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Tunnel vision in East Tennessee

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Whether it’s Cumberland Gap, U.S. 441 through the Smokies or I-40 on the way to Asheville drivers in these parts are familiar with tunnels. But, did you know that “the world’s shortest tunnel” is right here in East Tennessee?

Just a couple of miles from Virginia, in Tennessee’s easternmost county, you will find a place called Backbone Rock. Standing 75 feet high, this massive rock wall created a problem for lumber companies wanting to take out their haul on rail cars. Its proximity to the creek made it nearly impossible to lay tracks without blasting through it.

The wall of rock was only about 20 feet thick so blasting a hole through it wasn’t too difficult. The end result was the creation of the tunnel which now has a road running through it.

Today you will find Backbone Rock surrounded by the Cherokee National Forest. A trail takes you to the top of the rock where you can walk along its spine and watch as cars come through “the world’s shortest tunnel.” While it’s not the highest spot in the area, you do get an incredible view. The trip to the top won’t take long, but there are dozens of steps.

Across the creek you will find Backbone Fall tucked back into the hillside just a few hundred yards from the road. At most times the volume of water that falls 45-feet here isn’t very large, but it is the setting that makes this a must see when you are visiting the area. The bright white stream of water serves as a sharp contrast to the black rocks and dark green moss beside it.

Backbone Rock and Backbone Falls are part of a recreation area inside the Cherokee National Forest. In addition to the trails you will find a picnic pavilion, camping sites and restrooms. It is just a few miles from Damascus, VA known for its access to the Appalachian Trail, the Virginia Creeper Trail and the Mount Rogers Recreation area.

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