Visiting Dunbar Cave State Park {Tennessee}

If you have been following me for a while, you will know that we have been working on seeing all of the state parks of Tennessee. When we moved here three years ago we set that goal as we spent every weekend venturing out and getting to know the place we now call home. We thought that we had visited every park within a couple hour drive from us. But as it turned out, there were some smaller state parks within that distance that we had not yet seen. So deciding on one of those remaining parks, we headed north to visit Dunbar Cave State Park.

We started at the visitor center that overlooks the marshland that makes up some of the park. Large gardens have been set up by the visitor center with an inviting grassy area between them that just begs you to sit and relax in the shade.

Something so typical of Tennessee is the rocks in the hillsides amid all the lush greens of the trees. Some places have used the rocks to create pathways and structure to the ground, while other places have just let them be and work around them. I still get amazed sometimes at how green this state is and how beautifully fresh it all feels.

From the visitor center there is an easy loop trail that takes you around the park. The trail is only about a mile and is mostly flat so it is a park that anyone can enjoy no matter the age or ability level. It is frequented by many animals so it is a great place to be still and see what comes close.

Standing out among the trees are the white arches that lead you up from the trail to the cave entrance. Then you go back down and past the arches to continue on the trail on the other side. These arches make up a constructed platform straight into the cave itself. The white is such a contrast from the trees surrounding it.

white arch platform below the cave

Dunbar Cave is not new by any means. This cave dates back to prehistoric times and there have been discoveries of cave art dating back from thousands and thousands of years ago. The platform area is relatively new only going back as far as the early 1900’s. The cave entrance draws you into the dark underside of the rock and you can’t even see the entrance until you get close to it.

platform leading to the cave entrance

There are limited guided tours through the cave so you need to plan ahead and purchase tickets in advance. We were disappointed to learn that as we were hoping to get tickets when we arrived at the park. The cave is just over 8 miles long and the tour takes visitors just to a small section of it. We will definitely be back for the tour so we can see the beautiful cave art that is there.

entrance to the cave

The cave art on the walls of Dunbar Cave are an interesting look at the people who first called this area home and anthropologists are trying to piece together what the symbols mean. The most interesting pictures are of two suns with different symbols inside them. Sadly, others have recently left their own drawings on the cave walls distracting from the prehistoric cave art to be studied (which is probably why they now only offer limited tours to the caves).

Cave Art in Dunbar Cave State Park (photo:

Not only was this park popular for the cave experience, but it also served as one of the premiere dance halls. The constructed platform would be filled to the brim with dancers as chairs were placed around the outside and the cave provided a natural cooling to beat the heat of summer. Hundreds of people came here to dance at the mouth of the cave.

Looking out across the park from the cave to the small stream coming from the pond. We watched a group of deer carefully step out of the trees and down to the water to drink and munch. We also watched some turtles make their slow and steady path across the grass and into the water. We finished up the loop back to the visitor center.

Even though we were unable to take the tour of the cave, spending the day at the park gave us a lovely walk and a peek at the cave entrance and we really enjoyed the time. We are almost half way through all of the state parks and we were happy to have added Dunbar Cave to the list.

For some of our other favorite Tennessee state parks, check out these:

Fall Creek Falls State Park

Radnor Lake State Park

David Crockett State Park

Thank you for coming along on this walk through Dunbar Cave State Park. May you dance in the trees and be cooled by a cave.

22 responses to “Visiting Dunbar Cave State Park {Tennessee}”

  1. This look like a really cool state park to visit! And I like that you have given yourself the goal of visiting all the state parks of Tennessee!

  2. Dunbar Cave State Park looks lovely Meg. As Sarah said, such depth to the greenery and wonderful to spot some turtles. So it’s another park ticked off, plus with the cave and its art, a solid reason to go back. Idiots defacing on historic sights is all the rage these days it seems. Not sure if you read the story about the British guy who carved his name onto the walls of The Coliseum in Rome!?

    • Oh I did read that story and there were some choice explictives for such vandelism. But idiots will do what they do and think defacing history is funny. Face palm. But besides the “artwork” of teenagers, the park was really lovely. Were about half way through our state park goal which is exciting. And seeing turtles is always a treat 🙂 I hope you have a great weekend!

  3. A lovely walk in some very green and lush countryside despite nit gaining access to the cave itself. It’s terrible that people think it’s quite acceptable to deface historic walls and artwork using it. Hope you’re having a good weekend.

    • The park really made for a lovely place to walk. Im excited to go back and see the real cave art and hopefully avoid the more present day “artwork” of bored teenagers. Its so sad when defacing history is seen as funny and aceptable. I hope you have a great weekend too 🙂

  4. Dunbar is certainly a beautiful place, with its lush, green setting. I hope you get to tour the cave soon, it looks really interesting. Pathetic about the vandalism though. Great post and photos; thanks Meg!

    • Even after being here for a few years, I still am amazed at how green this state is. And the parks really show the beauty of it so well. Im looking forward to going back and seeing the cave and the prehistoric art there…hopefully Ill be able to avoid the present day additions that would only make me want to profane. 🙂

  5. That’s a crazy – and fantastic – location for a dance hall! A cave hop, no less. It’s intriguing to know that the full extent of the cave is 8 miles, too…wouldn’t it be great if you could do the whole thing. As for the idiots who deface such places… ten years hard labour would still be too lenient in my book..

    • How fun that must have been to go to a dance hop there at the cave! I wish they would bring those back 🙂 I agree about the defacers…they should spend the next decade scrubbing away their “additions” as well as any others with a toothbrush.

  6. Dunbar Cave looks quite scenic above ground, but it’s neat to also explore below ground too. I never would have guessed that it was a popular spot for dancing. It’s too bad that you weren’t able to purchase tickets on the spot, but at least you got to see a small section of it. It’s a shame to hear that some of the art has been vandalized. I couldn’t help but think of a news story from earlier in the week about a tourist who was caught on video carving a name into Rome’s Colosseum. Such terrible behaviour.

    • I saw that story too and it caused a long string of profanities. It just makes me what to shake them and put them to work to clean it up with nothing more than a toothbrush.
      But how cool that must have been to go dancing there at the cave! I really wish they would bring them back. But of course people dont really dance like that anymore so it might quickly lose the charm. Next time we go Im excited to see the cave art and hopefully aboid the more recent additions 🙂

    • Thank you, it has been a really fun goal to work towards and has taken us all over the place 🙂 The park was small but lovely, and seeing turtles is always a thrill.

  7. I can’t remember where you lived before Tennessee. Was it Utah? I can see how a fresh and green place would be a wonder to behold if you are used to dry desert. Fortunately, both environments have their own beauty.

    • Yes it was Utah, then briefly in Florida. Both have trees but nothing like the vast green that Tennessee has. 🙂 Like you say though, beautiful in their own way for sure.

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