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Rock Island State Park: Tennessee’s Natural Link to the Past

Waterfall at Tennessee's Rock Island State Park.

About 90 miles east of the Nashville area, you’ll find Rock Island State Park, one of Tennessee’s best kept secrets. Located where the Caney Fork and Collins Rivers converge south of Center Hill Lake, the park is known for both its natural and historic treasures. From whitewater kayaking spots and serene hiking trails, to modern conveniences like Wi-Fi, the park has a lot to offer visitors.

Although this Tennessee State Park is open year-round, be sure to check with the park office before heading out. They occasionally have to close due to severe weather and other circumstances.

History of Rock Island State Park

In addition to the natural beauty you’d expect to find in a rocky river gorge, the Rock Island State Park features several historic sites.

  • Great Falls Dam: Built between 1915 and 1916 by the Tennessee Power Company, this modern marvel throttles the Caney Fork River. The Tennessee Valley Authority took control of the dam in 1933 and still operates its powerhouse today.
  • Great Falls Cotton Mill: This 19th century mill operated between 1892 and 1902, but still stands strong today. It’s a great way to show the younger generation that they don’t build ’em like they used to.
  • Spring Castle: Don’t let the name fool you — This spring “castle” was actually what is known as a spring house. Mill workers used it for refrigeration.

Hiking, Boating, Biking and Floating

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Hikers will be happy to know the park has a handful of hiking trails, some of which are open to biking as well. Each one weaves past park features like wildflower patches, cascading waterfalls, and stunning scenic overlooks. While most are on the short side, like the half-mile Blue Hole Trail, there’s also the Collins River Trail that is a three-mile loop.

In addition to hiking trails, the park offers wonderful boating opportunities for both kayakers and canoers. However, be warned that whitewater kayaking in the park’s rocky rivers is serious business for experienced kayakers only.

Camping and RVing

Campers are more than welcome to stay overnight in either of the park’s two campgrounds. Each camp site has the usual suspects like fire rings and picnic tables, as well as modern hookups and wi-fi. A small selection of spots are reserved for either RVs or tent-only campers.

Besides these convenient campgrounds, the park also has cabins available to rent on a nightly basis.

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