Tail of the Dragon: The Ultimate Road Trip

Tail of the Dragon
Tail of the Dragon road

The Tail of the Dragon, a stretch of US 129 situated at the junction of Tennessee and North Carolina, is known for its 318 curves and its location within the Great Smoky Mountain National Forest and the Cherokee National Forest. It’s a popular destination for motorcyclists, sports car enthusiasts, and photographers.

Where is the Tail of the Dragon?

It begins in North Carolina and ends in Tennessee. It winds around the southern border of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The road is close to the Blue Ridge Parkway making it an ideal addition if you like scenic road trips.

The road and its typical Appalachian landscapes are magnificent, especially as no construction pollutes the route, still, people come here mainly to test their driving skills and experience the rare satisfaction of doing turns.

You can locate the Tail of the Dragon road on the map below:

Enlarge the map

Facts about the Tail of the Dragon

Deals Gap road description:

In North America, few roads have the reputation of Route 129. With 318 turns over a distance of 18 kilometers (11 miles) situated into the mountainside, this road puts drivers to the test because of the complexity of the route.

The road is a two-line highway that crosses the Deals Gap at 605 meters (1,990 ft) above sea level. It will take you approximately 30 minutes to drive that road.

Twisting through the middle of the forest, it is made up of 318 bends over a distance of 18 kilometers (11.2 miles), all on the mountainside. Bikers consider is as their number 1 destination! Intended for experienced drivers, it will give you curve after curve, uphill, downhill, a good adrenaline rush. That’s why you sometimes read in the local news: Tail of the Dragon crashes.

The Tail of the Dragon road is notorious for its tight bends, making it a hazardous driving experience. The “Tree of Shame”, is a reminder of the dangers. It is being decorated with pieces of damaged motorcycles. Despite the dangers, the Tail of the Dragon is a unique and popular route that has even attracted the attention of film producers.

Deals Gap - Tail of the Dragon
Deals Gap / Tail of the Dragon

Why is it called Tail of the Dragon?

The Tail of the Dragon road got its name from its tortuous path resembling a dragon’s tail.

The route is also named the Deals Gaps. There are many twists and turns, and the road is one of the best drives in the United States, along with scenic routes such as the Ortega Highway, the Million Dollar Highway or the Cherohala Skyway.

When was Deals Gaps road built?

The Tail of the Dragon road has existed since the early 1900s. Initially, it was a gravel road, but it was paved with asphalt in the 1920s. This improved the overall driving experience, making it smoother and safer for travelers.

Since then, the road became famous among the bikers who love riding there.

On the road, you will find a gift shop. Also, there is a hotel along the Tail of the Dragon with a restaurant called the Deals Gap motorcycle resort.

You can obviously find other accommodations such as motels, cabins, and camping nearby the Tail of the Dragon.

The bikers gave names to the turns like Copperhead Corner, Hog Pen Bend, Wheelie Hell, Shade Tree Corner, Mud Corner, Sunset Corner, Gravity Cavity, Beginner’s End, and Brake or Bust Bend.

For both bikers and drivers, the Tail of the Dragon road is a legendary and highly desired destination. As a mark of accomplishment, many people want to have their sticker placed on the Tail of the Dragon road sign.

Where is the Tail of the Dragon located?

To experience the Tail of the Dragon, one must take the journey on Road 129, which runs alongside the Blue Ridge Parkway.

If you are coming from the North from Knoxville, for example, drive directly to road 129. And, if you are coming from the south, you have to drive road 28 or 129 until you reach the Deals Gap motorcycle resort where the road starts.

You can visualize how to get there on this Deals Gap Tail of The Dragon map of the drive:

A preview of this scenic Deal Gap road:

The popularity of this road is increasing and it making it more and more difficult to drive as it becomes overcrowded. Accidents are a common occurrence as many drive at speeds well above their actual capacity. Fortunately, the road does not allow very high speeds, and fatal accidents are rare. Additionally, a tree near Deals Gap, known as the “Tree of Shame”, displays parts of vehicles that have crashed on the Tail of the Dragon road as a reminder of the dangers of reckless driving.

If you are planning to drive the Tail of the Dragon road, you can watch this YouTube video:

Is the Tail of the Dragon road Open?

The Deals Gap road is generally open all year round, although in the winter the weather in this zone is harsh and very unpredictable. Indeed, the weather can change rapidly, and a sunny day can quickly turn into heavy snowfall.

The only benefit of driving during the winter on the Tail of the Dragon is the capacity to see through many of the corners. Indeed, because the trees have lost their leaves. There is a better visibility from November through March.

Please note that the National Park Service closes the road after heavy rain or thunderstorms. Watch out for animals that may cross the road. Indeed, you might meet bears, deer, and wild boars.

We advise you to avoid the high season or the weekend if you want to enjoy your ride and not be in a traffic jam! If you can’t come here in the low season, come early!

Please note that the speed limit on the road was 90 km/h (55 mph) prior to 1992. It was reduced to 50 km/h (30 mph) in 2005 after numerous accidents, and police often perform speed checks. In fact, 37 persons died on that road from 2000 to 2017.

If you are looking for one of the best drives in the USA, the Tail of the Dragon is definitely a must-do! Although, you should respect the speed limit and be very careful: many bikers consider that the Deals Gap road is a racetrack and can cause accidents.

Pictures sources: CC BY 2.5, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6975930 / By Washuotaku – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34143695

Discover other roads around the United States: click here or see our road map!