Fall in Brown County State Park
We return to one of our favorite state parks for two October camping trips
In Mission: Wanderlust, I write and podcast about our family’s travel adventures and the things that we have learned along the way.
When we bought our first camper nine years ago, my husband Jeff could not wait to start planning camping trips that would fill up our calendar until the first snow hit northeast Indiana.
We spent the summer and early fall exploring new Indiana campgrounds and falling back in love with camping, but Jeff couldn’t wait until our planned last trip of the year to Brown County State Park.
He had reserved one of the last spots available for the state park’s Halloween in the Hills, a weekend of fall and Halloween celebrations complete with campsite decorating and trick-or-treating in the campground. We had no idea what we were in for, but we fully embraced that first Halloween camping trip with our little Rupunzel and pirate bundled up against the late October cold that had settled across Indiana.
The next year, long before we knew we would be moving to Texas within a year, we reserved our spot within the first two days that the camping reservations for the weekend opened and got a prized spot in the Buffalo Ridge loop, the first loop of the campground, where most of the available trick-or-treating can be found. Six months later we experienced unseasonably warm temperatures that climbed up to 80 degrees. Once again our kids came home with more candy than they knew what to do with and this time, we made a half-hearted attempt to decorate our spot with our minimal Halloween decorations.
Then we moved to Texas.
It was one of the events that Jeff and I missed the most, even though our kids quickly filled in the gaps with Halloweens trick-or-treating in our busy neighborhood and the neighborhoods of friends. They didn’t remember, but we did, and while our fall camping in Texas got extended to Thanksgiving and Christmas, something was always missing.
So when we made the move back to Indiana, we knew that a return to Brown County was on the top of our list. Our kids may have been entering middle school years, but we didn’t care. We were too late to find a spot for last year, but we still drove down to the state park to show them what we were missing by not camping for the weekend. By the time we returned home, drenched from a constant mist and then steady drip of rain, they were convinced that we needed to get a spot for the following year.
This year Jeff made his reservations within hours after availability. We got a coveted spot in the front of the Buffalo Ridge loop. And then we had to wait another six months.
We got a preview of our planned fall weekend two weeks earlier during our Fall Break. Former students of mine invited us to their wedding in the state park. After months of checking to see if there were available sites for the weekend, Jeff found a ten-minute window during which a single spot opened up. We booked immediately, I went out during the week to make sure that our camper would fit, and then we enjoyed a beautiful fall weekend just as the fall leaves exploded overnight.
We enjoyed two campfires and the kids stayed at the campground while we went to the wedding and early reception. I took our daughter on a hike along the 2-mile CCC Trail with one of our dogs, the same trail I had explored earlier in the week when I went to scout our site.
Since it was Fall Break for the kids and me, we took advantage of Indiana’s late Sunday check-out (5:00 P.M.) and invited my sister and her family along for another day of hiking. This time we took on the Fire Tower Trail, 2.2 miles of rugged, but beautiful terrain, especially with the changing and falling leaves.
The weekend had been close to perfect, but we were still looking forward to our weekend two weeks later when we would join the early Halloween festivities.
By the time we arrived at our campsite, dusk was settling over the entire state park. My first order of business was making dinner, but the kids couldn’t wait to get out the Halloween decorations. They carefully set up each piece of the scene, right down to Mr. Bones, who was charged with watching the candy supply the following night.
The next day the kids decided to save their energy for a night of festivities, our daughter riding her bike through the whole campground multiple times and our son watching football while waiting for my sister and her family to arrive. Jeff and I decided to try a new hiking trail, one that had somehow missed us on our many trips to the state park. We started at the Nature Center and took the 0.7-mile spur to the 1.5-mile Strahl Lake hike. Our dogs navigated both the incredibly rugged spur and the easy loop. By the time we finished a hike full of beautiful fall colors and side-steps to get out of the way of other hikers, we had hiked over three miles. We were ready to enjoy some time at the campsite while the kids went trick-or-treating.
Finally it was time for the kids to don their costumes and make the rounds. For the first time ever, our kids were old enough to go out on their own while also supervising their much younger cousins. We adults took pictures, sent out the kids, and gave out candy while enjoying drinks around the campfire.
By the time the kids had gotten their fill of visiting campsites and eating dinner, we had just enough time to try the haunted trail by the Nature Center. This year we wouldn’t be doing it in the rain, but after a few stops we turned around and headed back toward our site so that the littles could get back into the car and head home.
On the way back to the campsite, I looked up to the starry sky. I may miss the big skies in Texas, but on nights like that one, the stars still put on a show. The nip in the air was far from uncomfortable and we easily stayed outside for a few more hours while our kids and nephew watched Beetlejuice and Jeff and I cleaned up as much as we could before our tired bodies also crashed into bed.
We didn’t take advantage of the late check-out this time. When we woke up the next morning, we were all ready to pack up and call the camping season a success. The kids also agreed that this was definitely a tradition they wanted to bring back, so I guess come rain, sun, or snow, we’ll be camping for Halloween in the Hills again next year.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
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