My daughter and I recently viewed the dense, hilly forests of Brown County, Ind., from a new perspective -- speeding through the tree canopy on a zip line cable.
Taking our first zip line tour was high on my family's list of things to do during our return trip last month to Brown County State Park and its Abe Martin Lodge, about 45 minutes south of Indianapolis. We also checked off a few other things on our list, such as swimming at the lodge's indoor water park, hiking, and trying local restaurants.
An Abe Martin staff member directed us to the Explore Brown County zip line tour at the nearby Valley Branch Retreat, a 500-acre property located amidst the county's hardwood forest. We reserved spots on a Sneak Peak tour, which offers rides on three zip lines during an approximately one-hour course.
Two friendly, professional guides outfitted our tour group with safety harnesses and helmets and then loaded us into a trailer, which their truck hauled up into the steep hills. After an orientation session at ground level, we climbed a staircase to a platform 12 feet up in a tree.
I am not a fan of heights, so I was nervous about stepping off the platform for the first time. Consequently, I used my arms to hold my weight as I zipped 80 feet downhill to a 14-foot-high platform. I didn't need to exert myself, though. I was fastened in a harness, tethered to a safety cable, and ultimately stopped by the guide's brake.
Once I overcame my initial nervousness, I relaxed my arms for the second ride and looked around at the tree canopy during my third ride. My 8-year-old daughter, Hannah, was fearless throughout the tour and even stepped backwards off the platform for a "blind trust" fall during her last ride.
Explore Brown County offers six tours on 15 zip lines, with heights ranging from 20 to 70 feet and lengths from 80 to 1,220 feet. Some of the tours incorporate zipping over a lake, walking across suspension sky bridges, tower rappelling and even night rides. Visitors can also try the paintball course and mountain bike/ATV trails there.
Later in the trip, my daughter and my wife, Beckie, also demonstrated their comfort with high places when they climbed to the top of Brown County State Park's 100-foot-tall fire watch tower. The photos they took up there show a leafy canopy stretching for miles in every direction.
We also took short hikes to explore the cabin-like Hoosier's Nest picnic shelter across the road from the fire watch tower, the small waterfall adjacent to 7-acre Strahl Lake, and the stone amphitheater in the woods between Abe Martin Lodge and the stables.
At the lodge, we booked a room on the patio next to the water park. We spent four nights at the lodge, so we could use the water park when we had it almost all to ourselves after the previous night's guests left.
Our family spent a couple of lazy afternoons zipping down a water slide and floating around a flowing water channel, where I gathered foam pool noodles into a makeshift raft for my 3-year-old son, Owen, and I to use.
We also dined on fried chicken, sweet potato pie and other hearty food at the lodge's Little Gem Restaurant and purchased souvenirs, including an Abe Martin T-shirt, at the gift shop. The lodge is named after a folksy, nationally syndicated comic strip character based in Brown County that Kin Hubbard created from 1905 to 1930.
Our interest in trying local restaurants also took us to Brownie's Bean Blossom Inn at Morgantown, where I chowed down on chicken noodles and sweet potato fries with brown sugar sauce. We also picked up tasty pulled pork nachos and a chicken fajita pizza from the Big Woods Pizza Co. in nearby Nashville's downtown shopping district.
Still, one of our favorite places to dine was the campfire pit on the lodge's scenic back lawn. We hung out by the fire and roasted hotdogs, plus marshmallows for s'mores, two nights in a row there. Our return trip to Brown County provided a great combination of relaxing moments like this and high-energy moments like the zip line tour.