Backbone Rock Recreation Area


Backbone Rock Recreation Area is located along Beaverdam Creek in northern Johnson County. Backbone Rock gets its name from a spur ridge on Holston Mountain that abrubtly ends at a bend in Beaverdam Creek.

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.

At a Glance

Current Conditions: The water system at the Backbone Rock Recreation Area was recently completed. There are now flush toilets and running water available.
Operational Hours: The campground opens at 7a.m. and closes at 10p.m. Guests are asked to leave before closing time. The Day-Use area including the Pavilions and hiking trails are open year round, developed areas open sunrise to sundown.
Reservations: The whole campground is now on the reservation system at Groups may choose to reserve the large pavilion and adjacent campground for events.
Fees Camping is $10 for single site (8 sites) and $20 for double site (2 sites). The two pavilions are $30 and $50 per day. Pavilions and campsites can be reserved online at
Permit Info: A special use permit is required for groups of more than 74 people on National Forest lands.
Open Season: Campground opens May 4. Day Use is open year around, with vault toilets open starting March 1. - Campground closes December 5, weather dependent. Vault toilets in picnic areas close Dec. 27.
Restrictions: Sites are limited to a single family or not more than 5 people and 2 vehicles. Double campsites allow for up to 10 individuals and 4 vehicles. No alcoholic beverages are allowed in the area. No burning plastic or other non-wood materials except charcoal in fire pits and grills.
Closest Towns: Damascus, Virgina and Bristol, Tennessee
Water: yes
Restroom: Port-a-john and vault toilets
Operated By: Forest Service Volunteer Campground Hosts help manage the area and can provide visitor information.

General Information


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 stateline).

Recreation Map

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Camping & Cabins

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Group Camping

 Backbone Rock offers group camping accommodating groups of up to 50 at 10 campsites.  Maximum 5 people and 2 vehicles per campsite.  All campground rules apply.  The whole campground is on the reservations system.

Status: Open
Reservation required?: Y
Reservation info:  Reservations may be made at .

Campground Camping

Backbone Rock is ideal for tents campers and RV's up to 28 foot.

Reservation InfoAll campsites are on the reservation system at  
Fire InformationThere is a grill/fire ring at each campsite.
No. of Sites9 single sites, 2 double sites.
No. of Accessible sitesAll sites are accessible.


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