Fall Camping at Squire Knob in Frozen Head State Park
6/27/2014 6:29 PM
October 12, 2013 was the start of a special weekend for me. This was the first time I had ever backpacked in Frozen Head State Park and it was my first time to do an outing with the Nashville Backpacker Meetup. Located roughly three quarters of the way between Nashville and Knoxville, I describe the place as being the foothills of the Smoky Mountains due to its shorter peaks, abundance of natural beauty, and how far removed from civilization you feel just a short distance into any of the trails.
The fall season had remained warmer than normal so our weekend was blessed with clear blue skies, lots of sunshine, and the just right occasional breeze to help keep us cool. The trees were still fully leafed out with the lower elevations still showing a pretty deep green color on the leaves.
As we began making our way up the mountainside along the Spicewood Trail, I had some vague memories of how the trail looked when I day hiked this one a couple of years earlier in the springtime. Each season brings its own special beauty and I am one of those who likes to see the area in each of the seasons. There were three backpackers in our little group, Kimber the leader, Fishbone was the second, and I was the third. We each hiked at our own pace with the understanding that when a trail intersection was reached we would wait for everyone to arrive, ensuring that no one took a wrong turn.
We started the day early enough that even though our trek would be mostly steeply uphill on this day we could take our time and enjoy the surrounding scenery. My pace was somewhat slower than Kimber's and a bit faster than Fishbone's, so I remained in the middle of the pack on our uphill journey. Stopping when I needed to take a breather, or when I spotted a distant mountain top view to gaze upon, I steadily made my way up the mountainside. A few times I enjoyed stopping in a clear spot to let the breeze cool me down and dry me off just a bit.
| Mountain Views From Trail
|| Early Fall Colors
Our pace and timing were near perfect, reaching the end of the trail where it intersects with Lookout Tower Trail right about lunchtime. Dropping our packs at the start of the side trail, we enjoyed a short hike further uphill to the lookout tower. Climbing its narrow stairs we were soon taking in the views of the surrounding valleys. What a site it was to see on this clear almost totally cloudless day.
| View From Tower
|| Blue Skies
Upon returning to our packs, we walked the short distance to Tub Spring and restocked our water supply. Having lunch trailside was a blast on this grand day, allowing us to relax and stretch a bit before setting off on the next part of our journey. Before leaving the spring we topped our water supply off because our campsite wasn't close to a water source and we did not know if the next available water source, Coffin Spring, would have water or not.
This is really the first time I have backpacked to a campsite that did not have a water source within the camp and so the experience of packing in my water supply was new to me. I was game to try it though as I know that in the future I will encounter other such setups and might as well start getting the practice now. Fortunately for me the steep part of our climb was over with. Lookout Tower trail from this point to our campsite has some mild ups and downs, with some gradual uphill to it, and even some flat or near flat spots. It was during this part of the journey that I slowed my pace and spent some time talking with Fishbone. He has a lot more backpacking experience than I do and so it was a great learning time for me to ask questions and hear the advice he had to give.
At the intersection of Coffin Spring Trail, Fishbone opted to go check the spring out. I was still stocked well on water and I proceeded on toward our campsite. I do enjoy some alone time in the woods and this part of the journey came at a good time. Relaxed, I slowed my pace and continued to enjoy my travel to the campsite. The warm sunshine, combined with the steady breeze felt so good, the air so fresh, moments like this are a jewel to me.
Arriving at Squire Knob campsite I was in awe of its beauty. Sitting atop the ridge, surrounded by woods on all sides, this was an ideal spot to camp. The stone campfire ring was encircled between half and three quarters the way around by stone seats. Someone had creatively taken large flat stones and positioned them at a slant to make the back of the stone seat recline just a bit. The seat itself was another flat stone and the finishing touch for most of the seats was another flat stone that acted as the foot rest. This was roughing it in style.
The tent areas had a thick covering of still green grass, a sign that the area did not get a lot of use. I was very happy for the thick grass covering as it makes for a softer tent floor and keeps the tent free of mud should it rain. Another feature of the backcountry campsites at this park is that they are furnished with large wooden tables that are about waist high. Makes preparing and cooking your meal so much easier with this nice flat workspace.
Our tents and shelters up, firewood gathered, we along with the other four campers sharing the site with us for the evening made our dinner meals and began a good round of chatting around the campfire. The day may have been warm but the night was getting a good chill to it. The campfire was perfect and the stone reclining seats felt great after the long day of hiking. Most in the campsite retired shortly after the early evening dark fell. As tired as I was I could not bring myself to part with this wonderful evening. The stars and moon were shining brightly in the sky above, the campfire circle being in a clearing making the viewing as easy as pie from my stone recliner. The night critters as I call them began to make some of their last songs for the season, providing music for us to further enjoy the evening.
With the deep chill of the early fall night settling in on our little site, I slid into the warmth of my soft sleeping bag, spending the night in a deep relaxing sleep. We awoke early enough the next morning to have our breakfast as we watched the sunrise on our little ridge top. What an amazing way to start the day!
Camp packed up and our backpacks loaded, we continued our way along Lookout Tower Trail, leaving it at the intersection with Bird Mountain Trail. The morning air started with a chill but the cloudless sky once again allowed the sun to shine through and begin to warm us up. Our walk through the woods was enhanced as we strode by the large limestone rock formation known as Castle Rock. Try as I might I could find no vantage point to take a picture that would do this rock formation justice. So I opted to enjoy its sight as I walked on by, feeling like a peasant looking upward to a castle on high.
While we had been descending in elevation for some time, the real descent came in earnest as we made our way down a number of switchbacks shortly after passing Castle Rock. Our journey came to an end when we emerged from the trail and woods into the campground and made our way to the parking area.
This is a set of trails that I want to do again, not only to see the same sights and enjoy them once more but to also see some of the other features that we just did not have time to take in on this trip. I look forward to a return trip and I thank both Kimber and Fishbone for making this journey for me a great fall trip into the woods.
Copyright ©2014 Ira Richard Smith
1 comment(s) so far...
By Bob Slate on
6/28/2014 11:34 AM
Re: Fall Camping at Squire Knob in Frozen Head State Park
Ira this one of my favorite hiking ares.Ive hiked all
of it except the back section of North Bird Trail.North
Bird is one of the most difficult trails in the Cumberland
Plateau.Look forward to future exploration in Frozen
Head State Park.