Dunbar Cave State Park is located 60 minutes northwest of Nashville and about one and a half miles northeast of downtown Clarksville in Montgomery County. Dunbar Cave, at over eight miles in length, is one of the largest caves in Montgomery County. In the roomy mouth of the cave, square dances, radio shows, and big band era concerts were once held.
The park is honeycombed by Dunbar Cave and numerous sinkholes. The cave has historical, natural, archaeological and geological significance. Excavations revealed that this cave has been occupied by man for thousands of years, drawn by its constant stream flow and natural air conditioning. These early inhabitants left drawings on the cave walls, perhaps as part of religious ceremonies.
Thomas Dunbar and his family settled the land containing the cave in 1784. Dunbar thought that he had title to the land, but due to incorrect paperwork he was never actually the legal owner. The first known owner, Robert Nelson, claimed the land in 1792. Mr. Dunbar and his family were ejected from the land (Dunbar immediately purchased the land next to the cave property and lived there until his death in 1826). The cave retained Dunbar’s name as he was the first settler to live there.
The entrance to Dunbar Cave is 58 degrees year-round which was a popular attraction during the summer months. After the Civil War, the first resort was built in the area surrounding Dunbar Cave. By the 1930s, the cave became a hotspot for local bands and other entertainment. In 1948, country music legend Roy Acuff bought the property and staged his Saturday Night Radio Dance Broadcast from the site. The cave’s popularity declined in the 1950s when indoor air-conditioning became common in households. In 1973, Governor Winfield Dunn purchased the property and designated it a state natural area.
The day-use park is a local favorite for walks along the peaceful trails and views of tranquil Swan Lake. Since it is only 15-acres in size, boating and swimming are not permitted. The lake is fed by the cold, clear stream that flows from the mouth of Dunbar Cave. A variety of interpretive programs are available year-round. There are no cave tours at this time due to extremely muddy and slippery conditions in the cave. All park trails, with varying degrees of difficulty, begin and end at the visitor center.