Backbone Rock Recreation Area

Area Status: Open
This area is Open

View of Backbone Rock Recreation Area in Cherokee National Forest

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: Backbone Rock Pavilion is currently open.  The campground is open for the 2021 season.  
Operational Hours: The hiking trails are open year round, from sunrise to sunset.  The campground is open for the 2021 season, and the vault toilets at the Backbone Rock day-use areas are open.    
Reservations: Campground:

Area Amenities: Accessible,Tent camping,Camping trailer,Fee charged for some activities,Picnic tables,Toilets,Drinking water,Parking
Fees Camping is $10 for single site (8 sites) and $20 for double site (2 sites).  One pavilion is reservable at $50 per day.
Permit Info: A special use permit is required for groups of 75 people or more on National Forest lands.
Open Season: 4/26/2021 - 11/22/2021
  • 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.
  • Food storage restrictions apply at all areas on the Cherokee National Forest. All food and beverages must be stored in an approved bear-proof container, your locked vehicle or hard-sided camper at all times unless being eaten, prepared, or transported.
Closest Towns: Damascus, VA and Bristol, TN
Water: Potable water provided
Restroom: Campground: Flush toilets. Day Use: vault toilets.
Operated By: US Forest Service

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

Map showing recreational areas. Map Information


Camping & Cabins

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Picnic tables
Drinking water
Fee charged for some activities
Tent camping
Camping trailer

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