Known as America’s best motorcycle and sports car road, Tail of the Dragon is definitely a ride to put on your bucket list.
And with 318 turns in just 11 miles of road, it’s no surprise that the North Carolina route is considered “the destination” for thousands of riders every year.
Situated on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee – known as Deals Gap – the road is surrounded by the Great Smoky Mountains and the Cherokee National Forest.
But the Tail of the Dragon – a section of the longer US129 – isn’t about taking in the scenery; the focus is on you, your ride and the road, as you tackle some of the country’s most exciting bends.
There are no intersecting driveways or roads to interrupt you on this unique highway, and let’s face it, you won’t want to look at the surrounding woodland when you have the sharp turns to focus on.
The ride is a portion of the U.S. Route 129 in Blount County, Tennessee, positioned in a gap in Swain Country, North Carolina. Typically starting at the junction where NC28 Deals Gap meets US129 Tapoco Road, the ride takes you on an 11 mile stretch to South Central United States. You wind up across the mountain in Tennessee at Tabcat Creek Bridge.
On The Road
The starting point – or ending point if you decide to come from the other direction – is the ideal spot to take some incredible pictures of the scenery, grab a cold beer and bite to eat or buy your souvenirs. Tail of the Dragon Store sells all the merchandise you need for the perfect memento of your trip, and don’t forget to have your picture with the infamous giant dragon statue.
You will also find Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort here, nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains. It’s a must-stop to get fuel ahead of your trip or a place to lay your head for a comfortable stay both before and after your ride. Some may want to start the trip further south at the Fugitive Bridge – Harrison Ford fans this a must-do for you – with a great view of the Cheoah Dam. If you start here you will climb through ‘The Slide’, a steep section of S-like curves on the US129 before reaching the intersection of NC28 and US129.
The action begins when you reach the Tennessee State Line where you meet curve after curve, and it soon becomes clear why this is considered one of America’s best rides. The highway is unique – you won’t see any houses, driveways, office blocks or other roads along the way. Riders have described some of the twists and bends in the road as being banked like a race track, so it’s sure to get your adrenaline pumping.
Some of the Dragon’s sharpest and most challenging curves have even been given names over the years. From Copperhead Corner to Wheelie Hell, even experienced riders will be faced with a challenge. The road garnered its signature name for its resemblance to a dragon’s tail.
The route certainly has its dangerous aspects. Along the way, you’ll come across the Tree of Shame – a particular tree on the road that has been hit countless times by the Dragon’s riders. With parts of wrecked motorcycles still hanging from it, it’s a strong reminder that this route is not for the faint-hearted. After so many accidents over the years, the speed limit was lowered to 30mph in 2005, with it previously being 55mph in 1993.
The road mostly attracts its visitors during the spring, summer and fall, and is considerably more difficult throughout winter. Trees may obstruct your path and icy roads make the already-challenging curves more tricky. Winter is certainly a great time to have the road to yourself, as in the warmer months you meet a lot more oncoming traffic.
The elevation doesn’t change much throughout the trip. The highest point during the ride is at Deals Gap at the State Line at 1,962 feet. Tacot Bridge holds the lowest elevation at 877 feet. Be prepared for a lot of blind spots and high degrees of clamber along the way which may result in you going off track.