Hike To Breathtaking Waterfalls At Tennessee's Beautiful Rock Island State Park

Not to be confused with the Wisconsin state park of the same name where vehicles are not allowed, Tennessee's Rock Island State Park can be accessed by cars. But it's still recommended to hike the park's trails to see its wonderful waterfalls. And trust us — it's worth it.

The park features at least 10 waterfalls, according to The Tennessean, with Great Falls and Twin Falls being the most popular. Great Falls is a 30-foot cascade that used to power the Cotton Mill building nearby, while Twin Falls is an 80-foot man-made fall, which was created when the dam at Caney Fork River was built, per Only In Your State.

About 85 miles east of Nashville, Rock Island State Park attracts tourists for its rugged, natural beauty and outdoor activities, which includes hiking. The park features nine hiking trails, but if you want to see waterfalls when you trek, head to the following trails: Upstream Trail, Old Mill Trail, Downstream Trail, and Blue Hole Trail.

Trekking to Great Falls

Rock Island's Great Falls is easy to access from the Old Mill parking area. From there, it's a short walk to the overlook where you can view the falls and snap photos. Depending on when you arrive, the water level could be low or, if the dam was recently opened, all you might capture with your camera is the floodwater, but Easy Waterfall Hikes argues this is still a spectacular sight.

If you want an up-close look at the Great Falls, hike the popular Upstream Trail, a natural, moderate trail that is half a mile one way. Start your walk from the Twin Falls Overlook parking area before going east. Follow the path between the river and the canyon wall and you'll arrive below the Great Falls, per All Trails. The Upstream Trail will also lead you to the upper gorge area, where you'll also have access to the Ice Hole and Warm Hole swimming spots (swim at your own risk). While the path is considered strenuous, the ascent isn't as steep as the Old Mill Trail, according to Tennessee Vacation.

Hike to Rock Island's Twin Falls

Unlike Great Falls, you can't access Twin Falls from any trail. However, you can hike some paths to have terrific views of the falls. The first viewing spot you should check out is the overlook at the end of Powerhouse Road. Or, hike the Downstream Trail, a natural, moderate 1.6-mile lollipop. The path starts from the bottom of the steps next to Twin Falls and follows the extremely steep bluff line river border, per the Tennessee State Parks website.

From this trail, you can see Twin Falls as well as Little Falls, Blue Hole, other seeps, rock formations, and spring wildflowers. A popular fishing area (per All Trails), you're bound to bump into someone while exploring here. You're not allowed to wade or swim in the waters around the area, especially downstream of the falls, however. The waters here have quick currents and the TVA Powerhouse upstream of the falls regularly releases water, warns Tennessee Vacation.

Other Caney Fork River Gorge scenic trails

Located below the Great Falls Dam, the Caney Fork River Gorge is a beautiful area where you can find waterfalls, wildflowers, and great blue herons. Explore the gorgeous gorge from the Old Mill Trail or the Upstream Trail. The Old Mill Trail is a rocky and strenuous 0.5-mile path. Tennessee Vacation notes that the trail is also wet and steep, so beginner hikers might want to pass on this one. You'll start from the Old Mill picnic area and climb down steep stairs to reach the gorge at the bottom, according to Tennessee State Parks.

Another scenic but rocky and strenuous hike is the 0.5-mile Blue Hole Trail. The path starts from Area 3 and includes many steep steps. You will also need to pass through standing and moving water, but your effort will be rewarded with lovely wildflower scenery and a lovely waterfall when the path winds down a slope. Fishing is popular in the area but swimming is not allowed because of its location just downstream of the TVA Powerhouse.