A Tennessee State Park rock star
On a hot summer day you might see a few brave (or crazy) souls taking a plunge off a 30 foot high waterfall into a pool along the riverbed of the Caney Fork River inside Rock Island State Park. A few hundred yards away, dozens more people are jumping off a big boulder into another pool in view of magnificent twin waterfalls coming straight out of a rocky ridge. Everywhere you look rocks dominate the landscape, from the bedrock lining the river, to the rocky cliffs lining the sides of the Caney Fork gorge. There's even a small castle housing a natural spring, that's mad of ,you guessed it, rocks.
This natural wonderland is located between Sparta and McMinnville in the community of Rock Island, which is named after a feature in the lake created by the Great Falls Dam. I guess, given the big draws to the park, you could say it's a "rock" star in the state park system. Certainly, on a sunny summer day, parking at some of the park's most popular sites are at a premium. But there's much more to this park than the rocks, so it's really a great place to visit no matter what time of year it is.
Across the street from the Post Office, you'll see a large iron arch spelling out "Rock Island." Just follow the winding road down to the confluence of the Collins and Caney Fork Rivers and you'll quickly see why so many people flock to this park. The Great Falls Dam, towering about 100 feet above the river, is one of the first things you see. Built in 1917, the dam created Great Falls Lake and by mistake, created the majestic Twin Falls at the park which is the result of water spilling through existing caverns. You can get a great view of them from the gorge overlook, but to get closer you will have to leave the park and travel down Powerhouse Road as access across the dam is no longer available.
The heart of the park lies along a much tamer section of the Caney Fork River, with an area known as Blue Hole located in between. In this part of the park, you'll find a campground, hiking trails, overlooks and picnic areas. However, it's the beach along the river that's perhaps the biggest draw. A wide sandy beach stretches out for several hundred yards along the river bank. Across the water, a large rock wall lines the ridge and downstream, the waters of the Caney Fork River become calmer as it becomes the tail waters of Center Hill Lake.
Rock Island State Park makes for a great weekend getaway. In addition to the campground, you will also find 10 cabins located about half a mile away from the beach. The park is not far from other parks like Burgess Falls, Fall Creek Falls, and Edgar Evins, so it makes for a good base for exploring the rest of the Upper Cumberland Region of Tennessee.