The unusually warm November weather propels my sister, Tamara, and I outdoors for a super hip minivan adventure. We decide on hiking The Blue Hole at Rock Island State Park, just over the White County line into Warren County. We don’t even take time to pack a picnic lunch but decide to stop at the Doyle Cafe on our way for a quick bite.
From the road you’re not going to be impressed with this little home town hole in the wall on the McMinnville Highway. Stop anyway. When you walk in, you will immediately feel at home. The bar stools look like such a fun place to sit and eat but Tamara and I choose a table to the side. We know several people eating so give our greeting and then get busy looking at the menu. They are famous for their hamburgers so I place my All-American order: cheeseburger and fries please.
There are all sorts of options to choose from but I just can’t pass up the burger. It is served up quickly and I eat with juices running down my fingers. Oh yeah!
The server comes back and asks if we want dessert. Yes, without hesitation. But since I was forced to finish off all the Halloween candy just yesterday, we decide to split the dessert as a show of discipline. Tamara asks what the Preacher Cake is. Our waiter answers, then the lady behind the counter chimes in, and then a customer eating across the room further explains. We are enticed until we hear “coconut” and are both out but the Secret Sin dessert has us captivated.
And for good reason. It is a deep fried tortilla with a cream cheese filling and strawberries and chocolate drizzled on top. It is advertised as strawberries or chocolate topping but Tamara and I couldn’t make up our minds so he just offered both. No sisters fighting in the café, please. We uttered not a word as we consumed a small piece of the divine in the Doyle Café.
Happy and full, we paid our ticket (unbelievably great prices!), chatted with a few more friends, and made our way back to the minivan. I have heard they have all-you-can-eat catfish, hushpuppies, slaw, and fries for $9.99 on Friday and Saturday from 3pm-8pm or until the catfish runs out.
The Crosland family will return (and I want to sit on those barstools next time), so make sure you get there early because my boys can EAT and I would hate for the catfish to run out before you get there. Consider yourself warned.
Just a bit farther we cross into Warren County and the Rock Island area.
There are all sorts of cute shops around so we decide to pull in at The Trendy Trunk while our food digests. No hiking right after eating. I think I’ve heard that before. Or is it swimming? To be safe, we do our best to shop at least 30 minutes.
This spot is the bomb! It has tons of curb appeal and inside is decorated in way that makes you want to buy something.
They have trendy clothes priced reasonably for a boutique plus home décor, jewelry, and trinkets. I buy a bag that says, “Because when you stop and look around, this life is pretty amazing” and decide that is what Tamara and I are trying to do – stop our lives and spend some time looking around, being sure to see, because this life is indeed pretty amazing.
Of course, we will commence all this grandness as soon as the shopping is done. I also buy some jewelry and perfume for my super hip minivan, which only adds to its appeal. It is supposed to make my van smell like the ocean but it reminds me more of a laundry room, I mean, not MY laundry room with teenage boys’ dirty smelly socks and all, but maybe yours with the smell of laundry detergent and softener and clean.
The owner throws in some leftover Halloween candy with my purchase which I consider good enough reason to return. Another good reason is that The Trendy Trunk, as well as other shops in the area, is having a Christmas Open House, Friday and Saturday, November 13th – 14th. Yay! If you like Yellow Box shoes, they will be 50% off that day.
Our 30 minutes are almost up, so Tamara and I move along to the next shop, The Rustic Touch. It’s closed. They are only open Wednesday-Saturday. Same for the next two stores. Mark it down. If you want to shop at Rock Island, don’t come on a Tuesday like us.
All of these shops are participating in the Christmas Open House though which makes a return trip inevitable.
We drive through the big Rock Island arch onto Great Falls Road and soon enter Rock Island State Park on the Warren County side. (The other side is in our own White County which is just as lovely. You can read more about mine and Bill’s adventures there in a blog I wrote a few weeks ago.) We are heading for the infamous Blue Hole. It is loaded with myths and legends.
I have heard there is no bottom to The Blue Hole but is some type of fallen in cavern. This leads me to the conclusion that mermaids must most definitely live here, somewhere deep below, only surfacing when the coast is clear to lounge on the surrounding rocks and take lovely showers in the falls. We have lots of questions so we take a right onto Beach Road and stop at the ranger’s station and gift shop.
We study a map at the entrance and a CUTE young ranger asks if we need any help. (I think he works here for the mermaids.)
Tam and I ask him about the depth of the Blue Hole. He says The Blue Hole does indeed have a bottom and is not as deep as people seem to think. It is around 40 feet deep in places according to his range finder on his boat. On up the river a bit toward Twin Falls it is as deep as 70 feet. I don’t really like his logical answer, in spite of how CUTE he is, and decide he is just covering up to keep the mermaids safe.
Even though I don’t like his answers, he is filled with information and tells us the water level is down at Rock Island because Center Hill Lake has been lowered while they work on the dam. This is not projected to be completed until 2020 or 2022. This leaves the water too low to navigate a boat from the boat ramp to The Blue Hole which is the spawning ground for the walleye in Center Hill Lake. This is a fishing mecca. As soon as I tell this to Coco, my 16-year-old outdoorsman, he and his buddies will be packing their gear and heading down the blue hole trail.
We enter the gift shop and I can’t help but buy a long sleeved t-shirt that says “Rock Island State Park” before heading on to the trail head.
Continuing on Beach Road, we make a right at the sign marked “Area No 3, Blue Hole” and find a parking spot. There are two trailheads here – one for the Eagle Trail and one for Blue Hole so you might want to be careful to look for the signs.
We begin going down some wooden steps that look relatively new and on to some metal steps with a railing.
We can see the water through the trees and I start thinking this is going to be an easy hike and I should have brought my mom.
But I change my mind when we come upon some type of gang plank that Tamara and I both decide is treacherous. We take the path along its side, getting our shoes wet.
I have made this hike a few other times but don’t remember it ever being this wet. This could be because of my unreliable memory or it could be just more water is seeping through than before.
By “seeping through” I mean the water really looks as though it just appears out of nowhere from the hillside we are hiking down.
On our way into the park on Great Falls Road, we crossed over the Collins River as it connects to the Caney Fork River at Great Falls Dam. The Collins River then bends around and makes a big ‘C’ almost coming back into contact with the Caney Fork again before it curls out and on its way.
At the point it almost makes contact again is the same spot the Great Falls Powerhouse is located. I have heard, though I did not confirm this with the park ranger, that big underground tubes (for lack of a better word) carry water from the Collins River to generate electricity at the power plant. Twin Falls, just down from the power plant, is created from water from the Collins River that seeps into underground caverns and emerges at Twin Falls for a spectacular display.
All of that to say, I would think the water I see seemingly just coming out of the hillside on our Blue Hole hike, is also water from the Collins River that has seeped into underground caverns and emerged right where we are. How delightful!
I cannot begin to explain to you how magical this hike is. Everywhere you look, the rocks are covered thickly with bright green moss, ferns are exploding all around us, and waterfalls are cascading from our right and our left.
We are quite spell-bound by our surroundings which makes the hike a bit easier. Make no mistake, however, this hike is somewhat difficult. The path just disappears in watery trails at times and we are left looking for stones to hop or just walking up the creek for a bit.
Be mindful of your shoes. I had on hiking boots which worked great. Tamara was wearing some hiking water shoes, which were fine on a warm day.
At one point, she stepped in some soggy ground and her entire foot disappeared before she pulled it out, covered in mud. Fortunately, we had plenty of water around us to clean up our mess. And I was glad she was in front so I knew not to step there.:)
There are white reflective markers in the trees that help us stay on the path and get us to the bottom but at times, even they lead us in two different directions.
We take one path down and end up taking another one back up. At any rate, it is be hard to get lost as we can see the river, which is our target destination, from the beginning and all throughout the hike.
On the way back up, we can see the metal steps and railing as our landmark to work toward.
When we get to the bottom, we are up the river a bit more than we want to be so climb over a bunch of rocks to get to the actual Blue Hole.
The water is swirling in different directions, the rock cliff high on the opposite side. If you hike the Downstream Trail from Powerhouse Road, you would actually be across the river overlooking the Blue Hole from the opposite side.
From the side we are on, we are at the water’s edge, close enough to fish for walleye.
On around the bend, there are small waterfalls cascading down into The Blue Hole making it quite enchanting, kind of like that part in the old Peter Pan movie when Peter Pan himself visits the mermaids in Neverland. I think we ARE in Neverland!
From the looks of things around us and the magical hike down, it could be true. Regardless, you will have to come and form your own theory. Don’t discuss this with the local park rangers.
Tamara and I take pictures and discuss the reasons for the swirling currents.
Swimming is not allowed here because of these currents and because of the power plant upstream which can generate unexpectedly. The ranger did tell us they suspect cavern openings at various places on the floor of the blue hole which I find intriguing.
Eventually, we start making our way back up the trail, pausing from time to time to take in our lovely environment and to catch our breath.
We leave behind mossy rocks, exploding ferns, and all the babbling water, climb the stairs and find our way to the parking lot where the super hip minivan (which now smells like your lovely clean laundry room) waits for us. It has been a great day spent just minutes outside of Sparta, TN. It is stunning to think we have access so nearby to such lovely areas.
If you are considering a move to our area, we welcome you. And honestly, we can’t blame you for moving here because when you stop and look around, Sparta, TN is pretty amazing.
If you have taken the Blue Hole hike, please scroll to the bottom and leave your comments about your experience. If you decide to visit the Blue Hole after reading this blog, please come back and let me know what you thought!
If you plan on going to Rock Island State Park, you can check when the power plant and dam are releasing at www.lakeinfo.tva.gov.
Although this hike was a bit challenging because of the lack of a clear trail and wet feet, I still think it would be manageable if you have rowdy kids (I have rowdy kids, so no judgement here.) If they love climbing, getting wet, and getting dirty, this could be a great trip for your family. Just remember the Blue Hole is deep and swimming is not allowed so keep a very close eye on them, especially at the bottom for their safety. If you have a child that needs to be carried, this could be a challenge and I would not advise it.