To commemorate the 80th anniversary of Tennessee State Parks, we've created a unique and helpful guide just for you.
80 Adventures to Celebrate 80 Years showcases 80 of our favorite outdoor adventures, making it easy to explore our natural, cultural and historic heritage. Where will your next adventure begin?
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 textile 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.
For TVA’s generation schedule and more information on the Great Falls Dam please visit: http://www.tva.gov/lakes/gfh_r.htm
*Always use caution in the gorge. Water may rise rapidly. Monitor your surroundings. Leave the gorge immediately if water begins to rise or you hear warning sirens. Watch for slick rocks and swift currents. Do NOT jump into water of unknown depths. Swimming or wading is not allowed in all areas from TVA’s powerhouse downstream all the way down to the main beach boat ramp including by the “powerhouse”, “Twin Falls” and “Blue Hole” due to hidden and deadly currents.
THE CANEY FORK RIVER GORGE
When TVA Great Falls Dam is releasing water, visitors cannot safely enter the TVA gorge spillway area. Visitors are not permitted to enter the gorge (including via the Old Mill Trail or Upstream Trail) during active spilling periods. Obey all park signage for your safety. Check TVA’s website for water release information and further dam safety data at:
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.
DANGERS OF RISING WATER FROM DAM RELEASES
Water levels are highly variable here. They can rise suddenly with the opening of floodgates at Great Falls Dam (pictured above), located just upstream of the Old Mill, or via hydroelectric generation from the TVA Powerhouse (pictured below) at Twin Falls. While warning sirens are in place, major releases can still occur with or without any warning and can be extremely hazardous. During large releases from the dam, the entire gorge can quickly become flooded with water. If sirens sound from the dam at the head of the gorge, visitors should evacuate the gorge area immediately. Water releases from the TVA Powerhouse occur on a daily basis, and there are no swimming areas located downstream of the powerhouse due to the swift currents and highly variable water levels.
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 Hold 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.
To make your visit to our park as safe and enjoyable as possible, visitors should obtain and read a safety brochure upon arrival to the park, and orient themselves with the geography of the gorge, and the proximity of Great Falls Dam and the TVA Powerhouse to their intended destination. The video below demonstrates the difference the drastic differences between low water levels (pictured above) and the levels of water when the dam opens.
Use good judgment and common sense when deciding whether you should hike into the gorge or simply view it from above from the many overlooks. If you decide to hike into the gorge, please use caution and follow these guidelines:
- If sirens sound near or upstream of your location, evacuate the area immediately. Water may rise quickly. Keep children close at all times and pay attention to water levels. If they begin to rise, evacuate the area immediately.
- Swimming is not advised in the gorge due to deceptively strong currents and deep water.
- Wear sturdy shoes. Flip-flops or other slip-on style shoes are not recommended.
- Do not climb on or jump from rocks or bluffs. These activities lead to many visitor injuries each year.
- Alcoholic beverages are not allowed in the park.
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.
USCG approved life jackets are advised any time you are near deep water. While some life jackets are available at the park, we recommend bringing your own.
Rather than try to take a picnic to the gorge area, plan to eat in the designated picnic area and just take snacks and water to the gorge. Please pack out whatever you pack in.
Park Trail Maps
Looking for a trail map? Click the link below to see a list of the maps available at this park. The page includes all the trail maps we have available, organized by park. We have free and paid options that provide you the details you need to have your next great adventure in Tennessee.