State Parks: Rock Island State Park, central Tennessee

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February 9, 2009

This week we’ll explore Rock Island State Park in central Tennessee between Sparta and McMinnville (Van Buren County). The park encompasses 883 acres of wooded wilderness along the confluence of the Collins and Caney Fork rivers. There are several picnic areas and boat ramps, which make this park a great summertime family vacation destination. Since it’s right in the middle of the Nashville/Knoxville/Chattanooga triangle, it could be a great stop for exploring the natural splendor of the Cumberland Plateau on your way through the area.

Rock Island State ParkNatural Features: The park boasts two main natural features:
1. The Great Falls—an imposing limestone gulf (that’s a ‘gorge’ to those of you unfamiliar with Southern terminology) on the Caney Fork River that provides scenic overlooks, waterfalls and deep pools great for fishing, rock-hopping and all-around adventuring.

2. Big Bone Cave—a National Natural Landmark of 9.62 miles of dry caves used as saltpeter mines in the War of 1812 and in the Civil War. It gets its name from the giant ground sloth bones found there in 1811 (now on display at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia).

There is a natural sand beach along the headwater of Center Hill Reservoir that provides a great swimming spot, although no lifeguards are on duty. Four picnic areas are scattered throughout the park, making a snack/lunch break a cinch no matter where your morning fun takes you. Each is equipped with restrooms, tables, grills and drinking water.

The park also features historical sites such as a 19th century textile mill and one of the state’s first hydroelectric plants. See a map of the park.

Tennessee sunset over rolling river and hillsActivities:
Fishing is the most popular pastime here. The two rivers, Center Hill Reservoir and Great Falls Lake provide ample habitats for spawning walleye and other fish.

A valid state fishing license is a must if you want to try your hand at catching bass, musklunge, and bluegill.
Read the full licensing requirements.

Boating and waterskiing are enjoyed on the various waterways into late fall. There are several boat launch ramps in the park, including a free public launch ramp at Great Falls Lake. Canoe floats and pontoon boat tours are also scheduled weekly during the summer. Ask the park office staff for details.
Read complete boating regulations.

Trail cycling, hiking and guided birdwalks are also popular activities. Free hiking permits are required before hitting the trail. A variety of outdoor sports is also available: badminton, basketball, horseshoes, ping-pong, softball, tennis courts, and volleyball. If the children still have extra energy, send them over to the playground for a while.

Hours: The park is open from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., while the office is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The office phone number is 931-686-2471. The postal/physical address of the park is 82 Beach Road, Rock Island, TN ZIP 38581-4200.

Weather: In summertime the average high is 85°F (hottest in July), with lows in the mid-60s°F. Humidity averages 45% and moderate rain showers can occur year-round. Wear layered, lightweight clothing for maximum comfort.

Rock Island Park camping cabinCamping Info:
There are 60 campsites, each with 20/30-amp electrical and water hookups. Sites are open year-round for a maximum stay of two weeks, and can accommodate rigs up to 46’. There are three full bath houses (hot water showers, lavatories & commodes) and a dump station at the far end of the campground for your convenience.

Reservations can be made up to a year in advance, but no later than the week prior to arrival, and a $5 non-refundable reservation fee is required. To make camping reservations, call 931-686-2471 or 800-713-6065. Usually they will take credit card information and charge your first night’s stay as part of your reservation. Cabin and RV camping costs $20/night. Tent camping is also allowed, and costs $16/night.

Or you can stay at an RV Park in the greater Nashville area and visit the state park as a daytrip.

Countryside Resort is a pet-friendly Good Sam Park with long pull-thrus, full hookups and 20/30/50 amp service. They have propane, firewood and ice onsite, as well as groceries and laundry facilities. Located 25 miles east of Nashville and about 83 miles from Rock Island, you’ll be in between great city entertainment and clean country air and outdoor activities.

Nashville I-24 Campground is conveniently located between Nashville and Murfreesboro on the I-24 corridor in Smyrna and is also a Good Sam Park. Their sites have full hookups, can accommodate rigs up to 45’ and can be used at daily/weekly/monthly rates. They also offer propane, ice, laundry facilities, a game room and snack shop on site. It’s also about 83 miles from Rock Island State Park.

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