Parke County, Indiana: Discover the USA's Rural Heartland
Visiting Parke County, Indiana, is like traveling back in time.
Horse-drawn buggies still roll down country roads, while the quaint town squares recall an earlier era in U.S. history. Parke County is known for having the largest concentration of covered bridges in the world, with more than 30 listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It also offers a wealth of outdoor attractions, charming inns and antique shops. The best time to visit is in autumn, as the surrounding foliage explodes into spectacular reds, yellows and oranges, perfectly framing the many bridges' weathered wood.
Turkey Run and Shades are two of the most visited state parks in Indiana, with thousands of visitors each year who enjoys the hikes on lush trails surrounded by hemlock, walnut and oak trees. Both parks' trails are considered somewhat rugged, but committed adventurers will be rewarded with views of petite waterfalls and sandstone gorges formed over the course of millennia.
If you prefer a more relaxing experience, try a serene paddle through Turkey Run on Sugar Creek or nearby Raccoon Lake, enjoying the sights and sounds of nature. You can rent kayaks and paddle boards, or upgrade to a pontoon boat or a jet ski. Be sure to go out for a night paddle; being away from city lights allows for a clear view of the starry night sky.
Both state parks offer "primitive" camping site and also sites with electricity available for a nominal fee. But if sleeping under the stars isn't your thing, Parke County boasts nearly a dozen bed and breakfast-style inns.
Perhaps the most unique is Rockville's Old Jail Inn, which served as the county lock-up for more than a century. After the sheriff's office moved in 1998, the building sat vacant for more than a decade until it was bought and transformed into one of the most unique inns in the world. Visitors can sleep in the cells and are encouraged to take selfies in actual prisoner uniforms. A full-service bar pours Drunk Tank Wine, the Inn's own vintage.
Vintage Finds, Local Flavors
Anyone interested in vintage furniture and finds should head to Rockville's Antiques on York, which is a great place to search out an eclectic range of art and collectibles. Nearby, Urban Farmchic combines both modern and rustic influences.
Parke County is also home to a community of Amish people, a deeply religious group whose members typically forgo modern conveniences in accordance with their beliefs. In nearby Rockville, you can watch the Miller family shoe horses or the craftsmen at the Buggy Shop build horse-drawn carts for the local Amish.
At Rockville's weekly farmer's market, held each Saturday from June to September in the town square, you can source fresh, local produce, Amish baked goods and crafts from local artisans. For a first-hand look at traditional "maker" culture, visit Mari-Arch Farms in Marshall to learn about maple syrup collection.
In the fall, stop by Hobson's Fun Farm to wander a corn maze, eat caramel apples, fudge and other treats, and watch a pumpkin "cannon" launch gourds hundreds of feet into the air. The goal can be to hit a specific target in the distance or merely propel the pumpkins — typically misshapen gourds that wouldn't otherwise sell — as far as possible.
For a sit-down meal, head to Rock Run Café, in Rosedale, which was opened nearly 40 years ago by a former star of movie Westerns who was from Indiana. The restaurant is known for its collection of movie memorabilia, as well as its brick-oven pizza and barbecue ribs. At The Beef House Restaurant and Dinner Theatre in Covington, you can enjoy performances of musicals like "Oklahoma," and the "Million Dollar Quartet," paired with a steak or seafood dinner.