The park and forest were developed in the 1930s as part of New Deal-era initiatives to relocate impoverished farmers and restore forests to degraded and heavily eroded lands. The park was named after the Standing Stone, a mysterious rock believed to be of Native American origin or importance that once stood along the old Walton Road at what is now Monterey. The park offers canoeing, camping, lodging, hiking and many other activities.
Standing Stone State Park is situated atop the eastern section of the Highland Rim, a plateau-like upland that surrounds the Nashville Basin. The park is located roughly halfway between the rim's edge along the basin to the west and the higher Cumberland Plateau to the east. The Dale Hollow Lake impoundment of the Obey River dominates the area just a few miles to the north.
Mill Creek, the park's major stream, flows down from its source on Reynolds Mountain (near Allons) to the east and winds its way westward through the hills of northern Overton County before emptying into the Cumberland River. At Standing Stone State Park, the steep ridge upon which the park's main facilities are located briefly pushes the westward-flowing Mill Creek southward through a horseshoe bend. At this bend, two of Mill Creek's tributaries, Morgan Creek and Bryans Fork, join Mill Creek at the southeast and southwest, respectively, to form a natural X-shaped body of water. Standing Stone Dam impounds the creek immediately downstream from the bend, forming the X-shaped Standing Stone Lake. Ridges and high hills rise above the lake on all sides, namely Cooper Mountain to the east and Goodpasture Mountain to the southwest.
Tennessee State Route 136, which runs north-to-south, traverses Standing Stone State Park. The road intersects the east-west Tennessee State Route 85 at the community of Hilham just south of the park and intersects the east-west Tennessee State Route 52 just north of the park. Beyond Hilham, TN-136 continues southward to Cookeville, where it intersects Interstate 40. The town of Livingston, where TN-52 and TN-85 intersect, is just southeast of the park.
Standing Stone State Park is surrounded by Standing Stone State Forest, which is managed by the Tennessee Division of Forestry. Unlike the state park, the state forest does not have recreational facilities, although public access is permitted. The boundary between the state forest and state park is clearly marked with signs, blazes, or ribbons.
When the United States Department of Agriculture acquired the land for Standing Stone State Forest in the 1930s, the forest had been damaged and depleted by forest fires, logging, and poor farming practices such as row cropping. Standing Stone was designated a state forest in 1961, six years after the U.S. government officially deeded the land to the State of Tennessee. The forest consists of 89% upland hardwoods, 6.8% pine, and 4% mixed hardwood and pine. 34% of the trees in the forest are over 80 years old, 48% are between 50 and 80 years old, and 18% are less than 50 years old.
Long hunters, who were among the first Euro-Americans to explore the Middle Tennessee region, were active in the Standing Stone area as early as the 1760s. These hunters were drawn to the region by the Cumberland River, the headwaters of which they followed westward from Virginia. Daniel Boone and Richard Callaway are believed to have camped at the mouth of Mill Creek around 1763. A few years later, a long hunting expedition led by Kasper Mansker camped in the Oak Hill area, near modern Livingston. While at Oak Hill, a member of Mansker's expedition named Robert Crockett was ambushed and killed by hostile Cherokees.
The park's namesake was a mysterious stone which according to the region's earliest pioneers was revered by Native Americans. William Walton discovered the stone at what is now Monterey (appx. southeast of the park) in the late 1780s while building the Walton Road. The stone originally stood around tall and was shaped like a dog sitting on its hind legs. The purpose of the stone, if any, remains unknown. Some accounts claim that the stone marked the boundary between the territories of the Cherokee and Shawnee, or other Native American tribes. Others say it was a guidepost used by Cherokee hunting parties. Whatever its original purpose, the stone was a well-known landmark for migrants travelling between East and Middle Tennessee in the early 1800s. A community known as "Standing Stone" (later renamed Monterey) developed along the Walton Road in the stone's vicinity. The Standing Stone was dynamited in 1893 to make way for railroad construction. Shortly after it was destroyed, a local society known as the Improved Order of the Redmen retrieved and preserved several pieces of the stone. In 1895, the order placed one of these pieces (which they had engraved) atop a monument at Monterey City Park, where it remains today.
Standing Stone State Park was one of a series of New Deal-era projects of the Works Project Administration and the Resettlement Administration aimed at relocating impoverished farmers living on badly eroded lands and restoring the forests to these lands. Work began in 1935 with a three-fold purpose— relocating farmers in the Mill Creek area, restoring the forest and controlling erosion, and creating recreational opportunities for area residents. The work was carried out by the Resettlement Administration, the WPA, and the Civilian Conservation Corps under the general supervision of the United States Forest Service. The land was leased to the Tennessee Division of State Parks in 1939.
During World War II, development was largely halted and many of the park's facilities fell into disrepair. After the war, the cabins were renovated, the lake was drained and restocked with fish, and a major leak in the dam was repaired. The United States Department of Agriculture officially deeded the land to the State of Tennessee in 1955.
Recreational facilities at Standing Stone State Park include a 36-site campground, 21 cabins ranging from rustic to modern, four group lodges, an Olympic-size pool, multiple picnic areas, and an amphiteatre. Most of these facilities (along with the visitor center) are located atop the steep ridge on the north shore of the lake. The lone exception is Overton Lodge, one of the four group lodges, which is located along the lake's east shore.
Over of hiking trails are maintained in the park and forest. The most popular trail is the Lake Trail, which descends from the visitor center to Standing Stone Dam and parallels most of the north shore of the lake before reascending to the cabin area. The most substantial trail is the Cooper Mountain Loop Trail, which circles through several miles of the state forest on the slopes of Cooper Mountain before reentering the state park near Overton Lodge.
The National Rolley Hole Marbles Championship is held every September at Standing Stone State Park. Rolley hole is a type of marbles game popular with marble enthusiasts in the Tennessee-Kentucky region. Other annual events include the Spring Naturalist Rally in April and the Standing Stone Car Show in October.