Backbone Rock Recreation Area

Area Status: 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 Campground is open for the 2023 season.  The Backbone Rock Large Pavilion is open for reservations.  The vault toilets at the day use area is open.  
Operational Hours: Gates are open at 7am and closed at 10pm. Guests are asked to leave the area before the gates are closed for the evening.  The hiking trails are open year round, from sunrise to sunset.  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: 4/24/2023 - 10/10/2023
  • 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 local wood in fire pits and charcoal in 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.
  • Pets must be on a maximum 6 ft. leash at all times, and pick up after them.  
  • It is your responsibility to read, know, understand, and follow all specific rules and regulations which are also posted at the campground.
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


Campground Camping

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

No. of Sites 9 single sites, 2 double sites.
Reservation Info All campsites are on the reservation system at
Fire Information There is a grill/fire ring at each campsite.
No. of Accessible sites All sites are accessible.

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 reservation system. 

Reservation required?: Y
Reservation info: Reservations may be made at

River and Stream Fishing

Trout fishing opportunities are in nearby Beaverdam Creek. See the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency website for permits as well as rules and regulations on fishing.

Fish Species Rainbow trout


Several individual picnic tables are available.  Two CCC-era pavilions are available for picnicking.  If not reserved, they are first-come, first-served.

Group Picnicking

The two CCC-era pavilions are great opportunites for group picnicking, and one can be reserved online at

Reservation Info Pavilion can be reserved for $50 per day by visiting, or calling 877-444-6777.


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

Quick Links

Related Information

Recreation Areas

Recreation Activities


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