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Rock Island State Park Guide — Camping, Trails, and More 

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Amar Hussain
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Amar Hussain

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Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications incl...
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Keri Stooksbury


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Rock Island State Park is renowned for its roaring waterfalls and rugged beauty. You can enjoy a variety of activities, such as hiking, fishing, camping, and exploring historic sites. The park is home to the Caney Fork River Gorge, one of Tennessee’s national treasures. Nearly 700,000 visitors visit this beautiful park annually to explore its natural wonders.

How To Get to Rock Island State Park

Where Is Rock Island State Park?

Rock Island State Park is in Rock Island, Tennessee, where the Caney Fork, Collins, and Rocky rivers converge. The park covers an area of 883 acres and boasts a natural sand swim beach, limestone paths, waterfalls, scenic overlooks, and deep pools. The major cities closest to this park are Murfreesboro and Cookeville, which are between 30 minutes and an hour from the park.

Rock Island State Park Opening Hours and Seasons

Rock Island State Park is accessible all year round. The park’s main office operates daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and the park’s hours are from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Some of the trails and park areas may close at different times throughout the year due to certain factors like the lowering of dams to release water.

Hot Tip:

We advise contacting the park before setting out for a trip to ensure that all the activities you want to do are available for the day.

Nearest Airports to Rock Island State Park

The closest major airport to Rock Island State Park is Nashville International Airport (BNA), which is approximately 77 miles away and takes about an hour and a half to drive to. Nashville International Airport offers numerous nonstop flights to countless destinations around the globe, including Atlanta, Denver, Detroit, New Orleans, New York, Orlando, and San Diego.

This airport is served by well-known airlines such as Air Canada, Alaska, Allegiant, American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, and United. Once you arrive at the airport, you will find several car rental kiosks to arrange the last leg of your journey to the park.

Driving to Rock Island State Park

To get to the park, start from the junction of Highway 56 and U.S. 70S in McMinnville. Then, head east on U.S. 70S for 13 miles. After that, take a left turn (south) onto Highway 287 and follow the signs that will guide you into the state park.

Taking the Train or Bus to Rock Island State Park

There is no train or bus service directly to this state park.

Getting Around Rock Island State Park

To explore the different sites of interest in this park, we recommend using a combination of driving and walking. Several small parking lots scattered throughout the park allow you to park and start your exploration. The park provides a printable map that can help you plan your outings.

What To See and Do in Rock Island State Park

This state park offers an abundance of activities. Whether fishing, swimming, hiking, or discovering historical landmarks, everyone can find something to enjoy here.

Bird Watching

This park presents a wealth of opportunities to observe various species of birds that call it their home. Among the most commonly sighted birds are the black-crowned night heron, the osprey, and the belted kingfisher. Additionally, a rookery is located near the park, significantly increasing the likelihood of spotting great blue herons and black-crowned night herons.

The park offers a birding guide that provides valuable tips on where to search for these beautiful creatures in and around the park.

Boating and Paddling

Paddling Rock Island State Park
Image Credit: Tennessee State Parks

Several launch ramps are located on Center Hill Lake and nearby on the Caney Fork and Collins Rivers. These provide easy access to some of the region’s most stunning and peaceful recreational boating spots. Whether you want to take a leisurely cruise along the waters or indulge in exciting water sports, plenty of options are available.

For adventurous kayakers, Rock Island is the place to be. With its thrilling whitewater kayaking opportunities, it has become a mecca for kayaking enthusiasts worldwide and has even hosted international freestyle kayaking events.

Falls City Cotton Mill

Rock Island State Park houses a 19th-century cotton mill of historical significance, which used to be powered by the Great Falls over a century ago. Although you can approach the building and read the sign with information about it, visitors are not allowed inside. However, there is a parking lot and an overlook nearby where you can park and enjoy the scenic view of the falls.


This park is a must-visit place for all fishing enthusiasts. The park is located near Center Hill Lake, and the Blue Hole adjacent to the park is a renowned spawning ground for walleye in the lake. It is considered one of the best fishing spots in Tennessee, and you can expect to catch bass, bluegill, catfish, crappie, muskellunge, and walleye here. Although spring is the best time to fish, you can enjoy this activity throughout the year.

Hot Tip:

It’s important to note that a valid Tennessee fishing license is required for fishing in this area.


Hiking Rock Island State Park
Image Credit: Tennessee State Parks

The park boasts 9 fantastic trails that offer breathtaking views of wildlife and waterfalls. Hiking these trails is the best way to enjoy the park’s beauty. Some of the popular trails are The Old Mill Gorge Trail, Blue Hole Trail, Collins River Nature Trail, and Moonshine Trail. Each trail has different lengths and difficulty levels, but there are options for every age and ability level.

Spring Castle

Nestled within the park, the historic springhouse stands tall, resembling a magnificent castle. Serving as the primary water source for the mill and surrounding houses in the past, the springhouse now welcomes visitors to explore its interior. You can admire the impressive architecture and learn about the area’s rich history as you step inside this remarkable structure.


Swimming is a very popular activity at Rock Island State Park. Various swimming areas are available within the park, including the most convenient one, the swimming beach. Other options include the Great Falls below the Historic Cotton Mills, The Cold Hole in the Caney Fork River Gorge, and The Warm Hole, a sun-heated shallow basin in the gorge.

Hot Tip:

Be aware that swimming is prohibited in certain areas of the park. Before planning a trip, we recommend reviewing the swimming information on the park’s website.


Rock Island State Park is home to several waterfalls that attract a lot of visitors. The 2 most popular waterfalls are Twin Falls and Great Falls. Twin Falls is a towering waterfall that stands at 80 feet tall. Visitors can enjoy views of this waterfall from the parking lot at the end of Powerhouse Road or by hiking the Downstream Trail.

On the other hand, Great Falls is a 30-foot waterfall located in the Caney Fork River Gorge area of the park. The best place to view Great Falls is from the overlook at the Historic Cotton Mill.

Best Times To Visit Rock Island State Park

Rock Island State Park is a fantastic destination to explore throughout the year. However, certain times might be better than others, particularly if you’re interested in participating in a specific activity or event.

Best Time To Visit Rock Island State Park for Fall Foliage

The fall foliage at this park is a stunning sight that attracts a large number of visitors every year. The ideal time to come and witness the changing leaves is in October. This month’s weather is perfect for outdoor activities, with temperatures ranging from the upper 40s to the low 70s. Don’t forget to bring your camera to capture the vivid bursts of colors that paint the park.

Best Time To Visit Rock Island State Park To Avoid the Crowds

Rock Island State Park waterfalls
Image Credit: Intricate Explorer via Unsplash

Many visitors prefer to visit the park when there are fewer crowds. The best time to visit this park with fewer crowds is in November. A trip during this time of the year allows visitors to explore the park at their own pace without dealing with long lines, crowded situations, and heavy traffic.

Best Time To Visit Rock Island State Park for Ideal Weather

Planning a vacation requires considering various factors, and weather is one of the most crucial. To ensure a delightful experience, come when the weather is typically fair. The best time to visit this park is in September. During this month, the temperature ranges from the low 60s to the low 80s, making it a pleasant time to be outdoors.

Hot Tip:

In September, the rain is lighter than in other months, with a chance of approximately 6 days of rainfall. Therefore, it’s advisable to bring your rain gear to be on the safe side.

Cheapest Time To Visit Rock Island State Park

Saving money while traveling may seem challenging, but with careful research and planning, you can easily plan a budget-friendly trip to this state park. The best time to visit the park is from early to mid-September, as the flights and accommodations are the most affordable. Visitors have the potential to save hundreds when visiting at this time of year.

Annual Events in Rock Island State Park

Numerous events take place at this state park, ranging from wildfire hikes to demonstrations on flint and steel and ranger-led activities. With such a variety of events, there is something for every visitor to enjoy.

Weed Wrangle

Every year, Rock Island State Park hosts an event called the Weed Wrangle to help protect the wild places throughout the park. Volunteers gather to remove the invasive autumn olive shrubs along the Moonshine Trail in early March. Once the cleanup efforts are complete, participants can hike the Bluff or Moonshine Trail to end the day with some excitement.

Where To Stay in Rock Island State Park

There are many accommodations in or near Rock Island State Park, whether you prefer a rustic experience in nature or a more modern stay in a hotel.

Inside the Park

Several lodging options are available for those planning to stay within the park’s boundaries. Visitors can stay at one of the many campgrounds, offering a unique and immersive outdoor experience. Alternatively, if a more comfortable and private stay is preferred, visitors can opt for one of the cozy cabins.


Rock Island State Park Cabin
Image Credit: Tennessee State Parks

There are 10 cabins available for rent all year round in this park. Each cabin has 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, which makes them ideal for small groups or families. These cabins have modern appliances in a small kitchen, linens, washer and dryer, and Wi-Fi. Moreover, they have satellite TVs, an outdoor fire ring and grill area, and an indoor fireplace with gas logs for the winter months. Some of the cabins are also pet-friendly. You can book these cabins online up to 1 year in advance.


Rock Island State Park has 2 campgrounds, offering 60 sites. The main campground is open year-round and has 50 RV, trailer, and tent sites. These sites come equipped with charcoal grills, picnic tables, and hookups for water, sewage, and electricity. Additionally, there are bathhouses with flush toilets and hot showers available. The other campground is exclusively for tents and is unavailable during winter.

Towns Near Rock Island State Park

Thanks to this park’s amazing location, numerous places to stay are available outside the park’s boundaries. Whether you prefer a lively city or a peaceful retreat, you will find the perfect place to satisfy your vacation requirements.

Cookeville, Tennessee

Cookeville is a lively city just 35 miles away from the beautiful Rock Island State Park. It is an ideal place for those looking for lodging, dining, and entertainment. Visitors can choose from various accommodations, from luxurious hotels to cozy bed and breakfasts, catering to all budgets and preferences.

Food enthusiasts can enjoy the diverse culinary scene, including traditional Southern dishes and global cuisine. Adventure seekers can explore the nearby Burgess Falls State Park. Regardless of your interests, Cookeville is sure to have something for everyone.

Sparta, Tennessee

Sparta is a great choice for those who plan to visit Rock Island State Park. It’s only a 7-minute drive from Sparta, making it an excellent base near the park. You’ll find a wide range of accommodation options, including bed and breakfasts, comfortable hotels, and motels. Sparta also offers a variety of eateries, from classic southern fare to international cuisine.

Besides its proximity to the park, Sparta has plenty of other recreational opportunities for visitors. You can explore the historic downtown area, visit local museums, or hike on one of the many nearby trails.

Bottom Line:

Sparta is ideal for a relaxing and peaceful getaway or an adventurous outdoor experience.

Where To Eat in Rock Island State Park

The park does not have any restaurants, but there are plenty of options nearby for visitors who want to dine out. The only option for dining inside the park is to enjoy a picnic in a designated area.

Newt’s BBQ

Newt’s BBQ is one of the highest-rated restaurants in Rock Island. It’s just a 4-minute drive from the park and open 6 days a week for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The menu features barbecue specials, old-fashioned desserts, and homemade side dishes. Whether you want to refuel after a day of park adventures or grab some takeout for a picnic in the park, Newt’s BBQ is a great option.

Rock Island Market

Rock Island Market is a beloved dining spot among both locals and visitors. Don’t let its name fool you, as it’s not just a market but also an amazing restaurant that offers homemade diner classics such as roast beef and gravy, country-fried steaks, and all your favorite sides. This dining option is located less than a mile from the park, making it an excellent place to take a break from your park adventures or pick up a to-go order to enjoy in the park.

Rock Island State Park Facts

Rock Island State Park
Image Credit: Patrick Campanale via Unsplash

1. A New State Park

Rock Island State Park was established in 1969 after being used by a nearby cotton mill and hydroelectric plant.

2. A Place of Many Uses

Great Falls Lake was created in 1917 by the Tennessee Electric Power Company, which built a hydroelectric plant and dam downstream from the Caney Fork and Collins Rivers. The plant’s village was busy at that time, and Rock Island was a well-liked resort.

3. Tennessee Valley Authority

The Tennessee Valley Authority took over operations in the 1940s and leased property to the state for park development in 1966.

4. What’s in a Name?

This park was named after Rock Island, which was named after an island on Caney Fork River.

5. Abundance of Animals

Rock Island State Park is home to a diverse range of animals, including white-tailed deer, foxes, lemmings, and snakes.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re an avid hiker, history buff, or water enthusiast, this park has it all. You can hike through lush forests, take in stunning waterfalls, explore historic sites, or go boating on the beautiful Caney Fork River. With much to explore, it’s no wonder why this park is such a beloved destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers alike.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to visit Rock Island State Park?

There is no entrance fee to access the park, but camping fees do apply for those who want to stay overnight.

How much time does it take to explore Rock Island State Park?

Spending a half day to a full day exploring Rock Island State Park is recommended.

What are some attractions I should check out near Rock Island State Park?

When visiting this area of Tennessee, be sure to check out Burges Falls State Park and Fall Creek Falls State Park, both located within 30 miles of this park.

Can I bring my dog to Rock Island State Park?

Dogs are permitted at this park but must be leashed at all times.

Amar Hussain's image

About Amar Hussain

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications including Forbes, the Huffington Post, and more.


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