Rock Island State Park is an 883-acre park located on the headwaters of Center Hill Lake at the confluence of the Caney Fork, Collins and Rocky Rivers. The rugged beauty of the park includes the Caney Fork Gorge below Great Falls Dam. These overlooks are some of the most scenic and significant along the Eastern Highland Rim. Great Falls is a 30-foot horseshoe cascading waterfall, located below the 19th-century cotton mill that it powered over 100 years ago. Rock Island became a Tennessee State Park in 1969.
The Caney Fork River Gorge contains scenic overlooks, waterfalls, deep pools and limestone paths perfect for hiking, swimming, fishing, kayaking, and exploring. The park’s whitewater sections attract professional freestyle kayakers from around the world. It also features a natural sand beach and boating access on Center Hill Lake.
Rock Island State Park has some of the finest Tennessee State Park cabins. All ten, three-bedroom, two-bathroom cabins, are open year-round. They are located a half-mile from the natural sand beach along the Caney Fork River. The park also has two campgrounds offering 60 different campsites that can accommodate RVs, trailers, and tents.
The gorge area of the park is a beautiful natural feature that begs to be explored, but prospective hikers should be aware of the potential risks of visiting this rugged and largely unimproved environment. Popular points of interest in the gorge include Great Falls, Twin Falls, the Blue Hole, the Cold Hole, and the Warm Hole. This gorge is comprised of slick limestone bedrock cut by the swift currents of the Caney Fork River.
Many hikers choose to access the gorge from the Old Mill. The trail into the gorge from the Old Mill is steep, wet, rocky, and may not be suitable for all hikers. Also, parking at the Old Mill is extremely limited, especially on weekends and holidays. Upon arrival, if the Old Mill Area appears congested, visitors should consider parking at one of the Old Mill’s overflow lots or accessing the gorge from another trailhead. Visitors parking in the overflow lots should utilize the access trails to prevent walking along the narrow roadway near passing traffic.
Visitors attempting to reach Great Falls, the Warm Hole or the Cold Hole may also access the gorge via the Upstream Trail, which begins near Twin Falls Overlook. A large parking lot is provided at the end of Powerhouse Road. The Upstream Trail, while still strenuous, does not require as steep an ascent from the gorge as the Old Mill trail and often has available parking when the Old Mill area is full.
Visitors wishing to experience Twin Falls should do so from the overlook located at the end of Powerhouse Road. There is no trail access to Twin Falls, and swimming or wading in the area around, or downstream of Twin Falls is extremely dangerous and is against park rules due to swift currents and regular water releases from the TVA Powerhouse, which is located just upstream of the falls.
For those attempting to reach the Blue Hole, this area may be accessed via the Blue Hole Trail, which begins in Area 3. Alternatively, the Blue Hole may also be viewed from the Downstream Trail which begins at the end of Powerhouse Road. The Blue Hole is a popular fishing and hiking destination, but swimming is also prohibited in this area as it too is located downstream of the TVA Powerhouse.
The hike into and out of the gorge is strenuous. There is very little soil, so most surfaces are slick limestone bedrock. This area is not suitable for small children or adults with underlying health conditions.
Don’t Miss: The Blue Hole Falls is a popular destination within the park.
Logistic’s: 82 Beach Road Rock Island, TN 38581
Best Time: There is never really a bad time to visit the park. In the spring the waterfalls are at full strength, and create a beautiful site. In the fall, the temps are cooler, and the leaves begin to change and the park becomes an incredible place to view fall foilage.
Pit Stop: The Fog Light Foodhouse is a great place to refuel after a day of exploring.
Extended Play: Rock Island State Park features 10 cabins located a half-mile from natural sand beach along the Caney Fork River. The three-bedroom, two-bath cabins sleep up to ten people and are completely equipped for housekeeping and include appliances, coffee pot, microwave, cooking utensils, dishes, and linens. Each cabin also features a fireplace with gas logs (seasonal), television, DVD player, and a charcoal grill.
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