Backbone Rock

A local attraction just off the Appalachian Trail...

A very small strip of sheer rock that connects two ridges in the Southern Appalachian Mountains in extreme northeastern Tennessee just south of the Virginia state line and Damascus VA, known as ‘the friendliest town on the Appalachian Trail.’  This area of the Cherokee National Forest that is often overlooked because of its isolation is popular to hikers, fishermen, hunters, rock climbers, bikers, campers and kayakers, as well as birdwatchers.

1901 photo
1901 photo

‘World’s Shortest Tunnel'

“Pay attention son, if you sneeze you might miss it…” I remember my dad saying that the first time I viewed the ‘World’s Shortest Tunnel’ also known locally as ‘Backbone Rock’ as we drove right through it on TN Hwy 133 just north of Shady Valley TN. “It used to be a railroad tunnel”, he said. Seems like around the turn of the twentieth century the railroad blasted a hole in this narrow ridge and placed a spur line through so that the timber in the mountainous area of Johnson County TN could be harvested and transported north to connect with the Virginia-Carolina Rail Line (known now as the Virginia Creeper Trail).

The timber was all harvested within ten or twelve years so the saw mill at Sutherland community was closed and eventually the railroad was replaced by a road bed, so Shady Valley and northeast Tennessee became easily accessible from Damascus VA.

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built stairs and a trail around the tunnel so visitors could climb and walk cross the ridge of rock in the 1930’s. They also built shelters and a picnic area just north of the attraction.  Today visitors can actually walk across the rock and see the highway directly below them.

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looking north
looking north

Backbone Rock Recreation Area

The Backbone Rock Recreation Area today features the rock itself, the Backbone Rock Falls, fishing and/or swimming at Beaver Dam Creek (a small river flowing past and around the rock itself), camping and hiking trails (with facilities) are also available.


Backbone Rock Falls
Backbone Rock Falls

you may have to stop and ask...

You can find this wilderness area, but you have to look for it. Even though it’s within fifteen miles of Interstate 81, there are no large billboards or flashing lights to get your attention pointing the way. Like many other beautiful sites in America, one has to search out and maybe even ask a question or two, but the search is well worth it. I think one reason these pristine areas are not displayed any more than they are is for a good reason. That nature and its beauty can thrive without so much interruption of the public and that the habits and mannerisms of those that do visit appreciate and clean-up after themselves more than the average American tourist of today.

on top Backbone Rock
on top Backbone Rock

don’t sneeze or you’ll miss it...

Many of those that find this small unobstructed area stumble upon it as they come down off the Appalachian Trail for a rest stop or maybe to get their mail and a few supplies needed for their journey.  Sometimes local families may gather for a day of hiking or a family picnic or reunion but other than that, unless you were looking or knew in advance you could pass right through it and never be the wiser.  Remember, don’t sneeze or you’ll miss it…

© 2011 SamSonS

Comments 10 comments

WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

Good Hub!

There's a Devil's Backbone state park in Iowa.


samsons1 profile image

samsons1 5 years ago from Tennessee Author

thanks Will for your rapid reply. I saw that but don't know anything about it, any comparison?


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

It's also a rock formation but not as spectacular, as memory serves.


samsons1 profile image

samsons1 5 years ago from Tennessee Author

thanks Will for the insight...


Dave Mathews profile image

Dave Mathews 5 years ago from NORTH YORK,ONTARIO,CANADA

Be careful you don't sneeze when nearing that tunnel, you might miss the adventure of travelling through it.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 5 years ago from United States

I love that area of the country, it's so beautiful. I don't think I've seen the be careful don't sneeze tunnel but I have traveled quite a bit in that area several years ago. I enjoyed your hub very much.


samsons1 profile image

samsons1 5 years ago from Tennessee Author

*thanks Dave you're right...

*and thank you Pamela for your nice comments. Backbone Rock is certainly off the beaten path...


crystolite profile image

crystolite 5 years ago from Houston TX

Interesting hub with nice photos.thanks for sharing.


samsons1 profile image

samsons1 5 years ago from Tennessee Author

thanks crystolite for your visit and for your gracious comments...


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

From the photos you included in this hub, Backbone Rock and those falls would definitely be worth seeking out. Thanks!

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