Twists, turns, and thick woods: this drive isn’t about scenic overlooks and nature’s majesty, the way a drive through Arches National Park or down the Loneliest Highway are. The Tail of the Dragon is about you, the pavement, and two white knuckles holding tightly to a steering wheel.
That’s why this stretch of road is considered one of the most exciting drives in America. Cutting through the mountains in Deals Gap at the Tennessee/North Carolina state line, the Tail of the Dragon is actually just a portion of the longer US 129, or as some North Carolina folks call it, “that damn road to Tennessee”.
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The legend of the Tail of the Dragon has spread far beyond North Carolina and Tennessee, and has even caught the eye of movie producers, celebrities, and documentary crews. The road and nearby Cheoah Dam were featured in “The Fugitive,” and parts of the gearhead classic “Two-Lane Blacktop” actually feature much of the road at the very end of the movie.
Whether you’re starting or completing the Tail of the Dragon at the intersection of US 129 & NC 28, Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort in Robbinsville, NC is the perfect place to snap pictures, grab souvenirs, eat lunch, have a cold beer, or even spend the night.
Also check out the Tail of the Dragon Store across the street for more great souvenirs, and your obligatory photo with the giant eponymous Dragon sculpture.
Next, pull over at the Calderwood Overlook. This beautiful scenic overlook just off the Tail of the Dragon offers a gorgeous view of the Cheoah Dam. Also, it’s a fantastic view of the Smoky Mountains and Tennessee countryside, particularly in the fall, when the leaves change color, or in the summer when everything is lush and green.
Of course, a stretch of road this famous has a legend or two surrounding it. For instance, travelers of the Dragon claim they’ve heard more than one ghost while on the road at night. With the stretch having claimed the lives of many over the years (on average, the 11-mile Tail of the Dragon takes at least one life a year), it’s natural to assume the road just has to be haunted.
Death and bloodshed, however, also came to the area long before the paved road cut through Deal’s Gap. The Cherokee fought more than one battle in the area, it’s reported there’s at least one Civil War soldier buried near the road, and rumors of an angry land owner hanging motorists who wouldn’t pay his toll also figure into the lore of the Dragon being haunted. Need an excuse to drive the Tail of the Dragon? First of all, it’s surrounded by other slightly-less-curvy, but still exciting and scenic roads, and the Dragon can easily be worked into a scenic route toward Asheville, one of the most beautiful towns in the Carolinas. Don’t try to attempt the Dragon in winter, as these 318 turns can be quite treacherous in snowy and icy winter weather conditions. Also, try to avoid it during the rainy spring season. It gets pretty busy in summer and fall but those times are when weather conditions are ideal for cruising down this epic road.
Header image credit: Washuotaku [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]