The 24,000-acre Frozen Head State Park is generally frequented by campers, hikers, and springtime anglers on the prowl for rainbow trout, but it also has a secret challenge for those who want to climb the park’s tallest mountainside by bike.
This park, named for the icy mountain peaks standing tall on the horizon, isn’t necessarily known as a destination to be experienced by bike. But for those in the know, a nine-mile trek offers itself in the form of a fire road leading up to the park’s highest point. Slice your way through the dense mountain forest on a clear, paved path while enjoying staggering views of the park on the way up and back. Known as the Lookout Tower Trail, the repurposed fire road leads cyclists to the very summit of Frozen Head, after which the park itself is named.
What Makes It Great
The view from the peak of Frozen Head, 3,324 feet above sea level, is the ultimate reward for a strenuous nine-mile climb. Once at the summit, you can enjoy a breathtaking view from the observation deck that replaced the old fire tower in 2006, overlooking the Smokies and Tennessee Valley to the east and the ridge of demarcation where the valley meets the Cumberland Plateau to the south. It also, of course, offers a view of the park itself in all its unspoiled splendor.
While the grade isn’t particularly stout at the start of the trail, it’s persistent and deceptively tough to traverse, growing steeper as you approach the summit. There are a few breaks as you cross a handful of creek bridges, but level ground is rare. Around the six-mile point, you may encounter some rocks on the trail—an important point worth noting on the high-speed, often bumpy ride back down. This ride is for the tenacious mountain biker—not for the untested.
But did we mention the views at the top? It’s worth it, we promise.
Who is Going to Love It
Experienced cyclists who aren’t daunted by steep, unforgiving inclines are the only individuals who should attempt this trail. For those who want to spend the night back down in the park in preparation for or in recovery from the ride, camping options abound.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
From the south, take Highway 27 North towards Wartburg; turn right onto Highway 62, travel two miles and turn left onto Flat Fork Road. In four miles, take the park entrance and follow the signs for parking near the visitor center.