As recently as 2004 there were absolutely no mountain bike trails in Brown County State Park. How does a place go from nothing to one of the premier trail systems in North America in such a short amount of time? Volunteers get organized, they network, they find huge amounts of funding, and most importantly they get down and dirty with back-breaking trail work. Since 2004 the leadership and members of the Hoosier Mountain Bike Association have been slaving away to create a very special place for mountain bikers to enjoy..
The area has long been a popular tourist destination for outdoor recreation, music and art. The sleepy, historic tourist town of Nashville is less than two miles away from the trail head. Since the early 1900’s it has been home to a thriving artist colony. The area also has a very rich bluegrass music tradition. A few miles north of Nashville is tiny Bean Blossom where bluegrass legend Bill Monroe began his annual bluegrass festival in 1965. Brown County State Park is one of the most well-known features of the county, and at over 16,000 acres it is the largest state park in Indiana. The county is also home to a small part of the gigantic 200,000 acre Hoosier National Forest, one of the largest and best-preserved swaths of contiguous forest in the Midwest.
In just a few short years the area has also been recognized for its world-class mountain biking. The trail system in Brown County State Park is the crown jewel of riding opportunities with over twenty-five miles of trails in the current system. The HMBA envisions a completed system of at least 40-50 miles of trails, and they are constantly adding more. The nearby national forest trails and two privately-owned trail systems add another 100 miles to the mix. There are also many miles of dirt and gravel back-country roads that are easily explored by mountain bike.
Although there are lots of trails in the area, it’s the quality of the state park trail system that is the biggest draw. The quality of the trail construction is really stunning. It’s obvious after you ride here that the trails were very well designed and built. Also, one of the best assets of the state park trails is that there is really something for every level of mountain biker. Whether you’re a first-timer or an experienced pro, you’re in for a grin-fest.
The Hesitation Point Trail is probably the most popular trail in the park. The view at the top is gorgeous. It’s ridden as an out-and-back or a connector, and it features a two-mile climb or descent depending on your direction of travel. It’s labeled as an intermediate trail, but there is lots of elevation change and a few technical features. The downhill run takes around ten minutes for an experienced rider. Watch out for oncoming traffic.
The Green Valley Trail is the newest and longest trail in the system, and it has quickly become one of the most popular due to its great “flow” characteristics that wind it through scenic, rolling, green hillsides. It was professionally built utilizing machine trail-building techniques. It is also one of the most remote trails, so be prepared to get just a little bit further away from civilization if you ride it.
Schooner Trace is the crown jewel of statewide trailbuilding efforts so far. It’s a double-black diamond trail with some big penalties for failure. It’s really taking everyone’s riding to the next level around here. We recommend that any advanced rider that visits the area should combine Schooner Trace with Walnut Trail as part of their ride.
Bobcat Bowl Somewhere between Walnut and Schooner in difficulty, Bobcat is either a technical descent with its signature rock triple switchback and many log jumps, or an extremely challenging climb- depending on which direction you ride. Bobcat Bowl is still under construction, but currently open to ride.
Limekiln Trail is often overlooked because it is the furthest trail away from the main parking lot, and it is rated as a beginner trail. Local riders use descriptor terms like ‘roller-coaster’ and ‘downhill both ways’ for this trail. If you’re camping in the park, this will be the first trail you hit leaving the campground. Get ready to scream with joy.
Aynes Loop and North Tower Loop have always been the foundation for any good, long Brown County ride. They were among the first trails built and their combination of fairly lengthy climbs and descents are in many ways the essence of the Brown County experience.
Most people park near the North Gate entrance. One of our favorite downhill runs is the last one of the day down to the car. As you head back on the North Gate Trail the last mile is a smokin’ fast downhill run with a few jumps, some berms and a section of whoop-de-doos that will put an exclamation point on your day of riding.
There are several more miles of trail approved and ready to build in Brown County State Park. If you’d like to see them get built more quickly, please consider donating your time or money to Hoosier Mountain Bike Association. The Hobbs Hollow Flow Trail (coming soon) will be a one-direction, downhill flow trail starting at the top of Hesitation Point. HMBA has been awarded a grant which will help begin the process. Your contribution will help get it completed sooner. The goal is to open by Fall 2016.
Outside of the state park trails a great alternative ride is the Nebo Ridge Trail in the Hoosier National Forest. The trails in the HNF definitely have a more back-country feel. They’re way more remote, rougher, and much less polished. Connect the sixteen mile out-and-back of Nebo Ridge with trails 18, 19 and 20 of the Hickory Ridge Trail System and you’re in for a huge, southern Indiana classic back-country ride.
Hoosier Mountain Bike Association is also currently building trail in Yellowwood State Forest. There are several miles of existing doubletrack plus a new 6 mile loop of singletrack under construction near Crooked Creek Lake. Ultimately these will connect with each other as well as with the trails in Brown County State Park, though there is currently no open connection.
What Bike to Ride
Locals use everything from rigid single-speeds to 6-inch travel free-ride bikes. Pick your own weapon. It’s really easy to put together a 4-6 hour ride around here, so we like to have some cushion underneath to keep us fresh. You may want lots of gears, especially for the more steep and rough terrain in the Hoosier National Forest, though you will spot the occasional single-speeder.
Bring your own bike, or rent one from the local bike shop (see link above).
When to Go
Mid-April through Mid-November is the sweet spot. Winter riding is hard to do with the vicious freeze/thaw cycles that keep the trail messy and fragile. The trails in the state park drain rainfall very quickly, especially in the drier months of late summer and early fall. The trails in the Hoosier National Forest don’t handle rain nearly as well so avoid them unless it has been dry for a while. It can get hot and humid in the summer so carry plenty of water with you. The leaves and the tourists peak simultaneously in October.