Read Now, Travel Later
COVID-19 has changed the world. The tourism industry has been one of the hardest hit areas of the global pandemic. Local restaurants, museums, state and national parks have all changed hours of operation, procedures, and some have gone out of business altogether.
Please verify current operations of any places you want to visit mentioned in these articles, and contact me if a business has permanently closed so I can update the article. Thank you and stay safe out there!
If you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of Nashville there are some great things to do in Clarksville, TN. This small town on the border between Tennessee and Kentucky is ideally located along the Cumberland River with a quaint downtown, fantastic local food, and intriguing museums. It’s the perfect place to get away from Nashville for a day trip.
Don’t let the six lane highway surrounded by a menagerie of corporate America scare you away from Clarksville. It’s a lot like taking that cold medicine when you were a kid: just pinch your nose and get through it as fast as you can because on the other side is something really wonderful. That “other side” is downtown Clarksville.
I’ve traveled through Clarksville twice now and during my last journey in October I spent a few nights courtesy of Visit Clarksville. Here are some things to do in Clarksville, TN.
- 1. Admire Architecture and Public Art
- 2. Fort Defiance Civil War Park & Interpretive Center
- 3. Dunbar Cave State Park
- 4. McGregor Park
- 5. Clarksville Greenway
- 6. Liberty Park on the Cumberland River
- 7. Historic Collinsville
- 8. The Customs House Museum
- 9. Roxy Regional Theater
- 10. Get a Drink
- Beachaven Vineyards and Winery
- Old Glory Distilling Co.
- The Star Spangled Brewing Company
- Tennessee Valley Brewing Co.
- 11. Devour Local Food
- Strawberry Alley Ale Works
- Blackhorse Pub & Brewery
- Roux Americajun
- Johnny’s Big Burger
- Liberty Park Grill
- The Looking Glass Restaurant & Bakery
- 12. Plumb Line Coffee
- Where to Stay
1. Admire Architecture and Public Art
Clarksville is just teeming with beautiful architecture and public art. If you stop by the visitor center (which is always the first stop I recommend when visiting a new destination) be sure to pick up a copy of their “Points of Interest Map”.
The Montgomery County Courthouse sits on a little hill in the downtown area and is decked with beautiful details. An eagle at the highest peak, a statue depicting the scales of justice on one side, and lots of public art surrounding the building.
Head down Strawberry Alley to find a towering water fountain depicting a summer of children at play. Be sure to look up high enough to see the little boy with a magnifying glass. Wonder if he was looking for the buried treasure?
Beautiful churches, gorgeous buildings, and plenty of statues around every corner could keep you busy all day in Clarksville!
2. Fort Defiance Civil War Park & Interpretive Center
Located just outside town on a hill above the Cumberland River, the Fort Defiance visitor center offers a breathtaking panorama view of downtown Clarksville.
The visitor center includes a small gift shop with books on local history, a theater with a 15-minute film about the history of Clarksville during the Civil War, an exhibit space, and restrooms. A few short trails wind around the property through an old earthen fort.
120 Duncan Street, Clarksville, TN | 931-472-3351 | http://www.cityofclarksville.com/index.aspx?page=161
3. Dunbar Cave State Park
Dunbar Cave State Park is a 144-acre park with a fascinating history and beautiful area to explore. Throughout the 1950s it was the location of the weekly Saturday Night Radio Dance Broadcast.
Today the cave is open for guided tours during the summer months, activities and events keep the place buzzing throughout the year, and the 15-acre lake is teeming with wildlife and fed by water from the cave itself. If you’re luck you might find a log full of turtles like I did. Or almost get hit in the face by a bird just like I did.
401 Old Dunbar Cave Road, Clarksville, TN | 931-648-5526 | https://tnstateparks.com/parks/dunbar-cave
4. McGregor Park
Located on the bank of the Cumberland River, McGregor Park is a great place to spend time with the kiddos or go for a hike on the 1-mile Cumberland Riverwalk. For an easier and quicker way to see the waterfront rent a bicycle from the automated kiosk near the playground and restrooms.
640 N. Riverside Drive, Clarksville, TN | http://www.cityofclarksville.com/index.aspx?page=125
5. Clarksville Greenway
The one thing I wish I had done but completely forgot about was go for a hike on the Clarksville Greenway. The 9-mile hiking and biking path is part of the national Rails-to-Trails program that converts old railroad beds into pedestrian paths.
If the distance is a little daunting you might want to rent a bicycle from the Clarksville BCycle location at the Pollard Road Trailhead.
6. Liberty Park on the Cumberland River
If you’re still eager to get outside try heading over to Liberty Park. The park includes a fishing pond, 1.8-mile hiking trail, playground, and the Clarksville Marina.
The 10-acre pond is open to fishing year-round. A paved path wraps around the pond. Another paved trail wraps around the marina with views of the Cumberland River. Restrooms are available near the boat ramps.
7. Historic Collinsville
About twenty minutes outside Clarksville, Historic Collinsville is a 40-acre recreation of a mid-19th century settlement. Visiting the historic area really was like stepping back in time. I leisurely walked around the grassy fields between over a dozen restored log buildings ranging from outbuildings to two-story homes.
Try to visit Collinsville during a special event weekend to see the place really come to life with activities and reenactors. They were just wrapping up when I got there, but I had just enough time to enjoy a guided tour of one of the dogtrot homes. The old home was filled with historic relics from previous owners and littered with amazing history.
4711 Weakley road, Southside, TN | 931-245-4344 | https://historiccollinsville.com/
8. The Customs House Museum
One of the coolest museums I’ve ever explored was The Customs House Museum in downtown Clarksville. It’s an art museum, exhibit space, historical restoration, work of art, and local history center all rolled into one magnificent building.
Be prepared to spend some time here. They have an activity lab for children, a giant train set in the basement, and rotating art exhibits. I spent a couple of hours but wanted to spend so much more time, especially after finding some really stunning paintings from local artisans on display.
200 South Second Street, Clarksville, TN | 931-648-5780 | http://customshousemuseum.org/
9. Roxy Regional Theater
Known locally as The Roxy, when it opened in 1947 a new exterior lighting feature called neon wowed the locals. Within the walls of this historic building people have enjoyed silent films, first-run movies, and theatrical performances. Today visitors can enjoy live performances of classic tales and the occasional movie in their film series.
100 Franklin Street, Clarksville, TN | 931-645-7699 | http://roxyregionaltheatre.org
10. Get a Drink
You won’t have to go far to get a good local drink in Clarksville. In fact several of these options are within a short drive of each other near the interstate. Here are a few places to enjoy local craft spirits in Clarksville.
Beachaven Vineyards and Winery
This locally-owned vineyard and winery has been crushing the grapes for over 30 years. Visitors to the friendly spot can begin with a complimentary guided tour of their production facility and walk through the vineyard. Once the tour is finished you can continue the experience with samples of their wine at the tasting bar for $5.
Check out their events page for Jazz on the Lawn or one of the other special events they host throughout the year.
1100 Dunlop Lane, Clarksville, TN | 931-645-8867 | https://www.beachavenwinery.com
Old Glory Distilling Co.
Just down the road from the vineyard is the locally owned Old Glory Distillery. This was the first place I ever discovered locally-made vodka. For $7 per adult you can take a tour of the production facility and learn how they craft that amazing vodka. Once the tour is finished you can browse through their gift shop, try samples of their products, or enjoy some interesting cocktails.
451 Alfred Thun Road, Clarksville, TN | 931-919-2522 | https://oldglorydistilling.com
The Star Spangled Brewing Company
The owner of this brewery is not just local but also a veteran. It’s a family-friendly establishment where people hang out with their kids in tow listening to live music on the weekends and enjoying the craft beer. Come early because the locals love this spot and it’ll get crowded quickly.
1030 Progressive Drive, Suite E, Clarksville, TN | 615-398-1237 | https://www.starspangledbrewingco.com/
Tennessee Valley Brewing Co.
One thing you have to keep in mind about Clarksville is that it’s a military town, and the town loves their veterans. That had never been more apparent then when I walked into the small shop at Tennessee Valley Brewing Co. They have a pretty good lineup of craft beers and the owners are not afraid to experiment (seriously they had a jalapeno porter).
But what got me the most was the massive wall of beer mugs. Each numbered, these are reserved for military locals currently deployed. Visitors can buy a wooden chip to toss into a mug that buys the veteran a drink when they come home.
2088 Lowes Dr., Suite H, Clarksville, TN | 931-320-9192 | https://www.tnvalleybrewing.com/
11. Devour Local Food
If you’ve enjoyed a great day in Clarksville of hiking on the greenway, exploring the history and architecture, and enjoyed some craft spirits, you’re probably gonna need some food. This little town has you covered with some fantastic local options for great food and more than a few surprises.
Strawberry Alley Ale Works
One of the newest additions to the downtown area, Strawberry Alley Ale Works is a one-stop destination for craft beer, food, and entertainment. Located inside a beautiful restored brick warehouse they have plenty of seating in a family-friendly atmosphere.
Their menu includes appetizers, soups, salads, and entrees, but it was the Bourbon Burger that caught my attention (cause we all know I’m a burger guy). This juicy burger was smothered with gruyere cheese, smoked gouda, and bourbon mushroom sauce. I don’t even know what gruyere cheese is but it sure tasted good.
They also have a nice craft brewery on site. They usually keep about six craft beers on tap, but since this is also a restaurant they have imports and domestics as well.
103 Strawberry Alley, Clarksville, TN | 931-919-4777 | https://www.saaleworks.com/
Blackhorse Pub & Brewery
This the other brewery located downtown. The Blackhorse Pub & Brewery has been around for awhile. Started by a helicopter pilot veteran the pub opened first in 1991 and the brewery a few years later in 1995. The dark wood flooring and brick walls create a cozy atmosphere for hanging out with friends after a long day exploring the town.
They have a massive menu including appetizers, burgers, entrees, and pizzas. They have several options for each menu item or they let you create your own meal. Add to that their year-round, seasonal, and specialty craft beers and you’ve got a fantastic place to enjoy a meal.
132 Franklin Street, Clarksville, TN | 865-249-8511 | https://blackhorsebrews.com
I never would have thought I’d find authentic Cajun food in Clarksville but that’s exactly what I found at Roux Americajun. The restaurant is owned by New Orleans transplants Theresa and Greg Shea who left after Katrina and decided to make Clarksville their next home.
The large booths, brick walls, and wooden floors created a comfortable place to enjoy the delicious Cajun meals. I started with the Boudin Balls: balls of pork and rice sausage fried until crunch and served with a spicy remoulade. These things were absolutely amazing and I think I could eat them any day of the week. For an entrée I got the Shrimp & Grits: creamy grits topped with gravy and served with 10 grilled shrimp. I’ve never been a grits guy, but these grits were amazing with every spoonful.
125 Franklin Street, Clarksville, TN | 931-896-2113 | http://www.rouxmenu.com
Johnny’s Big Burger
This hole-in-the-wall diner is a staple for the Austin Pea University crowd. Fortunately I got there about an hour before a football game let out so I had a chance to enjoy the place before it was overwhelmed with hungry college students!
The tables were covered in those old-fashioned red and white checkered tablecloths. It was a simple place, but clean and comfortable. The food, though, was out of this world. I ordered the Cheeseburger Steak: served like a steak (toasted bread served on the side) on a plate, topped with gooey cheese, with crinkle fries. And just to make sure I had the most delicious meal possible I got their famous Bun-N-Cream dessert: a fried donut topped with a single scoop of vanilla ice cream.
428 College Street, Clarksville, TN | 931-647-4545
Liberty Park Grill
Overlooking the Clarksville Marina, the Liberty Park Grill offered a great view paired with some pretty fantastic food. It’s a great place to eat if you’re keen on exploring the park or going for a hike.
The locals go for the steaks and ribs. I visited during lunch when they offer a smaller and simpler menu (because if I had gone during dinner I think the Kickin’ Chicken sounds amazing). I started off with some onion rings. These were ginormous and pleasantly soft, not soggy, making it easy to eat without accidentally just sucking the onion out of the breading. For lunch I got the Southern Fried Chicken Tenders cause that’s always my fallback. These things melted in my mouth and went great with the house-made tangy BBQ sauce.
125 Marina Way, Clarksville, TN | 931-919-2444 | https://libertyparkgrill.com
The Looking Glass Restaurant & Bakery
Every day in Clarksville should begin with breakfast at The Looking Glass Restaurant and Bakery. They serve meals throughout the day but the breakfast is just really something amazing. Located in a small shopping center it’s also just a few minutes from Dunbar Cave State Park.
The Eggs Benedict breakfast came with English muffins topped with poached eggs and bacon. But the real treat were the crepes served with fresh fruit and a wonderful little sensation with every bite.
392 Warfield Blvd., Clarksville, TN | 931-552-6344 | https://thelookingglassrestaurant.com
12. Plumb Line Coffee
Bill and Jen Parker take coffee seriously. For them a cup of coffee is much more than just a beverage; it’s an act of science combined with a touch of love to create something as unique as it is delicious.
The rustic interior was comfortable and offered a great place for me to catch up notes and social media for a few minutes before heading out again. It was definitely the kind of place where I’d find myself almost every day if I were a local. Sigh. The bittersweetness of travel.
124 University Avenue, Clarksville, TN | 931-896-2020 | https://www.plumblinecoffee.com
Where to Stay
During my visit to Clarksville I stayed at the locally owned Riverview Inn downtown. The hotel includes an indoor swimming pool, “real” breakfast in the morning, and Keurig coffee machines in all the rooms. It’s within walking distance of many of the downtown restaurants, shops, and museums.
There are a bevy of hotels at Exit 4 off Interstate 24 about twenty minutes from downtown. This is the “business” end of Clarksville where all the big box retail stores, and all the best places to drink, are located.
The Best Western Plus is a great place to stay. The hotel features a small outdoor swimming pool, breakfast included with the room, and the rooms include a King Suite with king bed and sleeper sofa for families.
The Hilton Garden Inn is the best of the best with a nice indoor swimming pool, fireplace in the public lounge, and a King Suite room with sleeper sofa.
A budget friendly option would be the Red Roof Inn. The hotel has been renovated to include faux hardwood floors, updated furnishings, and modern amenities. Along with an outdoor swimming pool and rooms with one or two beds this would be a great place to spend the weekend.