Sitting on 883 acres at the confluence of the Collins, Caney Fork, and Rocky Rivers, Rock Island State Park is a spot where bodies of water meet to make for spectacular scenery, history, and a range of activities perfect for any explorer. The rugged beauty of the Caney Fork Gorge and Center Hill Lake draws visitors in to explore the park’s overlooks, waterfalls, and limestone paths. Opportunities for swimming, boating, and fishing on the park’s waters make this destination a must-see.
Designated as a state park in 1969, Rock Island has a rich history connected to its abundance of water. The park’s Great Falls was used to power a cotton textile mill in the 19th century. In 1917, the power of water was once again harnessed when the TVA constructed a hydroelectric power station at the confluence of the rivers, creating Center Hill Lake.
Today, the park’s water remains central to its identity. Visitors from all over the state and region seek out Rock Island State Park for its various water recreation activities. Take a dip in the rivers’ swimming holes, view the awe-inspiring waterfalls, fish for record-breaking catch at Center Hill Lake; there is no shortage of adventure and fun at Rock Island State Park.
There are nine hiking trails within the state park, providing visitors opportunities to explore inside and around Caney Fork Gorge, Center Hill Lake, and along the streams and seeps throughout the park’s boundaries. There are two trails that bring hikers into the gorge. Old Mill Trail (1.7 miles and moderate) and Upstream Trail (1.5 miles and moderate) take hikers into the gorge to access views of waterfalls, swimming holes, limestone rock formations, wildflowers and wildlife.
Other trails within the park let hikers explore views of Center Hill Lake, trek to well-known fishing holes, walk through hardwood groves, and see a diverse range of flora and fauna. Visit the park’s website for detailed descriptions and maps of these trails.
There are a number of options for swimming within Rock Island State Park, making it a popular place for those looking to cool off and explore different swimming spots. Center Hill Lake hosts a natural sand beach at its headwaters and is a popular location for summer visitors looking for a relaxing beach day.
Those looking for a more adventurous (and sometimes chillier) swimming experience can seek out a number of swimming holes along the park’s rivers and in the Caney Fork gorge. Notable swimming holes include Ice Hole and Warm Hole, both located within the gorge and accessible from the Upstream Trail
Use caution when swimming and make sure to check that swimming is permissible in the section of the river before you dive in. Given the park’s location near the Center Hill dam, water levels can fluctuate dramatically and quickly; TVA prohibits swimming in certain areas downstream of the dam for this reason.
Some of the best fishing in Tennessee can be accessed from within the park’s boundaries. Blue Hole, on Center Hill Lake, is the most notable of fishing locations at Rock Island. The fishing hole is a spawning ground for walleye in the lake and provides excellent fishing for bass, muskellunge, bluegill, walleye, crappie and catfish. The fishing hole once held a state record for catfish and world record for walleye catches, drawing avid fishermen to test their luck at such catches. Blue Hole can be accessed from the Blue Hole trail; more information is available on the park’s website.
The Caney Fork, Collins, and Rocky Rivers also provide locations for fishing at the park.
Rock Island State Park is notorious for its boating opportunities. As a location of the U.S. Freestyle Kayaking World Championships, The TVA’s powerhouse and Center Hill Dam produce whitewater rapids in sections of park that attract expert kayakers to the rivers. The boat launch of Center Hill Lake provides access to boating on the park’s lakes and rivers for novices and experts alike. Boaters should use caution and be aware of which section of the rivers they plan on exploring, as the rapids can be dangerous and overwhelming for those not equipped for an extreme kayaking experience. For those looking to test their skills and take advantage of the rapids, however, Rock Island is a great place to find your next whitewater expedition.
The state park offers two campgrounds with a total of 60 sites. 20 of these sites are open year-round, while the others close during the park’s winter season. The main campground hosts 50 sites, complete with fire pits, picnic tables, RV hookups, and other amenities. A secondary campground hosts 10 tent-only sites. Both campgrounds have access to a central bathhouse.
Rock Island State Park has 10 cabins which have gained the reputation of being some of the nicest within the TN State Parks. The cabins have 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and include full housekeeping amenities to offer guests a comfortable experience. Open year-round, the cabins also feature indoor fireplaces for winter months and outdoor fire rings and grills for summertime visitors.