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Backbone Rock Tunnel in Shady Valley

Backbone Rock Tunnel in Shady Valley

The History of “The Shortest Tunnel In The World”

Back in 1901, Backbone Rock rested solidly in the Cherokee National Forest and extended itself prominently from Iron Mountain effectively creating an impassable 100-foot tall barrier. The Beaver Dam Railroad wanted through to the quaint little town of Damascus Virginia and its treasured timber, and so they blasted and bore through the twenty-two feet of solid rock and stood back to admire their work. Tracks were laid and the steam engines fired up but they soon discovered they had forgotten a little something… Steam engines have smokestacks. Back to work, the railroad went and hand-chiseled some additional space to accommodate. And that was how the creation of the “shortest tunnel in the world,” came to be.

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Backbone Rock Tunnel

We love visiting the little recreation area at Backbone Rock. The tunnel itself is a marvel and you can easily climb stone stairs to stand atop it and enjoy the views of Beaverdam Creek flowing below.  A short hike away stands a forty-five-foot tall waterfall, appropriately named Backbone Falls. There are fishing spots and a short hiking trail as well as a lovely little picnic area with grills. There is also plenty of parking. It’s a beautiful place to visit. And just ahead lies Damascus and the Creeper Trail and bike rentals and lots more fun!

Walk Beside Us – Photo Tour of Backbone Rock Tunnel and Recreation Area

Backbone Rock Tunnel Sign

This was the view from our picnic table. This is Beaverdam Creek and it’s lovely. In the summer T always wants to get in and splash around. It’s a bit colder than I enjoy but he loves it and so do a lot of other visitors.

Backbone Rock Picnic Area

You can get to the top of the rock on either side of the road. These are the stairs leading up from the parking area. And this sign is a good reminder of why I wouldn’t take any little people up to the top. There are drop-offs. Also, many hikers mention not to climb if it’s wet because the stairs get extra slippery. There are some areas at the top that do have railings but I wouldn’t have let T up there when he was little for anything.

Stairs from parking area at Backbone Tunnel

Here are the stairs from the picnic area across the road leading up.

Backbone Tunnel stone stairs

This is from the top of the tunnel looking down. Motorcyclists frequent Shady Valley and we saw many of them. About ten years ago we went up on Mr. Wonderful’s ride and it was so much fun. The road up is all twists and turns wrapped in thick forest. It’s an amazing journey by car or bike.

Motorcycles from the top of the tunnel

And here is a view from the other side all washed in the rays of golden hour. It was just after five when we captured this moment.

Golden hour from the top of Backbone Rock Tunnel

Finally, T watching the day start to fade from a rock at the creek while we finished off the rest of our picnic. There are charcoal grills available for use here as well as a pavilion and a few picnic tables.

T sitting on the rock at Beaver Dam Creek - Backbone Tunnel Recreation Area

Truly, the perfect day for a family picnic and a quick little hike.

Backbone Rock Tunnel – The Details: 

Backbone Rock Recreation Area

A tunnel was drilled through the rock in 1901 to allow railroad access between Shady Valley and Damascus, VA. Motorists pass through what is known as “The Shortest Tunnel in the World” as they travel along TN 133.

Directions to Backbone Rock Tunnel:
From Bristol, take US 421 south for 20 miles to Shady Valley. Turn left onto TN 133 for eight miles to Backbone Recreation Area. From Abingdon, VA, take US 58 east for 15 miles to Damascus. Turn right onto VA 716 for five miles to the recreation area (VA 716 becomes TN 133 at the state line).

Campground Information: is your source for discovering and experiencing America’s federal recreation activities and outdoor adventures.

There are 10 single campsites, including two double sites within Backbone Rock Campground. The campground has flush toilets. Each site contains a table, fire ring, and lantern holder.

If you have visited Backbone Rock Tunnel or the surrounding areas share your recommendations in the comments below. If we have inspired you to gather your crew and get out exploring, let us know in the comments section below. We love to hear from you!

I know I say it all the time but wow, what a wonderful world! Don’t you think?

Be blessed,


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Backbone Rock Tunnel and Recreation Area

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