When Daniel and I were first married, we lived in Cookeville, TN where Daniel was an engineering student at Tennessee Tech.
At the time we didn't have a lot of income so we spent most of our free time exploring the state parks and trails that were closest to us. Rock Island was among the places we enjoyed visiting.
Rock Island State Park is unique in that it is a confluence of three rivers at the head of Center Hill Lake. TVA has a presence in this park, with a dam that is used to generate power at certain times of day.
On this visit to the park, we took our boys down the Old Mill Trail into the Caney River Gorge using the trail that departs from the Old Mill picnic area.
At the trailhead, you will find cautionary signs everywhere stating that you must exit the gorge immediately if you hear sirens indicating the dam is opening. *We have been here many times and I have never heard the sirens go off. Just be sure to pay attention any time you are in the gorge!
At 0.5 miles, the trail into the gorge is not very long, but it involves climbing down a steep, wet staircase and then over loose rocks and boulders. It is listed as "strenuous" on all park materials.
The gorge itself is quite beautiful with several waterfalls to check out, including Great Falls. There are also numerous swimming holes – back in 2002 there was a rope swing over one of the upper pools, I don't know if that still exists. Swimming is at your own risk, so be careful! *Swimming is not permitted at Blue Hole or Twin Falls.
With our boys in tow, and the sun setting, we only had about 30 minutes to explore the gorge. Jack had a lot of fun climbing and we could have spent a lot more time there if we had arrived sooner.
I had hoped to go down to Twin Falls, located below the TVA generator. The base of the falls has great white water and experienced kayakers often practice here. The park actually hosted the Freestyle World Cups in 2012. I think Jack would have loved it. We will have to go back another time.
Since Daniel and I did our triathlon here, we were actually able to explore more of the park than we have before – including kayaking the headwaters for Center Hill lake, biking down all of the park roads, and running on a dirt trail.
As for lodging, you can find both cabins and camping spots in this park. Since it was a race weekend, we were unable to get a cabin, but Daniel and I went on a marriage retreat here in 2003 and thought the cabins were pretty nice at the time.
A drawback is that there is almost no cell reception or wi-fi in the entire park. But if you want to unplug, this is a great place to go!
With nine trails rated moderate and strenuous (from 0.5-3 miles) there is plenty of exploring to do here – on foot or on a bike!
If you are interested in kayaking but don't have a boat, you should check out The Happy Yaker. Their kayaks were fairly comfortable and not too difficult to maneuver. Rates are $35-$40 to rent a boat and the owners are super friendly!
If you are in the area, Rock Island is definitely worth a day trip. If you have more time, you could easily spend a weekend here. Or you can do what we did and visit Rock Island one day and Fall Creek Falls the next (our Fall Creek Falls hike will be on my blog tomorrow).