Trail: Trail #8 (HHC Trail)
Hike Location: Brown County State ParkGeographic Location: Nashville, IN (39.17172, -86.25495)Length: 4.3 milesDifficulty: 6/10 (Moderate)Last Hiked: May 2019Overview: A lollipop loop through mature deciduous forest with several overlooks.Park Information: https://www.in.gov/dnr/parklake/2988.htmHike Route Map: https://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=749234Photo Highlight:
Directions to the trailhead: From the intersection of SR 46 and SR 135 in Nashville, take SR 46 west/south 2.2 miles to the signed West Entrance for Brown County State Park. Turn left to enter the park, pay the entrance fee, and drive the West Entrance Road 1.1 miles to the West Lookout Tower. Park in the parking lot beside the West Lookout Tower.
The hike: For most of the year Brown County State Park is a nice park with nice mature forest and nice amenities, but for a few weeks in the fall the park transforms into one of the most fantastic hiking destinations in the Midwest. The steep hills south of Indianapolis provide the relief needed for good leaf peeping, and the park has numerous overlooks that provide broad views of the park’s dense broadleaf forest. The park gets very crowded in the fall, but the brilliant yellow, orange, and red hues make the crowds worth enduring. Although I did this hike on a seasonally cool morning in May, I endeavor to return in October to take in the leaf color for myself.At 15,815 acres, Brown County State Park is the largest state park in Indiana. The park was established in 1929, and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built many of the park’s buildings in the 1930’s. The park offers nearly every amenity including multiple developed campgrounds totaling 401 campsites, multiple primitive campgrounds, an 84-room lodge, numerous cabins, and two small lakes for fishing.In terms of trails, with 70 miles of bridle trails, 27 miles of mountain biking trails, and 20 miles of hiking trails, the park has something to offer everyone. 12 of the park’s trails are designated as hiker-only, but several of them are fairly short. This hike describes the park’s longest hiking trail, Trail #8, which is also called the HHC Trail because it was rebuilt by the Hoosier Hikers Council between 2002 and 2007. Trail #8 is an excellent way to sample the park’s leaf peeping opportunities, but it also offers a pleasant forest hike throughout the year.
|Trail #8 trailhead|
Before heading down the trail, take a few minutes to check out the West Lookout Tower. Built by the CCC in 1936, the stone and wood tower gives a nice north-facing view through a gap in the trees. This tower is a popular spot during leaf peeping season, and it gives your first taste of what this park has to offer.
|West Lookout Tower|
|View from West Lookout Tower|
Trail #8 heads east from the tower and enters the woods at a wooden post bearing the number 8. For the first 1.5 miles the trail undulates gradually while staying very close to the park road on the left. The initial segment is rather narrow with some poison ivy growing beside it, but the poison ivy is avoidable if you watch for it.
|Hiking near the park road|
An unmarked trail exits right just before the trail splits to form its loop at 0.4 miles. Another post bearing the number 8 marks this intersection. To make the climbing easier, this description continues straight and uses the trail going right as its return route, thus hiking the loop clockwise. Staying near the park road, near 1 mile into the hike you approach the wooden Tulip Tree picnic shelter. This area can be fairly wet and muddy, so take care where you step.Just past the shelter, you need to stay left where a trail that short-cuts the loop exits right. Some more minor undulations and some gradual climbing bring you to Hesitation Point, which is located to the left across the park road. As its name implies, Hesitation Point is one of the park’s best and widest vistas, and low hills ripple off to the north as far as the eye can see. Some benches beckon you to sit, rest, and take in the view, but the vista’s location right on the park road means you will not be alone here.
Trail #8 leaves Hesitation Point to the south (the same side of the park road from which it entered) and begins its descent toward Ogle Lake. A mountain bike trail goes to the left here in the same general direction, so make sure you stay on the hiking trail. The trail descends a long wooden staircase built by the HHC as part of their mid 2000’s upgrade. The first 0.25 miles of this descent loses 200 vertical feet of elevation, but once the bottom of the ravine is reached the grade becomes rather gradual.
|Hiking down the ravine|
The next 0.7 miles crosses back and forth over a small creek as the trail heads southwest down the ravine. All of the creek crossings have bridges, and despite some wet areas the hiking in the ravine is fairly easy. Whereas oak trees dominated the ridgetop, maple and beech trees dominate the ravine.At 2.5 miles, you reach another trail intersection. We will eventually turn right to cross the creek on another bridge and continue Trail #8’s loop, but first angle left to hike the short spur trail to Ogle Lake. After a few hundred feet, you reach a playground beside the parking lot for Ogle Lake. Walk through the parking lot and climb the dam to get a nice view of Ogle Lake. Ogle Lake is a scenic body of water any time of year, but the deciduous trees lining the lake shore make it especially attractive in the fall.
Back at the trail intersection, cross the creek to begin the final segment of Trail #8. The trail climbs out of the ravine on a winding gradual to moderate grade. At 3.4 miles, you reach the top of a finger ridge where the short-cut trail enters from the right. Angle left to descend steeply into another ravine.The trail crosses another small creek via another small wooden footbridge before climbing on a moderate to steep grade. At 3.9 miles, you reach the top of the hill and close the loop. Turn left and retrace your steps 0.4 miles to the West Lookout Tower to complete the hike. While you are here, check out the park’s Nature Center and its other two lookout towers, or try some of the park’s other short moderate trails.