, arrow tag, ATV tours, hiking, camping, and more. But we came for the zip-lines, because there’s no better way to explore Brown County than from the treetops.
Explore Brown County has 15 different zip-lines and offers 6 different tours to accommodate both your budget and desire for experience. According to owner and self-proclaimed chief adventurist, Gary Bartels, they have a little something for everyone--- young and old.
“The oldest person has a record at 91 and a half. She came in and set a record at 89, a gal came in who was 90 and beat her record. We contacted her and she said she’s coming back. And she came back and re-set her record at 91 and a half,” said Bartels.
No matter how old you are, though, there’s one zip-line that is sure to get your heart pounding more than any other. It’s called “The Screamer.” At 1,220 feet long, with speeds up to 40 miles per hour, the screamer is Indiana’s longest and fastest dual zip-line in the state of Indiana.
Strapping in is the most intimidating part. But once you push off the platform, it’s pure heart-pounding bliss. And you will quickly hear why they call it “The Screamer” as the sound of the zip-line crescendos as you pick up speed.
Sitting down with Bartels, who is a grandfather himself, it’s easy to see why creating a place like this was so important.
“ I call us a multi-generational activity center. So grandma can play with granddaughter or grandfather can play with grandson,” He says.
Explore Brown County also plays host to the Muddy Roots music festival, Gnaw Brew beer fest, and a wedding weekend like no other.
“We like to offer an adventure wedding weekend. And instead of getting together for 3 or 4 hours, we let the families come out and either attend camp, bring their motor homes, stay in cabins, get to know each other around the campfire at night, do some of our activities. And maybe shoot their new relatives with arrow tag or paintballs,” says Bartels.
After working up an appetite, it’s time to head to downtown Nashville for one of my favorite local spots, Trolly’s. It’s sort of like our local version of fast food, but with much more Hoosier hospitality. My favorite is always the Italian sausage with all the fixins.
If you are looking for a sit down full-service option, or you’re just really craving the best fried biscuits and apple butter around, you’ve got to stop by the Nashville House. After you full your stomach with some hearty food, you can take a few steps down from the dining hall into their general store. There you can pick up some jars of the famous apple butter as well as jams and other sweets for your ride back home.
Wine lovers head just one block east to the Brown County Winery’s Tasting Room. Here, you can enjoy some of their most popular wines like Vista Red, blackberry, and even a bourbon barrel port.
No trip is complete without a visit to Brown County State Park, where you can hike Strahl Lake, go horseback riding, or choose a scenic vista to look out and admire the hills that make Brown County a favorite for millions of tourists each year. Or--if you still want to be a little fearless—trek your way up to the top of the old radio tower for a view that you can’t find anywhere else.
Looking for more of my favorite local spots in Brown County? Here are just a few suggestions based on my personal favorites to help you plan your next trip.
The original Big Woods Brewery (as well as Big Woods Pizza) — Sample local beers by ordering their flights. It’s said that this is one of Larry Bird’s favorite spots while in town.
Our Sandwich Place (formerly named That Sandwich Place) --- This place is an Indiana University basketball fan’s DREAM! It’s covered wall-to-wall with Bobby Knight era memorabilia.
Hob Knob Corner Restaurant --- Built in 1873, it’s one of the oldest buildings in town. A true Brown County classic.
Out of the Ordinary Hickory Sports Bar --- A little over 10 years ago, this place was my first job. Although back then it was called “The Ordinary.” New owners have spruced the place up and given it a new name, but the food is still terrific!
Bathology --- This is my FAVORITE store. Every time I come home, I come here to stock up on homemade bath bombs and soaps. Plus, I’m always carrying around a “lotion bar” from Bathology. The best way to describe this place is a local version of Lush (located in the Keystone Fashion Mall)…but cheaper.
Mulberry Cottage --- In my eyes, this is one of the cutest shops in town. This gift shop/boutique is full of gorgeous items and unique jewelry. Upstairs you will find a GOLDMINE of cute clothes in their boutique.
Lawrence Family Glass Blowers --- Brown County is a place full of artisans and this is just one example of a place where you can watch them create beautiful pieces of hand-blown glassware. The Lawrence family has been creating and selling their exquisite pieces for over 40 years. They even take custom orders.
Sweets and More:
The Candy Emporium --- Sweet tooth? Say no more. This place will literally be your heaven on earth. My sisters and I used to come here with our tooth fairy money to buy old-school penny candies.
Miller’s Ice Cream House --- Delicious homemade ice creams as well as cobblers and persimmon pudding. It’s located in one of Brown County’s historic buildings and is complete with a player piano to greet you as you enter.
Fearrin’s Ice Cream and Yogurt Depot --- You can never really have to much homemade ice cream, right? Fearrin’s has a great selection of ice cream and yogurt as well as half-pound cookies and lemon shake-ups.
Schwab’s Fudge --- Here, you can watch them actually make their fudge in the shop. There’s always plenty of samples on hand to help you make your decision. From traditional chocolate or peanut butter fudge, to whiskey nut fudge and even a seasonal pumpkin spice flavor for the fall season.
The Daily Grind --- The local go-to spot for coffee and hot chocolate. They also serve up some great food (especially breakfast) inside the eclectic coffee house.
Copperhead Creek Gem Mine and Rock Shop --- Ever wanted to try panning for gold or gemstones? Here, you can do it in the heart of the village. They even supply the specimen bags and identification cards as you head over to the sluice, so you can identify your treasures as you pan for gems, arrowheads, minerals, and fossils.
Nashville Express Train Tours --- Kids and adults alike love this! Board the Nashville Express “train” on the corner of Franklin and Van Buren Street (right next to Fearrin’s Ice Cream and Yogurt Depot) for a tour of Nashville’s hot spots.
Bill Monroe Music Park & Campground – Head up State Road 135 to Bean Blossom to check out the legendary Bill Monroe Music Park. Here you can check out history at the Bill Monroe Bluegrass Hall of Fame and Country Star Museum. The venue also plays host to events throughout the year like the Bill Monroe Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival, Bean Blossom Southern Gospel Jubilee, and the Bean Blossom Blues Fest. And for motorcycle lovers, they also have the Bean Blossom Biker Fest in September.