Indiana might not immediately pop in your mind when you think of great mountain bike destinations, but after riding Brown County State Park, it will.
Located less than an hour south of Indianapolis, Brown County is the crown jewel of Midwestern trail riding. After the International Mountain Bicycling Association bestowed Epic status on the 25-mile trail system in 2011, riders within a day’s drive of the trails began turning up in droves. On a pleasant spring day, riders will spot license plates from as far away as Wisconsin, Tennessee and Missouri.
A torrential rain earlier in the week meant the parking lot was mostly filled with locals when we pulled in Sunday afternoon; no one wants to drive six hours, only to discover the trails are too muddy to ride.
The rain did impact our riding. The trail was mostly perfect, albeit a bit greasy in several spots. Where we were used to a trickle of water at the creek crossings, we pedaled across what seemed to be a river of water. Wet socks and mud-splattered kits couldn’t take our smiles away – but the hills tried.Indiana has a reputation of being flatter than a steamrolled pancake. That’s true in the northern half of the state, where you can see miles of cornfields in every direction. But the southern part of the state is known for its rolling hills. One of the nation’s most popular road rides, the Hilly Hundred – yes, it lives up to its name – is held every October on nearby roads. Inside the park, it’s a single-track rollercoaster; during my last visit, we climbed and descended multiple times, logging more than 2,000 feet of climbing in just over two hours of riding.
Clipping in at the North Gate trailhead just inside the park entrance, we pedal up to Haynes Loop and onto the newest leg of the trail, Green Valley. Green Valley has a definite flowy vibe, almost like a pump track at times. There are more technical trails out there, but few that are more fun.
Heading farther into the park, Hesitation Point looms, with its numerous rock gardens discouraging meeker riders from climbing to the gorgeous vista at the upper trailhead. Located off Hesitation Point are the fast, wide-open Limekiln Trail and the double-black diamond Schooner Trace, which has destroyed more bike frames than rust.
Each trail and trail combination is unique, with its own personality. By altering the direction and order we ride, it’s like we’re on totally different trails. You can easily spend a long weekend at the park and not get bored.
Trailbuilders are currently constructing Hobb’s Hollow, a brand new 3-mile segment of trail that will be jam-packed with bermed turns, step-ups, rock drops and tabletop jumps, along with a 2-mile descent with 360 feet of vertical drop, more than any other trail in the state. Trail advocates hope to build another 12 miles of trail over the next few years, eventually connecting the park’s single track to the nearby Nebo Ridge and Hickory Ridge trails in the Hoosier National Forest, as well as two private trail networks. With luck, in a few years riders will have more than 100 miles of connected, rideable terrain. When that day comes, IMBA might have to come up with an even more epic trail designation.
Descending back to the trailhead, our massive group splintered into twos and threes, the front rider trying to shake the others off his or her tail. To my rear, I hear Janet Sherman – five months pregnant and apparently riding with the strength of two bikers – taunting me. “Rob, are you going to rail this or what?” The implication being that unless I sped up, I had better get out of her way. I accept the challenge and bomb down the hill, fighting every instinct to squeeze my brake levers. Picking up momentum, the bumps on the trail launched me into the air for a few exhilarating moments, before touching back down onto terra firma. As I successfully steered through each successive turn, my timidness at descending gave way to the sheer joy of speed.
As we roll into the parking lot after our all-too-brief ride, more cars are pulling into the lot. We’re all smiling, our blood filled with adrenaline, endorphins and, after a spill or two, more than a little dirt. We all want to do another lap, but we have family responsibilities – baby sitters to pay, lawns to mow, beers to drink. As our cars head north out of the park, we’re already planning our trip back.
Want to ride Brown County State Park? It’s located on Ind. 46 East, less than an hour south of Indianapolis, off the No. 68 exit of I-65. Park entry is $5 per carload for Indiana residents, $7 for cars with out of state plates. Camping is available at the camp or you can stay at the full-service lodge inside the park. Rates start at $10 for primitive camping, $77 for the lodge. You can get by with most types of mountain bikes – I ride a dual-suspension Giant 29er, and my teammates run the gamut of a rigid 650b chromoly and 26-inch aluminum bikes. Just be sure to wear a helmet.
[Video Credit: Rob Annis]