Fun things to do in Clarksville Tennessee include seeing prehistoric cave art, enjoying amazing local food, visiting historic attractions, and much more.
The world’s fastest woman, a country music pioneer and legend, the greatest woman coach of all time, and an iconic TV star all called Clarksville home.
Clarksville Tennessee has the youngest county demographic in Tennessee, as a result of it being a college town and also the closest city to a major military base. It is also the only incorporated area in Montgomery County and is surrounded by farms and wonderful natural areas.
Where is Clarksville Tennessee?
Clarksville, TN is located in north-central Tennessee, on the border with Kentucky, about 50 miles from Nashville. Fort Campbell (in Kentucky)—home of the U.S. Army 101st Airborne—is only four miles from Clarksville.
The military, along with the local university (Austin Peay), are major influences of Clarksville, Tennessee businesses, culture, and events.
Historic downtown Clarksville is located about eight miles from the I-24 highway. Clarksville is about a one-hour drive northwest from Nashville Airport (BNA) along I-24.
8 Great Clarksville Tennessee Facts
- Clarksville, Tennessee is home to Austin Peay State University. Along with Fort Campbell (on which they have a satellite campus), APSU strongly influences the Clarksville arts, culture, and business scene.
- F&M Arena opened in June 2023 and is spearheading a downtown Clarksville rejuvenation.
- Wilma Rudolph (fastest woman alive) and Pat (Head) Summit (iconic University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach) were raised in Clarksville.
- Frank Sutton, who played Sgt. Carter on Gomer Pyle, was from and is buried in Clarksville.
- Jimi Hendrix played a lot in Clarksville when he served with the 101st Airborne at Fort Campbell. A great stop to add to your music lover’s road trip.
- a Cumberland River section in Clarksville was named best catfish fishing spot in the world by Field & Stream.
- the first bank in Tennessee opened in Clarksville in April 1854.
- The song “Last Train to Clarksville” by The Monkees is NOT about Clarksville, Tennessee. In an interview, one of the songwriters said he was inspired by Clarksdale (Arizona) but thought Clarksville sounded better. Also see the “Last Train to Clarksville” mural revealed in November 2023.
8 Great Things to Do in Clarksville Tennessee
Enjoy our summary of cool, happy, and fun things to do in Clarksville, Tennessee. By no means does this represent a comprehensive list of the best or everything to do there but are the things we enjoyed and think you will also.
Thank you to Visit Clarksville for hosting McCool Travel. Visit them for more detailed information about these and other things to do in Clarksville Tennessee.
1. Dunbar Cave State Park
Cave art was discovered inside Dunbar Cave in 2005 and here is the only place in the world to publicly view dark zone prehistoric cave art.
Seeing the prehistoric cave art in Dunbar Cave topped my wish list of things to do in Clarksville and was indeed one of my favorite Clarksville experiences.
Indigenous people lived in this area for centuries and it remains a sacred spot for eastern Cherokee people today. Please be mindful of that paradigm when visiting. For instance, photography of the cave art or anywhere inside the cave is prohibited.
Dunbar Cave State Park celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2023. Prior to that, Dunbar Cave became a resort area in the 18th century.
Mineral wells are located across the street and a lake was created for recreation. Dunbar Cave was popular for music and dancing up to 1950s. Country music legend Roy Acuff later owned Dunbar Cave for 15 years and sold it in 1963.
A trench under the cement floor in 1970s showed undisturbed soil layers dating back to Paleolithic era. This represents one of only three such areas in the eastern US; Russell Cave NM in northeastern Alabama is another.
Visitors can explore the grounds, hiking trails, and up to the cave entrance on their own. But a ranger guide is required to visit inside the cave and see the prehistoric cave art.
2. Fort Defiance
In 1860, Clarksville Tennessee was one of the wealthiest towns in the world. Black Patch tobacco was king and Clarksville was the largest tobacco export city in the US.
At the onset of the Civil War, Fort Defiance was hastily built on a bluff overlooking the confluence of the Cumberland and Red rivers. The earthen fort was built in six days as boats were coming up river. By comparison, stone forts like Fort Sumter took years to build.
Many such Civil War forts were quickly built to protect major waterways, as they served as the highways of the time. Nashville is 40 miles away and there were no defenses beyond Clarksville.
In 1862 the soldiers in the fort surrendered and the city of Clarksville soon also surrendered. The city of Nashville was captured soon after. The CSA later recaptured Clarksville but then the Union recaptured it.
The fort area was abandoned until the 1950s when a judge bought it. It was donated to the city in the early 1980s. Three Austin Peay professors cleaned the area and discovered a pristine and preserved fort under tons of garbage.
The fort was originally named Fort Sevier, after Valentine Sevier, brother of Tennessee’s first governor John Sevier. Nearby Sevier Station is the oldest building in Montgomery County and dates to 1790.
Valentine acquired this land—640 acres—from the original land grant owner (from the Revolutionary War). He was 43 at the time. This area was North Carolina at the time until Tennessee became a state in 1796.
Valentine Sevier died in 1800 and was the first burial in Clarksville’s city cemetery.
A likely theory is that Fort Sevier was mistakingly called Fort Defiance by a newspaper reporter. That reporter confused it with Fort Defiance in Illinois, which is also at the confluence of two rivers.
Visitors can explore the Fort Defiance grounds on their own but the recommended guided tour offers additional insights and history.
3. Customs House Museum
The Customs House in downtown Clarksville is one of most photographed buildings in Tennessee. The eclectic building originally opened in 1898 and served as a Federal Post Office.
Clarksville’s Customs House Museum and Cultural Center is now the largest general museum in the state. Some highlights include:
- Becoming Clarksville permanent exhibit
- Boehm porcelain collection. Over 125 pieces.
- very popular model railroad room, especially during holidays
- 1925 fire engine
- bubble cave and children’s area
- exhibits for local sports heroes, including Wilma Rudolph and Pat Head Summit
- 1843 log cabin house
McCool Travel note: The Customs House hosts the amazing American Watercolor Society 156th Traveling Exhibition through January 2, 2024.
4. Austin Peay University
I love destinations with a college or university in town and Clarksville is one such place. The students, alumni, fans, professors, and staff create a more diverse and vibrant community.
Even if you are not a student, you will benefit from the presence of a college. While visiting Clarksville, take a stroll around Austin Peay University and enjoy the APSU Native Meadow and the APSU Greenway Trail—which connects to the Clarksville Riverwalk.
You may hear “Let’s Go Peay” but remember it is a rallying cheer for the university teams and not an invite.
5. Public Art
Three local Clarksville famous residents are honored with statues.
In Liberty Park, see statues of Wilma Rudolph (outside the Wilma Rudolph Events Center) and Pat Head Summit (overlooking the Cumberland River at Freedom Point). Find the Frank Sutton (Sgt. Carter) statue in downtown Clarksville at 109 Franklin Street.
See my photos of the Clarksville statues.
Look for mockingbird sculptures around downtown Clarksville. An Austin Peay professor crafted 50 mockingbirds (Tennessee’s state bird) and they appear in front of the courthouse and dozens of other spots.
See more murals and other public art displays included on the Clarksville Public Art Trail. I particularly loved the two-story mural with downtown Clarksville situated in van Gogh’s The Starry Night (pictured above).
6. Miss Lucille’s Marketplace
Visit hundreds of local crafts and goods vendors in one spot. Miss Lucille’s is the best place in Clarksville Tennessee for a rainy day—or any day for many people.
Over 52,000 square feet (more than an acre!) of vendor space offers vintage, repurposed, antique, eclectic, hard-to-find, custom, handmade, handcrafted, unique, and sometimes bizarre items to entertain and fulfill your gift or personal wish list.
An onsite coffee shop and cafe will fuel your stay should you need more energy!
7. Rotary Park
Rotary Park’s 111 acres features a frisbee golf course, amphitheater with fire pit, sensory trail, playground areas, picnic pavilions, and much more. The Wade Bourne Nature Center offers nature discovery programs for all ages.
The Hummingbird Festival here in August is a popular event. Cyndi Rutledge from Clarksville’s Southeastern Aviary Research has tagged over 17,000 hummingbirds.
Enjoy six miles of mountain biking (including a pump track) and hiking trails throughout the park.
For more walking and biking trails, try Clarksville Greenway, Cumberland RiverWalk, McGregor Park, Liberty Park, and Dunbar Cave State Park.
8. Historic Collinsville
Historic Collinsville depicts a pioneer settlement as it may have looked in the 1800s. Many of the 17 buildings were built before 1850 and feature furnishings from 1860-1900. The oldest building is the smokehouse built in 1803.
Start your visit in the visitor center (built in the 1830s) and enjoy a guided tour or pick up a property map.
Or time your Clarksville visit with an event at Historic Collinsville. An 1860’s Tennessee Christmas is a reservation-only event which includes traditionally made egg nog, fruitcake, cookies, and hot cider on the fire.
The Collinsville settlement actually existed with a dedicated post office for only eight years (1872-1880). The name was confused with with Colliersville so they changed it to Southside.
Places to Eat in Clarksville
I was very impressed with the variety and quality at Clarksville restaurants. But I was even more impressed with some of the restaurant owner stories.
Below I highlight three places I absolutely adore and then list more Clarksville restaurants, eateries, and drinkeries that I enjoyed.
Yada on Franklin
Yada opened as a coffee bar in 2016 and opened the current restaurant in late 2019, just before the pandemic. But Yada survived and now they thrive.
Darla Knight is the dynamo behind Yada on Franklin. She grew up in New York City, then lived in Sonoma County California, and remained in Clarksville after serving in the Army at Fort Campbell. Being from Sonoma, she says gave her the appreciation for fresh and good food.
Everything possible at Yada is lovingly made from scratch. Pasta is made in house with flour from Italy. They use almonds in pesto because pine nuts have chemicals. They use fresh shucked green beans and Brussels sprouts instead of canned.
They have the only wood-burning pizza oven in Clarksville (and one of three in TN) and the pizza is phenomenal (order one!).
Oh, and Yada is the only Cicchetti bar in Tennessee (think Venetian tapas).
Legends Smokehouse & Grill
Another local dynamo is Kevin Smith, the owner and chef at Legends Smokehouse & Grill. Also a veteran from Fort Campbell, Kevin experimented (for years) creating BBQ sauces and then perfecting meat preparations.
He said family, friends, and neighbors ate for free for a long time before he started selling.
Visit either of his two locations to try 14 BBQ sauces (including a blueberry BBQ sauce), traditional and impeccable BBQ dishes, and some big surprises. I hear—after my visit, darn it—that he has a secret menu, so I will explore that next time.
I absolutely loved the breakfast tacos (one brisket and one pork) and dessert sampler. What? BBQ for breakfast? Try it, you will love it.
Visit Cafe 931 for healthy blended juices, acai bowls, freshly prepared food, and Southern California style dishes. Healthy juice blends are named after owners and employees, reflecting their personalities (very fun!).
Located inside Clarksville Pool and Leisure, Cafe 931 started as a concept to provide quick and healthy handheld items for the on-the-go sales team and staff.
Claudia Oaks, one of the co-owners of Cafe 931, is another veteran from Fort Campbell. Because she is from Southern California, I decided to try their breakfast taco platter (P.S., I loved it!).
The Catfish House
One of the oldest businesses in Clarksville, The Catfish House is the place to go for old school vibes and food. I love their tagline of “5 Miles From Town, 100 Miles From Everything.” Grilled and blackened catfish is amazing and the fried catfish is fantastic.
Wild Flour Bake Shop
This small batch, all scratch joint is another excellent breakfast spot. But Wild Flour Bake Shop is also perfect for lunch. This pimento BLT is a solid choice for either. Sandwiches (and items like their French toast) are made with their tasty fresh bread.
Strawberry Alley Ale Works
A Clarksville local said Strawberry Alley Ale Works served amazing shrimp and grits so that was on my gotta try list. I was not disappointed. Pairing it with the current craft beer made for a fantastic dinner experience.
Blackhorse Pub & Brewery
Another Fort Campbell connection, the Blackhorse Pub & Brewery owner served in Desert Storm. For over 20 years Blackhorse has been Clarksville’s spot for local craft beer and great pub food. I gotta tell you, I remain impressed with the giant piece of salmon I had here, added to a house salad.
Especially on Friday and Saturday, The Mailroom is one of the most popular Clarksville restaurants. Offering a variety of cuisine from classic American food to Southern favorites to Korean dishes, The Mailroom is great for everyone. If the weather is pleasant, wait for a table on the back patio.
Dock 17 (at The City Forum)
Enjoy an hour of games in The City Forum (I may still have the Space Invaders high score!) and head to Dock 17 for lunch, dinner, or a drink. Enjoy live music every night while sampling sensational cocktails and items from their killer food menu. I enjoyed the blackened shrimp skewers and friend green tomatoes but others raved about the burgers.
The Mad Herbalist
This was such a fun experience and The Mad Herbalist might be the first spot I return to in Clarksville. Enjoy boutique crafted teas (hot or cold), small bites, and more in a historic cabin house. I sampled a few different teas infused into local craft beer and want to go back and try more!
Patrons can also create customized and personalized bath products from The Mad Herbalist collection of dozens of scented oils.
For a magically unique and Instagrammable experience, head to Pinky’s Up in downtown Clarksville for afternoon tea, brunch, or even just a fun craft cocktail. Choose from dozens of floral, sweet, or refreshing teas along with dozens of sweet treats and prepared foods (like chicken and waffles or avocado toast).
But the highlight of Pinky’s Up is probably all the selfie or group photo opportunities. See my Pinky’s Up photos.
Old Glory Distilling
Opened by a former fireman from a longtime Clarksville family, Old Glory Distilling produces superb small batch, barrel blended Tennessee whiskey and other spirits. I loved the single barrel (128.6 proof).
An on-site restaurant will open Spring 2024, along with a 40-foot silo bar, and more property enhancements. Old Glory is a Harvest Host spot (for my RV friends) and they also own Mailroom and Strawberry Alley Ale Works.
See several of my Clarksville food photos.
Places to Stay in Clarksville
At the moment, Clarksville hotels are clustered at the two interstate highway exits (exit 4 and 11). DoubleTree will open June 2024 downtown. There are several downtown Clarksville vacation rentals.
On my recent trip to Clarksville, I stayed at the Holiday Inn-Clarksville Northeast (at exit 4) and loved their indoor pool, outside lounge areas, and fresh cookies (every afternoon).
Hope you enjoyed our 8 Great Things to Do in Clarksville Tennessee.