Frozen Head State Park and Natural Area


Frozen Head State Park and Natural Area is a 12,000 acre in the Cumberland Mountains in Morgan County. It is mostly forested and features 14 peaks exceeding 3,000 feet in elevation. The highest point, 3,324 foot Frozen Head Mountain, is one of the highest peaks in the Tennessee Cumberlands. In addition to offering spectacular scenery and wildflowers, Frozen Head supports high breeding populations of several neotropical migrant birds, including the Cerulean Warbler, as well as breeding populations of a few high elevation species which are rare in Tennessee outside of the Blue Ridge. Frozen Head contains many stands of the mixed mesophytic forest type, and some of these stands have several old growth characteristics. Forest

The main park entrance is off of TN Highway 62 about 2 miles east of Wartburg. From TN 62, turn north onto Flat Fork Road and go 4 miles to the park entrance. The park headquarters and visitor center (coordinates N 36.1253°, W 84.5041°) are about half a mile past the park entrance.

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The main park road runs parallel to Flat Fork Creek and past mowed fields and low elevation hardwood and mixed forests. Acadian Flycatchers, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Northern Parula and Yellow-throated Warblers, and Louisiana Waterthrushes are common during spring and summer along the creek. Swainson's Warblers have also occurred in this area. Check the fields and field edges for Brown Thrashers, American Robins, and Eastern Bluebirds. Eastern Wood Pewees, Red-eyed and Yellow-throated Vireos, Wood Thrushes, Black-and-White Warblers, Ovenbirds and Scarlet Tanagers are common in the roadside forests.

Flat Fork Valley View
Flat Fork Valley (center), Bird Mountain (on right) and Rough Ridge (on left)
as seen from the Frozen Head lookout tower.

Cerulean Warblers can occasionally be seen - or more often heard - from the main park road. They are much more numerous along many of the park's hiking trails. The park's breeding populations of Veerys, Chestnut-Sided Warblers, Black-throated Blue Warblers, Blackburnian Warblers, Canada Warblers, and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are only observable by hiking to higher elevations.

Recommended trails for finding these birds are the 3.8 mile Spicewood Branch Trail, the 2.8 mile South Mac Trail, and the 3.9 mile North Mac Trail. All of these trails start at a parking area about 0.3 miles past the visitor center (coordinates N 36.1271°, W 84.5008°) and converge at the same point near Tub Springs (coordinates N 36.1265°N, W 84.4585°) and any combination of them makes a good day hike. Wildflowers are abundant along these trails during the spring, when the hike is worthwhile at that time regardless of the birds you encounter. A few territorial Winter Wrens were present during the 1990s on the upper north slope of Frozen Head Mountain near the upper end of the North Mac Trail and between Tubb Springs Gap and the Spicewood Branch Trail.

Canopy Gap

The numerous canopy gaps increase the number of bird species present and often provide views of nearby peaks.

Photos by Charles P. Nicholson

From the Tubb Spring area, it is worth the effort on clear days to hike the additional 0.5 miles to the Frozen Head Fire Tower (coordinates N 36.1225°, W 84.4580°). The tower offers a wonderful 360° view of the Cumberland Mountains. It also offers the potential for hawk-watching during the fall, although few birders have taken advantage of this. The largest numbers and variety of migrating hawks would likely be present during the second half of September.

Ruffed Grouse can be observed along most trails in the park.

The Spicewood Branch Trail, South Mac Trail, and North Mac Trail, as well as several other trails in the park, are moderately strenuous to strenuous and have an elevation gain of about 1600 feet. A shorter trail to the high elevations, with about a 1000 foot elevation gain, is the 1.7 mile trail from Armes Gap on the east side of the park to Tub Spring. To get to Armes Gap, travel east on TN 62 for about 6 miles from the junction with Flat Fork Road to the junction with Tennessee Highway 116. Turn north on TN 116 and go through Petros and the historic Brushy Mountain State Prison. After winding up the hill for about a mile, park on the left (west side) in the gap (coordinates N 36.1166°, W 84.4391°). The trail to Tub Springs is on the left of TN 116 at this small parking area. Note that unless you have arranged for a car shuttle, you will be returning by the same trail.

Chimney Top

Sandstone outcrop on Chimney Top (left) and one of the many small streams in Frozen Head (right).

A few spots along Flat Fork Road outside the park may be worth checking. Willow Flycatchers have been present in shrubs near the large pond in the northeast quadrant of the junction of TN 62 and Flat Fork Road. You can park in the lot of the county administrative complex just past the pond on the right and walk down the hill to the pond. About half a mile from TN 62 and on the right (east) side of Flat Fork Road another pond on prison farm property. Killdeer and Canada Geese are present around this pond much of the year, and several species of shorebirds have also occurred there during migration. The landfill across the road from the prison farm area can host large numbers of Ring-billed Gulls during the winter. Recent industrial development and a major expansion of the prison have, unfortunately, made the pond and farm areas less attractive to birds.

For more information on the park, click here for the State Park web site. Or contact the park at 964 Flat Fork Road, Wartburg, TN 37887; phone: 423-346-3318; fax: 423-346-6629.

Because of its large populations of birds of conservation concern such as the Wood Thrush, Cerulean Warbler, and Hooded Warbler, as well as its disjunct population of high elevation breeding birds, Frozen Head is a part of the Southern Cumberland Mountains Important Bird Area. Click here for the National Audubon Society's IBA account and here for the Tennessee IBA account.

Click here for a checklist of Frozen Head birds.

Tennessee State Parks Frozen Head Map.

Tennessee Watchable Wildlife account.

DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer Page 58, Grids C-3, D-2, and D-3.

Wildlife Observation AreaFee AreaHiking BikingCampingPicnicDrinking WaterRestroomsVisitor Center

Prepared by Charles P. Nicholson, October 2005; updated March 2008.

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