Frozen Head State Park and Natural Area is well-known in the Southeast as a destination for difficult trail running, but burly mountain routes are not all it has to offer. Casual runners can still soak up the beautiful forests and babbling creeks from a number of moderate trails, and train toward the goal of conquering famous Frozen Head climbs. There are 18 trails spread out across the 24,000 acres of wilderness, ranging in distance from less than a half-mile to seven miles.
What Makes It Great
Frozen Head State Park is a favorite hiking and camping destination for many Tennesseans, though it may not be a household name for those outside of the region, unless you’re in the ultrarunning community. The notorious Barkley Marathons held here each year is said to be one of the hardest trail ultras in the world. Despite its down-home and nonchalant organization, perpetuated since 1986 by local old-timer Gary Cantrell, only about a dozen people have been able to complete the 100-mile course before the 60-hour cut-off.
Even if you aren’t striving for your own Barkley glory, the 18 different trails in Frozen Head offer 50 miles to explore, and something for everyone. Flat Fork Creek Trail is an easy 0.9-mile stroll near the park road. To venture beyond the pavement, jog the first 0.7 miles of Panther Branch Trail and if that feels good, continue the rest of the way up for a steeper half-mile climb to a waterfall on the Emory Gap Trail. If you are ready for a bigger challenge, take North or South Old Mac Trail (3.3 and 2.4 miles respectively) to connect with Lookout Tower Trail. In less than one uphill mile, you will reach the park’s biggest reward—huge views from the tower on top of 3,324-foot Frozen Head Mountain.
Serious runners can get their kicks by linking the 6.9-mile Lookout Tower Trail (West) with the 6.6-mile Chimney Tops Trail for a huge loop that encompasses some of the park’s best scenery. For a short but sweaty, leg-burning climb, try the four-mile Bird Mountain Trail that connects to the Cumberland Trail at ridgeline.
Who is Going to Love It
For beginner trail runners, Frozen Head’s dramatic topography and scenery will inspire you to push farther and higher, with all the terrain necessary for training. For aspiring and accomplished mountain athletes alike, Frozen Head deals a proper challenge. Elevation within the park ranges from 1,340 to 3,324 feet, which is a huge amount of vertical relief for anywhere in this part of the country. This is a true treasure trove of trail running in the Southeast.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
From Knoxville - take I-40 West to Exit 376 then follow TN-62 W for 34 miles. Turn right on Flat Fork Road and continue for approximately 4 miles into the state park.
From Nashville - take I-40 E to Exit 320 in Crossville then follow TN-298 N/Genesis Rd for 24 miles. Turn right onto TN-62 E and follow for about 12 miles. Turn left on Flat Fork Road and continue for approximately 4 miles into the park.
Trail maps and information are available at the visitor center or online. There are multiple trailhead and parking locations in and around the park, so the ranger can help you determine exactly where to go.