Dunbar Cave State Park in Clarksville, TN is ideal for nature and history lovers. Learn the ties the cave holds to country music and prehistoric people.
Dunbar Cave State Park in Clarksville, Tennessee is a 144-acre park that offers free admission to the public and is accessible 365 days a year from sunrise to sunset. The park features a walking/jogging path, two short hiking trails and as the name suggests, cave tours which are available from May until Labor Day.
I found Dunbar Cave State Park when I was researching a trip and looking for things to do in Clarksville, TN. The photos and the history interested me, and I knew it would be someplace that both my husband and I would enjoy visiting during our quick trip to the area.
After many years of marriage and even more years traveling together, I’ve learned to balance plenty of outdoor time with museums and cultural attractions if I want to keep the peace when we’re on the road. And since we often travel in our camper van, making sure we’re both happy is more important than ever.
With that in mind, Dunbar Cave State Park may have been the attraction I anticipated most during a recent visit to Clarksville. That’s because the park is unique for several reasons:
- Dunbar Cave State Park is the only state park in Tennessee that offers cave tours.
- At one time, Dunbar Cave was owned by Roy Acuff, an American Country Music singer and promoter who held square dances and Grand Ole Opry style shows on the dance floor.
- Dunbar Cave State Park is the only place in the country where the public can view pictographs and petroglyphs inside the cave.
Plan Your Visit to Dunbar Cave
Start your visit to Dunbar Cave in the Visitor Center. You’ll find maps, a small gift shop, restrooms, and exhibits detailing Dunbar Cave history from prehistoric times, to the Civil War to recent times when the cave drawings were discovered.
After you’ve had time to look around and learn a bit, I suggest that you walk out the door and take the walking/jogging trail towards the cave which is visible from the Visitor Center. The paved accessible walkway leading to the cave is wonderful for those who may use a walker or wheelchair as well as those pushing a stroller.
The walkway runs along Swan Lake, a man-made lake that is fed by the spring that runs out of the cave and is home to geese, ducks, and other waterfowl. The water level in the lake was pretty low during our visit but we still saw several geese swimming along.
A paved ramp leads up to the mouth of the cave and continues on up a hill to circle back to the parking lot, though the pavement ends at the top of the hill.
How did the Cave get its Name?
Artifacts and the cave drawings demonstrate that the cave was used by prehistoric people and Native Americans long before it was claimed by Thomas Dunbar in 1784. Thomas paid for the land, but failed to receive a deed, an error that was discovered by a land surveyor who claimed the property as his own and the land went to Robert Nelson though the name Dunbar Cave remained.
You can learn more about Dunbar Cave history here which is really quite fascinating. Around the Big Band WWI era, Dunbar was a popular spot for bands to perform while crowds gathered to enjoy the cool air that could be felt emanating out of the cave.
It was after WWII when Dunbar Cave was purchased by Roy Acuff who hosted square dances and Grand Ole Opry Shows but by then, the popularity of the cave began to slack off.
Today, visitors can read the educational plaques that are on display, as they stand on the dance floor, view the former concession stand, and gaze out over the lake.
If you’re able, climb the concrete steps to the top of the concession stand roof to look out over the property.
Trails at Dunbar Cave
In addition to the walking path, you’ll find two trails at Dunbar Cave; the Short Loop Trail which is an easy 1.1-mile loop trail and the Recovery Trail which is 1.9 miles long.
You’ll find a wooded picnic area with porta pots adjacent to the parking lot near the Visitor Center.
What We Thought of Dunbar Cave State Park
A visit to this park combined our love of history and nature. The park was clean, well-kept, and the ranger on duty was friendly and helpful. It definitely gets a thumbs up from both of us.
If you’re looking for scenic places in Clarksville, TN, I recommend you spend an hour to an hour-and-a-half at Dunbar Cave State Park, longer if you are visiting during the in-season and plan to take a tour of the cave as the cave tour will take over an hour to tour.
Dunbar Cave State Park is about 50 minutes southeast of the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area in Kentucky and about 50 minutes northwest of Nashville. Combine a trip to the cave with other state parks near Clarksville, TN and make a weekend out of enjoying the great outdoors or head in town to explore.
Address: 401 Old Dunbar Cave Road Clarksville, TN
Phone Number: 931-648-5526
Admission: Free to visit, Fee for tours. See the website for current pricing.
Where to Stay when Visiting Dunbar Cave State Park
My husband and I were van camping during part of this trip at the Clarksville RV Park & Campground and spent another night at the Riverview Inn (50 College Street) in the historic downtown district. If you plan to explore in town, I’d highly suggest staying at the Riverview Inn where you can park your car and head out on foot to explore.
You’ll also find the Cumberland RiverWalk easily accessible from the hotel with access to the Pedestrian Overpass right outside the back of the hotel. Don’t forget your camera, you’ll want to take a few photos of the sunset.
Have you visited Dunbar Cave State Park? Is this attraction on your list of places to see in Tennessee?
Thank you to Visit Clarksville, TN for inviting my husband and me to explore the area so we could share it with our readers.
© 2020, Tonya Prater. All rights reserved.