World's Shortest Highway Tunnel.

World's Shortest Highway Tunnel

Field review by the editors.

Shady Valley, Tennessee

Backbone Rock is 75 feet high but only a few feet wide. In 1901 the Tennessee Lumber Company wanted to get its lumber trains from the woods to the nearest town by the shortest route, so they simply blasted a big hole through the rock. The rail bed eventually became a lumber road and then Hwy 133, which now passes through Backbone Rock Tunnel, still the shortest in the world. The little notch at the top of he tunnel was reportedly chiseled by hand after it was found that train smokestacks were just a little too tall to pass through.

The Lumber Company packed up and left over a hundred years ago. The trees have all grown back and the area around Backbone Rock now has picnic tables and an official Forest Service sign, which features a little hand-drawn lumber train chugging through the tunnel.

In the 1930s, during the Great Depression, trails were built and uneven steps were hand-cut into the Backbone Rock on both sides of the highway, leading to the top -- the closest thing we've seen to the Stairs of Cirith Ungol from The Lord of the Rings.

The adventurous can make the climb to the top and walk across the highway from above -- but please be aware of slippery leaves, a lack of handrails, and a 75-foot-drop if you make a mistake. We were content to admire the tunnel from the ground.

World's Shortest Highway Tunnel

Hwy 133, Shady Valley, TN
Two miles south of the Virginia/Tennessee state line on Hwy 133. There's a parking area just south of the tunnel, on the west (southbound) side of the highway. Trails to the top lead from either side.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Banjo Man SculptureBanjo Man Sculpture, Abingdon, VA - 12 mi.
Wilburn Waters Monument: Killed 120 BearsWilburn Waters Monument: Killed 120 Bears, Tuckerdale, NC - 16 mi.
Vintage Roadside Signs at Self-StorageVintage Roadside Signs at Self-Storage, Bristol, VA - 15 mi.
In the region:
Andrew Johnson Died Here, Elizabethton, TN - 21 mi.

More Quirky Attractions in Tennessee

Stories, reports and tips on tourist attractions and odd sights in Tennessee.

Explore Thousands of Unique Roadside Landmarks!

Strange and amusing destinations in the US and Canada are our specialty. Start here.
Use's Attraction Maps to plan your next road trip.

July 10, 2020

My Sights

My Sights

Create Your Own Bizarre Road Trips!

Try My Sights

Roadside America app
Roadside Presidents app

Tennessee Latest Tips and Stories

Latest Visitor Tips

Sight of the Week

Sight of the Week

Spud Drive-In Giant Potato, Driggs, Idaho (Jul 6-12, 2020)

SotW Archive

USA and Canada Tips and Stories

More Sightings

Sightings. Arrives without warning. Leaves no burn marks. A free newsletter from Subscribe now! Hotel & Motel Finder

Special rates for hotels.

Nearby Hotels: Shady Valley, Tennessee

Nightly rates found:

Book Now