With mystifying waterways and wondrous gorges, Rock Island State Park in Tennessee is a stunning destination you won’t want to miss on your next RV adventure. You can explore 883 acres of untamed natural beauty that surrounds Center Hill Lake, which sits at the convergence of three roaring waterways. There are many natural wonders to discover at this incredible state park, including Great Falls and Twin Falls. These grand, stair-step cascades are easily two of the most spectacular and photogenic waterfalls in Tennessee. The sheer walls and churning waters of the Caney Fork Gorge are a similarly dramatic site - make sure you bring your camera along!
Beyond the rustic beauty of waterfalls that flow over rocky landscapes, you can enjoy many fun-filled outdoor activities during your stay at Rock Island State Park. If you enjoy boating you’ll be in for a treat, as paddlers can coast along scenic Center Hill Lake, Caney Fork, and the Collins River. If you’re up for a challenge, whitewater kayaking at Rock Island is another great option. Playboating, also known as whitewater kayaking, is particularly popular, and the park hosts freestyle and playboating events that draw skilled entrants from around the country. Swimming and fishing are permitted at both Center Hill Lake and Great Falls Lake, which each offer magnificent natural backdrops.
Rock Island State Park is also a haven for hikers, sporting nine hiking trails that let visitors explore the park's limestone gorges and verdant forests. If you enjoy wildlife viewing and birding, look out for many critters that call Rock Island State Park home, such as osprey and great blue herons. Rock Island State Park has been enchanting visitors since 1969, but the park's history reaches far beyond then. Several nationally registered buildings, including two 19th century cotton mills, will be of interest to visiting history buffs.
With sunny summers and mild winters, Rock Island State Park is a prime spot for RVers any time of year. During the busy summer and spring seasons, you can expect temperatures in the 70s and 80s; winter cools down into the 40s and 50s but offers sparser crowds.
Even more boating, fishing, and waterfall viewing opportunities are available nearby at Edgar Evins State Park, which can accommodate RVs as well. Rock Island is also just a two and a half-hour drive from Great Smoky Mountains National Park, making it a great stopover spot if you're traveling to or from there.
RV Rentals in Rock Island State Park
Transportation in Rock Island State Park
Rock Island State Park is located in Warren and White counties, just off of Route 70S. Local roads within the park will take you anywhere you want to go, from the campground and beach to the Nature Center and picnic areas. There is no restriction for driving RVs or trailers within the park, although some of the smaller roads may be narrow and slightly winding. All roads are paved, and there are no steep hills to contend with. Winter visitors, however, should take extra precautions while driving. Though the area doesn't get much snow, freezing rain and slick roads are not uncommon.
Parking is easy to find within the park, with parking areas located at key spots. You can find parking at the Visitor Center, campgrounds, beach, and picnic areas. Parking for large RVs and trailers may be limited within certain areas and can fill up quickly during the peak season. Most of the park's amenities, overlooks, and trailheads are within easy walking distance of the campground, so you shouldn't have to worry about driving your full rig throughout the park if you're camping here.
Campgrounds and parking in Rock Island State Park
Campsites in Rock Island State Park
The Main Campground is located at the heart of the park, offering easy access to the nature center, trailheads, overlooks and more. Spots are partially or mostly shaded by the tall oaks, hickories, maples and other hardwoods that comprise the rich forests of eastern Tennessee.
In total, there are 50 sites that can accommodate RVs, trailers, and tents. Each site has hookups for water and electricity, and two of the sites also offer sewer hookups. Fire rings, charcoal grills, picnic tables, and lantern hangers are also standard, giving you everything you need to enjoy an evening picnic among the greenery and the fireflies. You’ll also have access to restrooms, hot showers, wi-fi accessibility, a dump station, and a playground.
Sites 31 to 50 are open year-round, while sites 1-30 are open from March until November. Visitors can stay up to two weeks. Reservations can be made up to a year in advance. If you're planning on coming during the busy summer season, reservations are a good idea.
All unreserved spots are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
If you prefer to leave your rig and pitch a tent, Rock Island State Park features a tent-only campground. This small campground sports ten sites, which each feature electric service, water hookups, charcoal grills, picnic tables, fire rings, and lantern hangers. You’ll enjoy a shady spot on a serene grassy knoll. You’ll also have access to a bathhouse with hot water nearby. This campground is open from March until November. If you stay at this campground you’ll be close to picnic areas and a hiking trail.
If you want to park your RV off-site, you can stay at one of the 10 cabins that are located near the sandy beach of the Caney Fork River. These cabins have three bedrooms and two bathrooms. They feature appliances, a microwave, coffeepot, cooking utensils, dishes and linens. You can also use a fireplace with gas logs, charcoal grill, DVD player, and a TV in the cabin. Two of the cabins are pet-friendly.
If you prefer to stay outside of the park there are plenty of private campgrounds and RV parks to choose from in Sparta, Crossville, Pikeville, and the surrounding areas. These private accommodations will range from rustic to resort-like experience. They may also provide modern amenities such as cable TV, wireless internet, and swimming pools
Seasonal activities in Rock Island State Park
Wildlife Viewing and Birding
Don’t forget to pack your binoculars in your RV since the wildlife at Rock Island is plentiful and diverse. White-tailed deer are common throughout the park, while patient or lucky visitors may catch a glimpse of a red fox, a coyote, or even a bobcat. Birders can spot a number of avian species including pileated woodpeckers, osprey, belted kingfisher, scarlet tanagers, indigo buntings, yellow-throated warblers, and great blue herons.
You’ll want to make sure you pack your fishing gear in your trailer if you're heading to Rock Island. With its diverse fishery and fantastic surroundings, this state park is undoubtedly one of the best spots in the area for angling. Among the many fish you can catch here include catfish, walleye, bluegill, crappie, bass, and muskellunge.
Rock Island State Park, with an extensive trail network winding its way across ridges and through gorges, is a mecca for hikers. Catch majestic views of the Caney Fork Gorge, Great Falls Dam, and Twin Falls, which are all easily accessible via short trails. For a three-mile moderate hike, take the Collins River Nature Trail, which follows the riverbank and offers great wildlife viewing. If you’re up for a more strenuous hike, take a trek on the steep but rewarding .5-mile Blue Hole Trail, which extends along a waterfall where you can see lovely wildflowers, ferns, and mosses.
Park your RV and head on over to the natural sandy beach at Center Hill Lake. With summer temperatures at the park routinely reaching the 80s and beyond, there's no better way to beat the heat than a dip in the lake's cool waters. You can swim at your leisure and then get changed at the modern bathhouse on-site.
If you are into boating or kayaking, you can hardly beat a trip to to Rock Island State Park! Cruise across the park's wondrous waterways by taking one of the boat launches located on Center Hill Lake, Caney Fork River, or the Collins River. Rock Island State Park is particularly well-known for its whitewater rapids, drawing skilled kayakers from far and wide. Whether you enjoy a placid float on the lake or a harrowing ride through stunning gorges, you'll be sure to bring some great memories home from Rock Island!
Exploring the Waterfalls and Gorges
Rock Island State Park is full of natural wonders, so once you park your rig you’ll want to explore the over 800 acres of rugged beauty. The Caney Fork River Gorge, with scenic overlooks where you can see amazing waterfalls and deep pools, is a must-visit. Great Falls and Twin Falls are two more enchanting sites that you won’t want to miss. Both feature massive cascades that tumble over imposing limestone bluffs. Winter and spring - times of high runoff - are the best seasons to see the falls at their mightiest, but the waters remain impressive through summer and fall.
Once you’ve enjoyed a long day of adventures during your RV vacation to this serene state park, enjoy a quiet picnic at one of the park’s four picnic areas. All of these picnic areas feature tables, grills, drinking water, and restrooms. Enjoying some delicious camp food while taking in the tranquil sites all around you - what could be better?
Visitor Center and Nature Center
If you want to learn more about the amazing natural history and rich cultural heritage of the park, be sure to drive over to the Visitor Center or the Nature Center. You can see fascinating exhibits or talk with expert rangers to learn about everything from how the park's waterfalls were formed to what species of birds call the park home.
If you make an RV trip to Rock Island State Park during the off-season, you can still take a guided hike, as they are regularly scheduled throughout the year. These guided hikes will take you through some of the most picturesque spots in the park, such as the dramatic Twin Falls. You’ll learn about the inspiring nature all around you as you take a trek through some of Tennessee’s most scenic sites.
Rock Island State Park is a perfect spot for photographers thanks to its rugged beauty and amazing natural features. The Caney Fork River Gorge, Twin Falls, and Great Falls are excellent spots to take some one-of-a-kind pictures of cascading waterways over jagged rocks. Spring sees wildflowers pop up across the forest floor, and fall brings a burst of color that sweep across the leaves of towering oaks, maples, and beeches. No matter what time of year you visit, you’ll want to make sure you bring your camera in your motorhome so you don’t miss the chance to capture this memorable landscape.