The Ultimate Drive: Tail of the Dragon at Deals Gap

There’s a Reason The Tail of the Dragon is #1 on our List

Nestled in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, where North Carolina and Tennessee converge, lies a stretch of road that has achieved almost mythical status among driving enthusiasts and motorcycle riders alike. Known as the Tail of the Dragon, or simply “The Dragon,” this roadway is a siren call for those who revel in the thrill of navigating tight turns against a backdrop of breathtaking natural beauty. As a travel writer with a penchant for automotive adventures, I’ve journeyed to this legendary road to uncover what makes it a must-visit for car enthusiasts.

Tail of the Dragon’s Serpentine History

The Tail of the Dragon, officially part of US Route 129, is steeped in a rich history that adds to its allure. Originally a trail used by Native American tribes, it was later developed into a highway in the early 20th century. The road gained fame in the automotive and motorcycle communities for its unparalleled 318 curves over an 11-mile stretch. The Dragon’s reputation as a testing ground for skill and endurance has only grown, attracting visitors from around the globe.

Thrilling Statistics

It’s hard to believe a road that’s only 11 miles long can have 318 curves, but trust us – it does. We counted every one of them on a trip to MATG (Miata’s at the Gap) two years ago.  These bends bear whimsical names like “Copperhead Corner,” “Hog Pen Bend,” and “Wheelie Hell,” each telling the tale of challenges faced and conquered. The road’s design, with minimal straightaways and a plethora of tight turns, makes it a pure test of driving precision and control. There are tight corners, sharp switchbacks, and incredible elevation changes. The scenery is amazing, but taking your eyes off the road to enjoy it would be a serious mistake.

Best Times to Visit the Tail of the Dragon

The Tail of the Dragon can be enjoyed year-round, but the best times to visit are during the spring and fall months. These seasons offer cooler temperatures and less humidity, making the drive more comfortable. Additionally, the fall provides a spectacular display of changing foliage, adding a colorful backdrop to the winding road. Weekdays are preferable for those looking to avoid the crowds, with early mornings or late afternoons offering the best light for photography.

Photographic Journey

A trip to the Dragon is incomplete without stops for photographs to capture the essence of this iconic road. Noteworthy stops include:

  • The Overlook at Deals Gap: Offering panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, it’s a perfect spot for a scenic snapshot.
  • Calderwood Dam Overlook: A short drive from the Dragon, this location provides stunning views of the dam and the lush landscape.
  • Tree of Shame: A unique collection of motorcycle parts from those who’ve underestimated the Dragon, it serves as both a warning and a photo opportunity.

Tail of the Dragon Accommodations and Eateries

After a day of exhilarating driving, finding a cozy place to stay is key. The area around the Tail of the Dragon offers a variety of accommodations, from rustic cabins to comfortable inns. The Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort is a popular choice, providing lodging, dining, and a sense of community among fellow enthusiasts. For a more secluded retreat, the Tapoco Lodge, located nearby on the Cheoah River, offers rustic elegance and delicious dining options. During our trip, we stayed at the Fontana Village Resort & Marina in Fontana Dam, NC.

Safety and Respect

While the Tail of the Dragon provides an unmatched driving experience, safety and respect for the road and fellow travelers are paramount. The speed limit is strictly enforced, and the road’s popularity with motorcyclists requires extra caution. The Dragon is not just a road; it’s a shared journey, with each curve offering a new story to tell.

Our Take

The Tail of the Dragon at Deals Gap is more than just a road; it’s a pilgrimage for those who understand that the journey is as important as the destination. Its storied history, challenging curves, and the camaraderie found along the way make it a bucket-list item for auto enthusiasts. Whether you’re there to test your skills, capture the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains, or simply enjoy the drive, the Dragon offers an unforgettable adventure. As the sun sets over the mountains, casting long shadows across the road, one can’t help but feel a part of something larger—a community of adventurers drawn together by the call of the Dragon.

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