Great Falls Lake, Tennessee, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - South - Tennessee - Middle -

Also known as:  Great Falls Reservoir, Rock Island Lake

One of the best-kept secret destination lakes in the Middle Tennessee area is Great Falls Lake. The 1800-acre reservoir formed behind Great Falls Dam offers 120 miles of shoreline and a wide variety of boating and fishing experiences to those lucky enough to find it. The lovely, high-end homes scattered along the lakefront show the lake’s attributes have been discovered by a favored few. The reservoir floods areas behind the dam 22 miles along the Caney Fork and 10 miles along the Collins River plus a short stretch along the Rocky River. This creates a rocky, isolated island midstream at the confluence of the three watercourses. The loosely-knit community that grew up along the shoreline is called Rock Island, a name it shares with the State Park on the north bank. Here, residents and visitors can fish, water ski, enjoy wake-boarding, canoeing, pontooning, paddle boating, tubing and fishing. Residents often entertain neighbors and guests on their covered docks. Great Falls Lake is truly a lakelubber’s dream come true.

There are no statistics available to show how deep Great Falls Lake actually is, but reports say it is very deep. That is not surprising as the Great Falls Dam towers 92 feet above the river bed below the dam, and the resulting lake fills the deep gorge. Fishing is a favorite activity at Great Falls Lake, with tournaments being held weekly from the sole marina on the lake. Anglers try their luck fishing for largemouth bass, spotted bass, crappie, black bass and muskie. There is a public boat launch located within the Rock Island State Park on the north side of the lake near the dam. Visitors can rent boats and water sports equipment at the marina which also offers a restaurant and acts as host for many of the community activities on the lake. Fishermen must have appropriate Tennessee fishing permits and obey all regulations.

Some of the most spectacular sights near Great Falls Lake are the Caney Fork Gorge below the dam and the waterfalls formed in the gorge. The Great Falls are a series of cascade waterfalls that spill into the Caney Fork. Twin Falls are a series of waterfalls pouring from the limestone bluff along a hundred-foot stretch. The falls are actually created by the rising water and increased water pressure from Great Falls Reservoir, forcing water through the limestone caverns in the rock and creating the waterfalls at the escape points. The falls are an unintended consequence of building the dam. Higher water results in heavier flow from the falls. In winter, the falls often freeze into an 80-foot-high cascade of ice. Water leaks constantly from the reservoir these natural channels drain.

Rock Island State Park encompasses 883 acres along both Great Falls Lake and the Caney Fork Gorge. Most visitor amenities are below the dam, including trails, look-out points, deep pools for fishing, whitewater for rafting and kayaking, and campgrounds. The Center Hill Dam, 60 miles below the Great Falls Dam, backs up water almost to the Great Falls Dam tail-waters. Campgrounds, a swimming beach, picnic areas, sports fields, pontoon boat tours, live animal programs and interpretive hikes all offer something for visitors to enjoy. Another state park serves visitors on Center Hill Lake: Edgar Evins State Park. Several additional recreation areas and small protected areas complete access to visitors. Unless the hydroelectric plant at Great Falls Dam is actively generating, water levels in the river are only a trickle. When water is released, whitewater is produced by the mass of rushing water, making this an ideal spot for adventurous kayaking.

Hiking the trails provided in Rock Island State Park draws photographers and nature lovers as they enjoy the views of the river and the gorge. Most trails are below the Great Falls Dam and either climb the limestone bluff above the falls or follow the rivers. Most are not considered difficult trails, although hikers should be prepared for some climbing and rough terrain. Unfortunately, few state park visitors are even aware of the beautiful lake above the dam, leaving Great Falls Lake quite private and deserted except for anglers and residents. A five-mile run is scheduled at the state park each year and draws many participants.

This area of middle Tennessee is noted for Civil War history and Bluegrass music. Nearby Sparta is known as the home of the Bluegrass movement and is the hometown of famed Lester Flatt. An annual Liberty Square Lester Flatt Celebration produces a fine one-day festival of bluegrass with well-known bluegrass musicians, craft show, food, vendor booths, classic car show, and a fireworks display. A few miles to the west, Mainstreet McMinnville features professionally-guided tours which include caving, river rafting, rappelling, canoeing and kayaking, hiking, backpacking and survival and rescue instruction. Self-guided historical tours lead to two Civil War Trails markers, part of a national system. The area is also rich in antique stores, bed-and-breakfasts and local craft artisens. Both towns provide restaurants and other services. Only a few miles away, Big Bone Cave is often open for tours. This cavern was used for saltpeter mining during both the War of 1812 and the Civil War. Artifacts are found here showing evidence of human visits far back into antiquity. Big Bone Cave is notable for the 1811 discovery of the fossil skeleton of a giant ground sloth, which gave the cave its name. The skeleton is preserved at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia.

Great Falls Dam is the only dam outside of the Tennessee River Watershed owned and operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority. Many attempts were made to dam the wild and unpredictable Caney Fork before the effort was successful. Many dams were washed away, and with them, mills and other structures. It wasn’t until 1916 that the Tennessee Electric Power Company finally succeeded in building a reliable dam. The dam and generating unit were later bought out by the TVA. A few remnants of these former attempts at taming Caney Fork still exist, including the old mill site below the dam in Rock Island State Park.

Visiting Rock Island State Park is easy. Finding lodgings at Great Falls Lake is a bit harder. A few private cottages and homes are sometimes available for rent, but there is no resort or tourism-geared hotel. Real estate is available, however, often with water frontage. A few building lots may exist. There are campsites available below the dam where cabins may also be rented. Hotels and motels can be found in both Sparta and McMinnville. A visit to Great Falls Lake is well worth a visit. Come see what Rock island has to offer.

*Great Falls Lake has the capacity for 30,000 acre-feet of flood storage but does not list the actual capacity of the reservoir under normal conditions.

Things to do at Great Falls Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Water Skiing
  • Tubing
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Picnicking
  • Cabin Rentals
  • Hiking
  • Waterfall
  • State Park
  • Antiquing

Fish species found at Great Falls Lake

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Crappie
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Muskellunge
  • Pike
  • Spotted Bass

Great Falls Lake Photo Gallery

  • SAMSUNG

Great Falls Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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