Horse rides add advance sign-up 

The words “free” and “outdoor” just go together.

The place they partner best may be the Hoosier Outdoor Experience this Saturday and Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., at Fort Harrison State Park in Indianapolis.

The fourth annual event offers more than 50 free outdoor activities. And free parking. And free entry. The free activities range from archery and target shooting to mountain biking, fishing, paddling and more.

A late change has been made in the ultra-popular—and free—horseback riding to make each day even better. Participants can reserve rides, while they last, by signing up at the saddle barn on the day of their ride. Sign-ups for morning rides only start at 9 a.m. each day; sign-ups for afternoon rides only start at 1 p.m.

Even with all the freedom going around, bring your wallet for some deals—and perhaps to buy food and soft drinks, although you can BYO.

Mother Nature’s Mercantile, set up at the Welcome Center inside the 1,700-acre state park, will offer an Experience-exclusive bargain. A pass to get everyone in your vehicle into any DNR state park or reservoir for the rest of this year—and all of 2013—costs $36 (or $18 if you’re 65 or older). Normally, they are good for one calendar year.

This exclusive pass can be bought separately or in custom $99 bundles that can include State Park Inns gift certificates, Outdoor Indiana magazine subscriptions and more. Event-themed merchandise also will be available for purchase.

So, be ready for shopping. You’re always ready for free, right?

The goal of the Hoosier Outdoor Experience is to introduce people to outdoor activities they may have never tried. The event is presented by the DNR and the Indiana Natural Resources Foundation. More than 20,000 people are expected, and there is plenty of room for more.

Know the logistics to maximize your fun. “Outdoors” means rain or shine, so come prepared. The park will be closed to motor vehicles and bicycles. Park motor vehicles at the Maj. Bean Finance Center off of Post Road & 56th Street. Free shuttles will take you into the park. Free trolleys will transport you to all of the activity stations. An unguarded bike rack will be provided at the park’s Fort Glenn entrance. Find out more at HoosierOutdoorExperience.IN.gov and Facebook.com/HoosierOutdoorExperience.

Register at HoosierOutdoorExperience.IN.gov to assist with staffing and planning. Last-minute guests are free, too. And most welcome.

Logo courtesy Indiana Department of Natural Resources

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