Winter Camping Brown County / Hoosier National Forest / Yellowwood State Forest

Jan 21, 2021 | Van Travel Guides

Have an amazing winter adventure! Often, people have the idea that parks and campgrounds are seasonal. That when the temperature starts dropping, campgrounds close, shut their gates and turn their water supply off, giving an end to the camping season. However, there are plenty of campgrounds that stay open year-round, providing a unique  and exciting experience for adventure lovers.

Hoosier National Forest

Yes, in colder weather areas, some campgrounds will shut their water supply off to avoid freezes. BUT, many campgrounds stay open and even reduce their rates. This type of camping is similar to primitive or dispersed camping since you must be self-contained, rely on your own resources i.e. bringing your own water, disposing of your trash and leaving no trace. One campground that is open year-round is Hardin Ridge Recreation Area, in the Hoosier National Forest. The “Southern Point” loop campground shuts their water off, but gives access to adventurous campers during the winter. You are able to use their picnic tables, fire pits, vault toilets, set  up a tent or park a campervan on this loop, and enjoy camping without the crowds.

Hoosier National Forest

If you crave the peace that only nature can provide, and the quiet of the forest, camping during the “off season”  is the opportunity you have been waiting for… Hardin Ridge is popular during the summer because of the access to the beach on Lake Monroe. It is a great place to cool off from the summer’s heat and go for a swim. The crowd dies down in late October and the opportunity to explore and hear all the sounds of nature begins. There is an awesome 2 mile trail right off the Southern Point loop that takes you through this recreation area, and ends at the beach. Not a very technical trail, great for a bike ride or hike, you are able to continue hiking along the lake. Nothing beats the early morning views of Lake Monroe.

The Ted T. Turtle Trail is a 1.2m interpretative trail that takes you into the forest, around a small creek, to Lake Monroe and back, while learning about the history, geology and wildlife of Southern Indiana. You can see signs along this trail that describe diverse aspects of the ecosystem and history. This trail has a lot of steps and it is rather steep, great for hiking not so much for biking.

Hardin Ridge is just one little area within the Hoosier National Forest that offers an open campground year-round… However, dispersed camping is allowed in many National Forests throughout the four seasons, as long as you stay 1 mile away from campgrounds, 100ft from any stream, 150ft from the road, are self-contained and leave no trace. Most of the rules are the same for all National Forests, but it is best to always check with the nearest Forest Service Office beforehand.

Winter Camping at Indiana State Parks

Fishlake National Forest

Yellowwood State Forest


Just 25 minutes away from Bloomington and 40 minutes from Hardin Ridge, is Yellowwood State Forest. With  80 campsites, 3 lakes (one of them a 133-acre lake), over 45 miles of hiking / running trails, and 21 miles of horse trails, Yellowwood State Park is an ideal location for all kinds of adventure. One of the most fun parks in Brown County. Visitors are able to hunt, fish, rent a paddleboat, and hike for miles and miles in this amazing park. You can also  test your luck and do some gold panning! Though, make certain you get a gold panning permit for free at the Forest Office first. You will also need to have an Indiana fishing license and a hunting license if you are into these sports.

Brown County State Park

This state park has 16,000 acres of rugged hills and 600 campsites available. A variety of campgrounds for RV’s, tents, horses, this park seems to cater to everyone. There is a plethora of activities within the park: fishing, hiking trails, indoor and outdoor pools, tennis courts, bridle trails and escorted rides. Brown County State Park was founded in 1929, and it is the largest State Park in the state of Indiana! As the park became a popular destination, more buildings and amenities were built and added. In 1934 the Veteran’s Civilian Conservation Corps Company built Ogle Lake and many of the existing shelter houses, picnic tables, roads and trails. In addition, there are close to 30 miles of bike trails, that are highly rated in the mountain biking community.   https://www.mtbproject.com/trail/1002206/brown-county-state-park

If you are looking to change things up a bit, Bloomington, IN is just 28 minutes from the Yellowwood State Park and 40 min from Brown County State Park. A buzzing college town with lots of things to do, taste, and see. This not so little town has five breweries, two wineries, and a distillery.  A number of restaurants and bars if you want to check back into society and taste the local fare.

Laughing Planet Cafe

A fast place with delicious food, lots of vegetarian options, some healthy and some not so healthy dishes on the menu is Laughing Planet Cafe. California style burritos made with locally sourced and organic ingredients are great for a quick fix.


For a more traditional sitdown restaurant that sources local foods and farm to table approach try FARM. Their breakfast is absolutely delicious, they offer different omelets every day! Their house fries are amazing, and their 4th generation buttermilk biscuits are a must. So is the breakfast pizza, my favorite. Farm serves breakfast Tuesday through Sunday.

The Owlery Restaurant

A vegan-vegetarian friendly delicious option is The Owlery. A cool little spot in downtown Bloomington. The Owlery has lunch, brunch and dinner. Their specialty is vegan comfort foods and craft beer. Their vegan poutine appetizer is great, the Tapenade is clutch, all of their sandwiches are pretty good. The vegan cheese, is still vegan cheese, but their staff reminds you they have “normal cheese” too! Their craft beer selection makes you happy.

The Owlery Restaurant

Switchyard Brewery

One of the most popular places to visit in Bloomington is Switchyard Brewery. A hip and relaxing space that is a mix of everything.They serve coffee, tea, and breakfast foods between 8am to 11am, They offer fast wifi, perfect for getting work done in the morning, or just checking back in. Switchyard becomes a hang out brewery – patio after 11am. They have a dedicated food truck from 11am to 11pm, and a great menu of 14 draft beers to enjoy the local atmosphere. For something different, try their Lavender Lager or try their seasonal Winter Wheat, it is delicious! If you like to taste and try, get a flight, all their beer is good.

Crumble Coffee and Bakery

All their beans are roasted locally, and all their baked goods are baked at their shop. They became so popular after they opened they had to move to a bigger place because people would sit on the floor. *** Hands down the best coffee and pastries in town.

Bloomington IN, is a fantastic college town, with Indiana University’s sporting events, movies, music events and all the appeal college towns have. It is conveniently located 25 min away from Hoosier National Forest, 28 minutes away from Yellowwood State Forest and 40 min from Brown County State Park. With everything so close, it is a great destination for a long weekend anytime of the year.


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