The luscious mountains and valleys of the Cumberland area in Tennessee call out to those looking for an adventure. But with numerous state parks, natural areas, and even 12 national parks, when visiting the great state of Tennessee, it’s hard to know what are the must-go spots while you’re here. And whether you’re traveling alone or going on your next big adventure with a group, you’ll want to find somewhere that has something for everyone. Frozen Head State Park, with miles of trail, camping, fishing, birdwatching and more, fits the bill and is a great place to visit no matter what kind of adventure appeals to you
What Is Frozen Head State Park?
Frozen Head State Park and Natural Area is a Tennessee state park located between Wartburg and the community of Petros. Frozen Head, which lies just west of the Blue Ridge Parkway, is home to some of Tennessee’s tallest mountains. The park gets its namesake from the 3,324 peak that is often snowy or iced over (frozen) in winter. Atop Frozen Head, is an observation deck providing a view of the Great Smoky Mountains and the Tennessee Valley. Besides the mountains, Frozen Head is one of the lushest state parks featuring extensive wildflower areas. There are so many wildflowers, the park holds to a two-weekend event celebrating their bloom!
Frozen Head traces its rich history back to 1894 when the land was acquired by Morgan County to establish Brushy Mountain State Prison. Convicts worked here mining coal and harvesting trees to supply the mines. In 1970, the land was given to the Tennessee state park system and became Frozen Head State Park. In 1988, the state park was classified as a State Natural Area. Today, Frozen Head State Park is home to trails, but you can still find remnants of its time as a state prison and even earlier as a settlement, particularly at the Old Prison Mine and the oldest standing house in Morgan County.
What to Do There
Frozen Head State Park and Natural Area covers over 40,000 acres and 80 miles of trail, providing visitors with plenty of room for fun and unforgettable memories. Camping, hiking, biking, horseback riding, bird watching, wildlife viewing, and picnic areas are all available in the park, so no matter what kind of adventure you prefer, you will find it at Frozen Head State Park.
Frozen Head State Park has three different options for those who wish to camp; Big Cove Camping Area, backcountry camping, and primitive camping.
Big Cove Camping Area offers twenty sites, each with a parking slip, picnic table, grill, lantern hanger, and fire ring. While sites are not yet equipped with electrical hook-up, water, or a dumping station, the camp is supplied with a centrally located faucet, dishwashing station, and a bathhouse with hot showers.
Ten designated backcountry campsites are located around the park. These sites are a real adventure, accessible only by hiking and equipped with nothing more than a fire ring. Campers must bring in (and take out!) all of their necessary supplies and must make sure to leave ample time for the trek there before it gets dark.
Primitive camping, located on Flat Fork Road, offers eight sites accommodating up to eighteen people. Primitive sites are a great compromise between the comforts of Big Cove Camping Area and the adventure of backcountry camping. You must bring all of your own supplies, similar to backcountry camping, but with parking available at each site, you won’t have to go very far to make unforgettable memories.
Frozen Head State Park is centered on the experience of hiking and offers 18 trails for hikers of varying difficulty. Eight trails are classified as “easy” and range from a tenth of a mile to just over a mile. These trails are:
- Visitor’s Center Trail
- Coffin Spring Trail
- Interpretive Trail
- Judge Branch Trail
- Old Mac Trail
- Panther Gap Rockhouse Trail
- Old Prison Mine Trail
- Emory Gap to Falls Trail
More difficult “moderate” trails range from 1.6 miles to 6.9 miles, which reaches the mountain’s summit. Moderate trails are:
- Fodderstack Mountain Trail
- Lookout Tower Trail (116 side)
- Lookout Tower Trail (Big Cove)
- Panther Branch Trail
- South Old Mac Trail
- North Old Mac Trail
The most difficult trails in the park are Spicewood Trail at 2.5 miles long, Bird Mountain Trail at 4 miles long, Chimney Top Trail at 6.6 miles long and North Bird Mountain Trail at 7 miles long. Most trails inter-loop, offering hikers the ability to plan their own unique hiking trip based on their desired distance, intensity, and time.
No matter what trail (or trails) you choose, it will be filled with gorgeous sights, including waterfalls, creeks, giant mountaintop cap rocks and boulders, rock shelters, and historic structures tracing back to the turn of the last century.
Only one road is available to mountain bikers, but Fire Road offers nine miles of excellent views and a path to the park’s high point.
The Emory River Valley of Frozen Head State Park is an option for equine adventures. Horse owners are welcome to bring their steed to explore the trails of this area of the state park, along with trails and roads in the Conservation Easement Property.
Bird Watching and Wildlife Viewing
Frozen Head State Park has been recognized by the Audubon Society as an important bird area of the South Cumberland Mountains. The cerulean warbler, Acadian flycatcher, blue-gray gnatcatcher, northern parula, yellow-throated warbler, Louisiana waterthrush, and Swainson’s warbler are all birds that populate along the creek in the park during the spring and summer months.
In the forests, eastern wood pewee, red-eyed and yellow-throated vireo, wood thrush, black-and-white warbler, ovenbird and scarlet tanager can be found, with American robins, eastern bluebirds, and brown thrashers gathering in the fields. All in all, more than 130 species of birds can be seen in Frozen Head State Park throughout the year.
New to Frozen Head State Park, Flat Fork Creek has been recently stocked with trout! Anywhere past DeBord Waterfall is a fine place to fish, however a TWRA trout stamp and Tennessee Fishing License are required.
Flat Fork Creek is the perfect place to cool off during the hot summer months. Frozen Head State Park, while having no pools, has plenty of places you can take a dip along the creek. Who needs a pool when you’re looking to commune with nature, anyway?
Picnic Areas and Amenities
Frozen Head State Park boasts 32 picnic sites with tables and grills. For larger gatherings, picnic shelters can be rented by the day. After lunch recreation includes two playgrounds, two volleyball courts, and horseshoe pits.
Other amenities include the visitor’s center, featuring a gift shop with a variety of souvenirs, and a 240 seat amphitheater where interactive programs and campfires take place during the summer.
When to Go
Frozen Head State Park offers something for every season no matter when you visit. Fall provides a gorgeous leaf backdrop to every trek as well as some haunting activities put on by the park. Around Halloween, spooky hiking trips, and after-hours visits of structures on Frozen Head grounds (including a scary midnight adventure to an old prison mine!) are offered.
Winter makes for one of the best times to visit the park. The summit of Frozen Head is typically veiled in snow or ice this time of the year, making for a picturesque scene. If you’re willing to trek through cold and wintery conditions, you can’t beat the view.
If you enjoy camping, bird watching, or fishing, spring and summer are ideal times to visit Frozen Head State Park. With warm days and cool nights, you’ll have the best chance of catching a trout, spotting bird species you haven’t seen before, or simply enjoying a hike on the trails along the creek or falls.
During second and third weekends in April, Frozen Head State Park is home to the Wildflower Pilgrimage. In late spring, typically in May, Frozen Head is a part of the Mountain Laurel Festival in Wartburg, TN. With 24 designated trails to experience the beautiful bloom of the Mountain Laurel, the festival is an unforgettable experience in Frozen Head State Park.
In August, the Heritage Day Festival takes place in Frozen Head, celebrating the unique history of the Cumberland Plateau culture. Folk music, demonstrations of crafts, and live bluegrass make this festival unique.
From miles upon miles of trails, trout fishing along the creek, over 130 bird species to view and enjoy, and opportunities for exploring the mountain on foot, by bike, or even by horseback, Frozen Head State Park has it all. Whether you visit for just an afternoon or stay a week, you’ll find plenty of options for relaxation or adventure, at Frozen Head’s picnic areas, developed campsites, or good old backcountry camping! Whatever your adventure, Frozen Head State Park is a place to explore, stay, and make unforgettable memories.