(Originally published April 8, 2019 – Updated February 1, 2021) My first visit to Clarksville came a few days after my first visit to Nashville. It’s not fair to compare the two – I had a fantastic time in the Music City – but Clarksville was a different kind of awesome. Quiet streets, unbusy restaurants, and plenty of ways to get outdoors – it was the perfect escape from Nashville.
Don’t let the six-lane highway lined with a menagerie of corporate American retail stores scare you away from Clarksville. You have to “punch” through the fastfood chains and retail shops at the interstate exits to find downtown. You’ll know when you get there because you’ll see bonafied human beings walking along the street.
It was late when I arrived in Clarksville – the 10-hour drive had become twelve and I was exhausted – so I went straight to my room at the Riverview Inn. The next morning, I started fresh and hit the ground running to discover all the awesome things to do in Clarksville.
- Admire Architecture and Public Art
- Fort Defiance Civil War Park & Interpretive Center
- Dunbar Cave State Park
- McGregor Park & Cumberland Riverwalk
- Clarksville Greenway
- Attend Riverfest
- Historic Collinsville
- The Customs House Museum
- Roxy Regional Theater
- Get a Drink
- Devour Local Food
- Plumb Line Coffee
- Where to Stay
Admire Architecture and Public Art
Clarksville was teeming with beautiful architecture and public art. After stopping at the visitor center, I hit the streets with one of their “Points of Interest Map” brochures and discovered a lot of the artwork.
The Montgomery County Courthouse was built on a little hill in the downtown area. A bronze eagle perched on the highest peak of the roof and a stone statue of Lady Justice stood tall in front of the clock.
Strawberry Alley was home to my favorite piece of public art in the city: a towering water fountain. The fountain was decorated with statues of children playing, a boy reading a map, and another boy helping his sister get a drink of water. I’ve always wondered what the boy was looking for on the map – and I’ve almost convinced myself he was looking for buried treasure in Clarksville.
Fort Defiance Civil War Park & Interpretive Center
When I walked inside the Fort Defiance Interpretive Center, I didn’t know I would end up spending an hour with the entertaining staff learning about the local history of Clarksville. The location of the early settlement on the Cumberland River – connecting Nashville with the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers – made it a strategic location.
Inside the interpretive center I watched a 15-minute film about the history of Clarksville during the Civil War, took a walk along a paved trail, and explored the small exhibit space. The view outside was spectacular with a commanding panorama of downtown Clarksville.
120 Duncan Street, Clarksville, TN | 931-472-3351 | http://www.cityofclarksville.com/index.aspx?page=161
Dunbar Cave State Park
The coolest place in Clarksville was underground. Get it? I promise that’s my last corny joke – until the next one.
Dunbar Cave State Park is a small, 144-acre suburban park with a fascinating history to explore. Throughout the 1950s, the park was the location of a weekly broadcast of Saturday Night Radio Dance. Although the radio station has long since left, the park is still host to a number of special events throughout the year.
During the summer months, the cave is open to guided tours. The 15-acre lake was teeming with wildlife and fed by water from the cave. There was no boating or swimming allowed, but it was a pleasure to walk the trail around the lake and count turtles.
McGregor Park & Cumberland Riverwalk
In an already peaceful town, there was hardly a reason to escape to the river for solitude. But I visited anyway because I enjoy anything to do with water.
McGregor Park is a 2.5-acre urban park that provides a place to park, bicycle rentals, and access to the 1-mile Cumberland Riverwalk. A waterfront amphitheater with grassy seats above a brick stage was the perfect place to sit with my morning coffee – well, my third morning coffee.
Eager to stretch my legs, I put the river on my left and walked along the wide path. A couple walking their dog nodded as they passed. A couple of kids on bicycles sped by so fast the wind gave me a chill. It was a perfect morning on the riverwalk.
640 N. Riverside Drive, Clarksville, TN | http://www.cityofclarksville.com/index.aspx?page=125
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The one thing I wish I had done – but completely forgot about – was to 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 tracks into multi-use pedestrian paths.
If you didn’t bring your own bicycle, you can rent one from Clarksville BCycle at a kiosk at the Pollard Road Trailhead.
The end of summer is marked by shorter days, return to school, and the annual Riverfest celebration in Clarksville. The three-day festival is hosted at McGregor Park with the Cumberland River serving as a backdrop to the festivities.
The three days are filled with local arts and crafts, live music, activities for kids, and adult beverages from local distilleries, wineries, and breweries. It’s an excellent excuse to visit Clarksville, stay within walking distance at the Riverview Inn, and celebrate the end of summer.
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.
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.
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.
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.
READ MORE: The Paducah Wall-to-Wall Mural in Kentucky
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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The Wonderland Cafe
Every day in Clarksville should begin with breakfast at The Wonderland Cafe. 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
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.
Where to Stay
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.