(Last Updated On: December 2, 2022)

Gates of the Dunbar Cave State Park under the sunlight in Clarksville, Tennessee

If you have never gone cave exploration before, Dunbar Cave is a good place to start. It is the 280th largest cave complex in the world. The cave is infamous for its excellent air conditioning due to the good flow of air leaving it cool. Whether you want to try something new outdoors or are already a big fan of cave exploration, Dunbar Cave State Park is an ideal destination.

The site has an above-ground cave that has been well-explored and surrounded by an upland hardwood forest. The stream above the cave has been impounded to form a swan lake at the entrance of the cave. The lake is inhabited by a variety of fish, turtles, and much other wildlife.

The 110-acre state Tennessee state park is a protected area in Clarksville, Tennessee. The Dunbar Cave stretches 8.067 miles inward, making it one of the largest cave complexes in the world. The cave is located in an area with karst topography which includes sinkholes, springs, sinking streams, and limestone bedrock.

Park History

Humans have been interested in Dunbar cave since prehistoric times. This cave has been used for thousands of years by communities living around the area. The most significant part of its history is the prehistoric Mississippian Native American cave art that dates back to the 14th century.

Studies have confirmed that the Mississippian people considered the cave a sacred site since the symbols have been confirmed to hold sacred value by indigenous people in the Southern US. They believed the cave was an actual portal to the Underworld or a universe that existed below. They left many drawings on the walls of the cave either caved into the limestone or drawn with charcoal. There has also been a projectile that was found in the cave that dates as many as 10,000 years back to the Paleo-Indian culture.

The cave exploration is very popular and tickets sell out every time. This has a lot to do with the fact the air circulation inside the cave is really good. The cave also has a lot to explore. There are rare animals such as the federally endangered gray bat, a blind cave crayfish, and the southern cavefish. There are also crickets, and cave salamanders among other animals. There are also fungi and bacteria living in the twilight zone of the cave.

Aside from cave tours, the park also has several hiking trails you can explore. The trails in this park range from easy to moderate and strenuous. This park will give you more than enough work out to make up for the time you spent indoors. There are also many other outdoor activities in this park such as birding and watching butterflies. There’s also a lot to discover in this park such as dragonflies, wildflowers, and trees and shrubs.

people walking on the bridge over the lake at Dunbar Cave State Park

Activities

The most popular activity in the Dunbar Cave State Park is cave tours. Visitors explore the Dunbar cave following mapped-out paths and discovering new ones. The cave has been known to hold some nice surprises. There’s also a lot to discover in this park so arm yourself with a checklist for dragonflies, butterflies, birds, and wildflowers among others. Dunbar Cave State Park has several unique species of animals and plants that aren’t found anywhere else.

Outdoor Experiences

The park offers a range of diverse and beautiful nature for exploration and discovery. The Lake Trail is an excellent route for birding during spring and fall. The trail runs along the edge of Swan Lake into the hilly mixed deciduous woods. There are plenty of waterfowl and songbirds to be spotted here. In the winter, visitors can also watch waterfowl during migration.

The cave entrance is also a great location for birding due to the cool cave air and checking out nesting eastern phoebe.

The park has several checklists you can use in your discoveries for:

  • Birds
  • Trees and shrubs
  • Wildflowers
  • Dragonfly
  • Butterflies

Dunbar Cave Tours

The cave’s history dating back to the 14th century presents an intriguing opportunity for history lovers. The cave attracted human occupation due to the constant stream flow and shelter at the mouth of the cave. The cave has Mississippian Native American iconography that dates back to 1350 AD. The cave was a sacred place to the native American people of the area due to the religious symbols found on the walls.

You will need a ticket to enter the cave. Tours of the cave are provided seasonally beginning in May. It’s recommended to make a reservation online since the tours sell out pretty fast.

Entrance to the cave at Dunbar Cave State Park

Hiking

There are three trails in the park ranging between easy to moderate.

  • Lake Trail – This is 0.7 miles of paved surface. The trail is classified as easy and takes about 7 minutes. The trail is popular for walking so you can enjoy some solitude during the day. Dogs are allowed but should be leashed. The path is mostly shaded and follows the wooded forest. It gives you different viewpoints of the lake along the way.
  • Short Loop Trail: This 1.1-mile long trail is mainly made of natural surface. It is a moderate trail that’s popular for both hiking and walking. It is a beautiful route and you can bring your dog but they must be leashed.
  • Recovery Trail: This 1.9 miles trail is a natural surface route that is classified as moderate. This trail is popular for fishing, birding, and hiking. This route runs through a forested area by the lake. You might also see wildlife such as turkeys, deer, squirrels, turtles, and muskrats.

Educational Programs

If you were looking for a fun outdoor activity for your students, look no further. Dunbar Cave State Park will provide your students with the opportunity to learn with a park ranger. The program has been designed to be accessible and experiential in order to engage and educate your students. You can pick a program from the varied list or design your own with the help of a ranger.

Here are the types of programs at Dunbar Cave State Park:

  • Field trips to the park
  • Ranger classroom or school yard visits
  • Custom programs

Dunbar Cave offers programs that cover topics such as:

  • Indigenous History
  • State and Local History
  • Caves and Geology
  • Prairie restoration and ecology
  • Preservation and Conservation

Park Location

Dunbar Cave State Park
401 Old Dunbar Cave Road
Clarksville, TN 37043
Phone: 931.648.5526

Website

Map

Video

Here is a short YouTube video showcasing several attractions at Dunbar Cave State Park: