Camping at Rock Island SP Tennessee

Hello Everyone! We had a great trip to Rock Island SP near McMinnville, TN which is located about half way between Chattanooga and Nashville. We spent last Monday through Saturday there, our longest trip in the RPod. I’m going to start by giving a brief campground/park review, then follow with lots of pictures of the park.

Gorge view from Old Mill Gorge Overlook

Campground Review

Rock Island is a beautiful park with lots of hiking and waterfalls. It sits between the Collins River and the Caney Fork River. The park contains the Caney Fork Gorge below the Great Falls Dam and the start of Center Hill Lake with a beach area. There are multiple waterfalls and hiking trails for all levels. The multiple picnic areas and playgrounds were all well maintained and clean. You need to be aware that when the dam is open, some of the trails are not accessible and if you are on the lower trails, you need to pay attention to the water level and sirens. I did notice that personal flotation devices were available at the head of a few of the trails that went into the gorge if you felt in need of one. I was hoping that they would open the dam while we were there, but like most of the southeast, it’s been very dry in August and September, so they didn’t.

Camping Site 18

The campground is small with 50 sites, a few suitable for tents. There is a tent only campground, too. There is a nice playground in the campground, two bath houses, which were kept very clean, and tennis courts across the road from the campground. There is water and 20, 30 and 50 amp hookups. The sites are more narrow than what we are used to, but there is a living area with a picnic table and fire ring with each site.

We were on the only cul-de-sac on a hill, but our site, 18, is pretty level and is 47′ long. There were some on that road that the tongue of the trailer sat very low to the ground. Also, if you make a reservation, make sure to check the length of the site. Some of the sites are very short and will not accommodate both the trailer and a tow vehicle without the tow vehicle having to park every which way to be off the road. The campsites were all shaded and even though it was very warm, we sat outside comfortably in the shade. We practically had the campground to ourselves until Thursday, by Friday it was full. My husband and I thought this was one of the best state parks we’ve been to, just be aware of the size of the camping spot.

Looking towards the bottom of our cul-de-sac

Our Adventures

The first part of the week was the coolest, so we planned our hiking for Tuesday and Wednesday. On Tuesday, we left the truck at the campground and started our day with a hike on the Moonshine Trail, which starts and ends in the campground, and the Bluff Trail, which starts and ends across the street from the campground. The sign says the Bluff Trial is moderate, but we found it pretty easy and mostly level. There was an overlook into the gorge about half way around, but the trees were blocking the view.

Bluff Trail, hiking and biking trail

The Great Falls Dam and Power Plant are operated by the TVA and are located inside the park area, therefore, there are lots of power lines radiating out in all directions. Several of the trails crossed under the lines.

After finishing the Bluff Trail, we walked down the road a little to the Blue Hole Picnic area. We did not go into the gorge from here, but it appeared to be a fishing area after a steep walk down many steps. From this area we hiked the Eagle Trail, which definitely was a moderate trail. There is a small waterfall on this trail, but unfortunately, my pictures did show it well through the trees.

The Eagle Trail wound its way down to the beach area. As you can see, it was a beautiful day. Around the bend, we saw some fishing kayaks and a boat ramp.

Center Hill Lake

We took a well deserved rest here, then headed back to the campground, straight up the hill on the road! We hiked almost 4.5 miles and did 52 flights of stairs that day.

We hung out at the campground for the rest of the day and watched this little guy. He was okay the first day and didn’t bother us, but the next afternoon, he kept trying to jump onto our chairs, then the last straw was when he climbed the screen door to get inside the camper. We kept sweeping him away with the broom and he must have finally gotten the message that we weren’t going to feed him. I heard him a couple of times, but he never came back.

Old Cemetery on Collins River Nature Trail

On Wednesday, we drove from the campground to other areas of the park. We hiked the Collins River Nature Trail that looped from the power plant along the Collins River then back along the park road to the river. Most of the hike was through the woods and was easy and mostly level. We did take the cut-off from the loop that took us through an old settlement.

We always seem to find an old rusted vehicle on these types of trails.
The gorge from the Old Mill Overlook

After the Nature Trail hike, we parked at the Old Mill Gorge Trail overlook parking area which is also at the old cotton mill.

We walked down the Old Mill Gorge Trail which took us into the gorge. This trail is rated strenuous, and I would say that is accurate. The top portion of the trail is concrete steps that appear to be wet all the time, but they were not slippery.

Where the stairs end on the Old Mill Gorge Trail

Water was constantly flowing from the rocks and the falls on this side of the gorge all came from water flowing from/through the rocks, not from streams or rivers. After the stairs ended, there were still boulders to cross to get to the bottom. I think the river was low because of lack of rain. There may be times when this is the end of the trail.

This small fall was just to the right of the steps. There were falls everywhere.

Park side of Caney Fork River Gorge

We walked along the top of some of the rocks down into the gorge, but did not go too far out on them. The Great Falls are located around the corner, but the water was just high enough that you would get wet to walk around to see them from ground level.

Great Falls
Great Falls

The Great Falls are horseshoe shaped and must be spectacular to see when there is water flowing over the entire length of the cliffs.

Twin Falls

To get to the Upstream and Downstream Trails, you need to leave the park, cross the river, then re-enter the park from a small country road on the other side of the gorge. From an overlook by the back entrance to the power plant, you can see the Twin Falls. This is also the start of the Downstream Trail, which is the only longer trail we did not hike. We did hike the Upstream Trail which led down into the gorge and onto the rocks and boulders.

It was much easier to access the gorge from this side. We walked through the gorge towards the dam. There were lots of cascades that you can also see from this side. If you look in at the top left side of this picture, you can see the Old Mill Overlook where we entered the gorge earlier.

As you enter the park, you’ll see the Old Cotton Mill suddenly from a curve in the road.
From Picnic Area 2 overlook, looking past the power plant bridge towards the dam

By now, it was lunchtime and we had packed a picnic lunch. We stopped at Picnic Area 2, ate lunch, then took a short walk to another overlook. From the sound of the water, we were very close to the top of the Twin Falls. The rest of the afternoon was spent at the campsite, resting. We also hiked almost 4.5 miles but only 18 floors. (It was a steep walk from the beach back to the campground the day before).

The next two days were a little more relaxing and getting warmer. On Thursday, we took a trip into McMinnville and had brunch at Cumberland Biscuit Company which was excellent. We walked around and did a little window shopping, then returned to the park. On Friday we hung out at the campsite. Friday was the hottest day and we did end up turning on the air conditioner in the RPod for the first time that evening, just to get it cooled down before bedtime.

If we hadn’t already been, we might have taken one of the days to visit Fall Creek Falls SP which is only about 30 miles away. Cumberland Caverns is also nearby.

Just one quilt picture for my quilty readers. I put the Cabin Quilt from The Art of Home Club April collection in the RPod for the season. I’ll bring it home after our last camping trip this fall. Next month we have reservations at High Falls SP just south of Atlanta. Already looking forward to our next outing.

If you are still reading or at least looking at the pictures, thanks for stopping by!

This entry was posted in Camping, Hiking, Rpod, Uncategorized, Water Falls and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Camping at Rock Island SP Tennessee

  1. Lydia Sheffield says:

    What a fantastic trip. Love seeing all the photos.


  2. Pingback: Red Top Mountain SP Camping and Two Cross Stitch Finishes | The Quilting Nook

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