Frozen Head is a beautiful state park situated in the Cumberland Mountains just about an hour away from Knoxville, Tennessee outside of Wartburg making it a perfect day trip. Also, Frozen Head has a wonderful campground if you are looking for a weekend trip out in nature.
Frozen Head State Park has several very family friendly trails that we love making this a place we frequent often! I especially love visiting Frozen Head in the spring when the many wildflowers along the trail are in bloom and the water level is up for the falls. But we also love visiting in the summer for refreshing creek play and in the fall for the beautiful foliage. Here are our favorite kid-friendly trails in the park.
This is our favorite easy hike in the area! Debord falls is a little over a mile (1.1 miles) roundtrip on a wide, fairly-level trail. In the spring, the trail in lined with wildflowers. It follows the Panther Branch creek from the parking area (which is at the back of the park road) and passes two pull-offs to see small falls pouring into the creek.
There is a sign that points you to Debord as the trail continues on. There’s a little overlook down to the falls and a staircase to climb down to the base. I was able to get my girls to hike this trail on their own at 21 months.
The falls aren’t the biggest around, but has a beautiful flow/drop. The best part of this trail is playing in the water at the base of the falls. There’s a nice pool there that’s the perfect size for little kids to enjoy. Plenty of wading opportunities in ankle deep water. So if it’s warm, be sure to bring your swimsuits or a change of clothes. We’ll often visit in the summer and just go to hang out at the base of the falls. Also, notice the size difference in the falls between the spring rains (above) and the dry summer (below).
Emory Gap Falls
This is my favorite short hike in the park and the perfect step up from Debord Falls. It’s 2.6 miles roundtrip and you’ll actually pass Debord Falls on your way to Emory Gap Falls, so if your kids are up for the mileage, I highly recommend hiking to Emory Gap Falls with a pitstop at Debord Falls along the way. My girls were ready to tackle this hike at 3 years old. To get to Emory Gap Falls you continue down the Panther Branch trail past Debord Falls another .25 miles until the trail splits.
Then you’ll take the Emory Gap Trail for half a mile to Emory Gap Falls. This part of the trail is a little more rugged than the previous, so just have your kids on alert for rocks and roots. The final hundred yards or so is actually maneuvering the rocky creek bed up to the falls, which was a lot of fun, but did require some handholding to help the girls to the end.
Emory Gap Falls is taller than Debord Falls. It similarly has a shallow pool in the front to play in and is really picturesque the way it flows down the rocky creek bed. You can also take a (safe not sketchy) side trail to the top of the falls, which makes for a fun photo opportunity.
A lot of the parks in our area are starting to add storybook trails. On our last visit, I noticed that the Flat Fork Creek trail, which runs from the visitor center to the campground (0.45 miles one-way), has been converted into a storybook trail. This storybook trail features the picture book Pup and Bear, which a sweet story the girls love about an abandoned wolf cub cared for by a polar bear. It’s a nice level trail along the creek. Along the way are sign posts with pages from the story from beginning to end. Along the way you’ll have easy access to the park’s two playgrounds making this a great hike for families with little ones.
Interpretive Nature Trail
There is an interpretive nature trail that is near the Old Mac Trail and you can make a loop of the two that’s less than a mile roundtrip (0.8 miles). The interpretive trail runs along Judge Branch creek, which is nice for the kids to splash and play in and has a couple of bridges across it and benches to rest on as well. And several 10 new educational interpretive panels were recently installed along the trail. The parking lot for the trailhead also has a playground at it, so this is another great starter hike for families with little ones.