Rock on at Rock Island State Park
Fishing, hiking, swimming, canoeing/kayaking, camping and sight-seeing rank high at Rock Island State Park on the Cumberland Plateau. The Caney Fork Gorge and its waterfalls are the primary attractions.
The park’s namesake, Rock Island, lies about a mile upstream from Great Falls Dam on the Caney Fork River. I used to cool off in the summer by jumping from the top of the island into the river. Standing on the edge looking down, I wondered, “What if there’s a rock or stump down there, or it’s too shallow?”
I trusted that other people who had jumped would have checked for underwater objects. Still, there was a doubt. I picked the spot I expected to land, took a deep breath and fell like a rock into the water. It was thrilling! Climbing back to the top of the island after three leaps was enough; I went back to fishing.
That was many years ago that I behaved so foolishly. But it was great fun at the time.
The Caney Fork Gorge lies between the Great Falls Dam and its powerhouse. It includes Great Falls, a series of plunge and cascade waterfalls when the river is low, as it was recently. The Caney Fork River looked more like a rock strewn creek, but the gorge is still beautiful with steep cliffs echoing human voices above the sound of rushing waters.
Not since the Corps of Engineers lowered the water level on Center Hill Lake several years ago for renovations on the dam have I been able to launch my boat in the Caney Fork at the Blue Hole area. The Blue Hole, on the upper part of the lake in the Rock Island State Park, was my favorite place to catch walleye in late winter. Supposedly, the bottom of the famous Blue Hole has not been determined. It’s thought to be part of a collapsed cavern.
Although 38 feet of concrete has been added to the original ramp, last week the end of the new ramp was still a foot above the water level. (Call the park office for current status and availability of the boat ramps at the park: 931-686-2471 or 800-713-6065.)
The Collins River nearly joins the Caney Fork River at one point but turns southward and then arcs north to join the Caney Fork. This river bend creates a peninsula where the 883-acre park lies.
Above Great Falls Dam where the Collins River joins the Caney Fork there is plenty of water and good fishing. Anglers can launch boats at King’s ramp in the park or at Cotten’s Marina on Rock Island Road to cast for bass, muskellunge, bluegill, walleye, crappie, stripe and catfish.
The Caney Fork Gorge Overlook is just west of the Great Falls Historic Cotton Mill (built in 1892). Farther west is one of the Twin Falls Overlooks where you can take the short Old Mill Gorge Trail from the parking lot to the base of the gorge.
Farther downstream (beyond the power house) on the Caney Fork’s southwestern shore are the Twin Falls. The water flows underground from the backed-up Collins River to create these majestic cascades. The second Twin Falls Overlook is on the Caney Fork’s eastern shore on the Upstream Trail, which also gives you access to the gorge. Nine hiking trails wind along the Caney Fork and Collins Rivers.
The park offers 10 cabins (one is pet friendly) that are completely equipped for housekeeping. And the park has campsites to accommodate 50 RVs with electrical and water hook-ups, a grill and picnic table. There are bathhouses located in the camping areas. There is also a camping area for 10 tents.
There are four scenic picnicking areas within the park equipped with tables, grills, potable water and restroom facilities. Two picnic pavilions can be reserved for group use by reservation. Get more information on all of Tennessee’s great state parks by visiting tnvacation.com/75.