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Hiking Backbone Rock: The Shortest Tunnel In The World!

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Adjacent to Damascus, Virginia, and located in Cherokee National Forest in Johnson County is a man-made tunnel known as Backbone Rock. In this hiking resource guide, we’ll talk about why the shortest tunnel in the world is a fun and easy hike for nearly all skill levels.

We will also provide everything you need to know about preparing for and navigating your way through this incredible landscape.

Backbone Rock
Backbone Rock

Backbone Rock is a unique and stunning natural area that offers visitors a chance to connect with nature and explore the beauty of Virginia.

Keep reading to learn more about the shortest tunnel in the whole world!

Backbone Rock: The Shortest Tunnel In The World

Backbone Rock is a natural area located in southwest Virginia and is known for its stunning beauty and unique geological formations.

One of the main features of the area is the Backbone Rock, a large, narrow rock formation that rises over 100 feet above the surrounding terrain.

The rock is believed to have formed over millions of years as sedimentary layers were pushed up by geological forces.

Today, the rock is a popular spot for rock climbing and offers amazing views of the surrounding 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. In the 1930s The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) developed the recreation area for day use, constructing two picnic shelters and hiking trails that incorporated native stonework. The campground was added in the 1960s and rehabilitated in the mid 1990s.”

USDA Forest Service
backbone rock

Backbone Rock is a beautiful and unique natural area that offers visitors a chance to explore Virginia’s stunning natural beauty.

Climbing The Stairs at Backbone Rock

Climbing the stairs at Backbone Rock can be a unique and exhilarating experience for visitors.

The stairs are a man-made structure that was built into the rock face, and they provide a steep and challenging ascent to the top of the rock formation.

backbone rock stairs

We only had a short time, so we parked to the left of the road just before passing under Backbone Rock. We quickly located the staircase located behind the parking area and began our climb to the top.

Avid hikers may not consider this much of a hike because the staircase and bridges make it relatively accessible to most people.

hiking backbone rock

However, it can be slippery! Use caution especially if you have children with you.

Make sure they’re wearing the best hiking shoes to prevent accidents. Check out my children’s reliable Salomons!

Virginia Nature at Backbone Rock

While there isn’t a sweeping vista at the top of the staircase, if you love to be outdoors and enjoy the beauty of nature, you won’t be disappointed. 

The area is home to a variety of plant and animal species, including several species of rare and endangered plants.

The forests are also home to several species of birds and the streams and waterfalls in the area are home to several species of fish, including brook trout and smallmouth bass.

nature at backbone rock

Visitors to Backbone Rock can explore the area on several hiking trails, including the Backbone Rock Trail and the Appalachian Trail.

View From The Top

After reaching the top, there is a bridge to cross to Backbone Rock.  The road running underneath the tunnel is visible from this vantage point.

backbone rock trail

I recall a time when the fence wasn’t here, but I definitely concur with the decision to install it! Yikes!! 

backbone rock view from the top

The view from the top of Backbone Rock is simply breathtaking. Visitors are treated to panoramic views of the surrounding forest and mountains.

backbone rock overlook

Climbing to the top can be challenging, but the reward of the stunning views is well worth the effort.

Beaverdam Creek-Backbone Rock

The view from the ground is equally lovely. Beaverdam Creek is stocked with trout so bring your pole, catch dinner, and grill some fish on one of the outdoor grills.

beaver dam creek

My husband enjoyed using his new Sony A6300. We’ve only had it for a couple of months. We purchased it when we were in Santa Barbara, California on our 2017 road trip.  

Shady Valley, TN

Shady Valley, Tennessee is one of the loveliest areas in Northeast Tennessee. The day-use area includes picnic shelters and tables, outdoor grills, and bathroom facilities. There is also a small campground nearby with 10 campsites.  

Backbone Rock
Backbone Rock

Whether you are here for a few hours or a few days, you will fall in love with the beautiful Shady Valley, Tennessee.

Here are a few guides to help you out should you decide to stay for more than a few hours.

Fun & Cool Hiking Clothes

Download Our FREE Spring Packing List for the Smokies!

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Now that it’s camping season, bring the kids and check out these fun and educational things to do with kids in the Smoky Mountains!

And if you’re looking for more fun games for the kids at the campground, download these camping scavenger hunt printables that will make them enjoy camping more.

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Thursday 19th of October 2023

My wife and I were there today. We rode our motorcycle on "The Snake," and we stopped to hike the trails there as well. We have some PHENOMENAL photos of the fall foliage as well! It was a perfect day with perfect colors for a motorcycle ride and a hike!

Rob+Ann @TravelLatte(.net)

Monday 28th of August 2017

Wow - gorgeous scenery! Always amazed by Tennessee's natural beauty. Just wish we had more opportunity to enjoy it! #TheWeeklyPostcard


Monday 28th of August 2017

Isn't that how it is everywhere we travel? Thanks for stopping by!


Wednesday 16th of August 2017

Hrmm, I may need to keep this in mind for a future visit home to Kentucky and make a trip down for this hike! Looks lovely! Thanks for linking up with #TheWeeklyPostcard!


Wednesday 16th of August 2017

I didn't know your home was Kentucky! That's neat! Thanks for stopping by VeraVise today!


Tuesday 15th of August 2017

I'd love to have a hike as beautiful as Backbone Rock here, in California. Our landscape is so dry, nothing as lush and green as in Tennessee. Besides, despite those stairs, the hike doesn't seem too difficult. #TheWeeklyPostcard


Tuesday 15th of August 2017


Having just come from California and falling in love with the diverse landscapes, it's funny to hear you say that! The stairs really aren't hard at all and this is a pretty easy hike. Thanks for stopping by. #theweeklypostcard

Michelle | michwanderlust

Saturday 12th of August 2017

That looks beautiful! I can see why it's called Shady Valley. It reminds me a little of a hike I did in Shenandoah, with the feel of a thick forest. Looks like a lovely way to spend a few hours. And stairs are deceptive! They make you think it's easy and accessible but after a couple of minutes you're really tired out (or at least I am)! Thanks for sharing, Amanda :) #TheWeeklyPostcard


Monday 14th of August 2017

It is very similar to Shenandoah (another BEAUTIFUL PLACE) That's true about the stairs! Thanks for stopping by. #TheWeeklyPostcard

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