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Frozen Head State Park: Strange name, great place

Johnny Molloy • Sep 10, 2015 at 2:59 PM

Frozen Head is a little-known jewel of a Tennessee state park tucked away in the Cumberland Mountains, a mountain range west of the Smokies. Steep forested peaks and deep valleys diffused with rock formations characterize this state park that was settled in the early 1800s by simple farmers.

But the land, so rich in coal and timber resources, was sold to the state for the establishment of the now-infamous Brushy Mountain State Prison, and the resources were extracted using prison labor. The logging era ended in the 1920s, and Frozen Head was declared a forest reserve. The Civilian Conservation Corps came in and established many of the trails that are in use today. A plaque at the main trailhead memorializes those who lost their lives developing the area. This is an ideal park for active people who like a small campground but want plenty of activities all within walking distance of the campground.

The trails of Frozen Head will take you to some fascinating places. The 3,324-foot Frozen Head Observation Tower is the apex of the trail system. You can see the surrounding highlands of the Cumberland Plateau and the Great Smoky Mountains in the distance. Other features include the Chimney Rock, a natural observation point that looks west as far as the eye can see.

Or take the Panther Branch Trail 0.6 miles up to DeBord Falls. A mile farther is Emory Gap Falls. The Tower and Bird Mountain trails leave directly from the campground. Two miles farther on the Bird Mountain Trail is one of Frozen Head’s defining rock formations, Castle Rock. This rock formation is more than 100 feet high and 300 feet wide; with a little imagination you can see the center edifice of the castle with turrets on both ends. These rock formations are the remnants of the erosion-resistant sandstone that covers the Cumberland Plateau.

Bicyclers can stay on the Lookout Tower Trail and pedal all the way to the fire tower. Hikers can take this trail or one of many others for tower views.

If you don’t feel like hiking or relaxing, there are many other activities. Play volleyball on one of the sand courts. Throw horseshoes in one of the three pits. Shoot some basketball at the outdoor court. Check out the free equipment you need at the park office.

Frozen Head is one of the richest wildflower areas in the Southeast. A late March through early May visitor will be colorfully rewarded. Same goes for October visitors, to see the autumnal kaleidoscope turn.

Frozen Head’s campground makes a good base to explore the park, with 19 sites that border Big Cove Branch and Flat Fork Creek. The sites have been leveled and are set amid large boulders that came to rest untold eons ago after falling from Bird Mountain. The gray boulders strewn about give it a distinctive Cumberland Mountains feel.

To get there from Oak Ridge, follow TN 62 west 4 miles to Oliver Springs. Drive 13 miles beyond Oliver Springs and turn right onto Flat Fork Road. A sign for Morgan County Regional Correctional Facility and Frozen Head State Park alerts you to the right turn. Follow Flat Fork Road 4 miles to the entrance of Frozen Head State Park. For more information, call 346-3318 or visit www.tnstateparks.com.

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