The Tail of the Dragon: The Most Thrilling Drive in the Smoky Mountains
If you’re looking for an adrenaline-fueled adventure in the Smoky Mountains, it’s hard to beat the Tail of the Dragon! This 11-mile section of U.S. Route 129 has become a hugely popular destination for motorcyclists and sports car drivers. Featuring 318 curves, this winding mountain road is unlike anywhere else in the world. To help you make the most of your next vacation, we’ve put together a guide to everything you need to know about riding the Tail of the Dragon.
Take a Video Tour of the Dragon
The Tail of the Dragon attracts around 250,000 bikers each year—and it’s easy to see why! Bordering the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Cherokee National Forest, this road has no houses, driveways, businesses, or intersecting roads. With its thrilling twists and turns, the road takes its name from its resemblance to a curvy dragon’s tail. For a taste of what it’s like to ride US 129, check out a few seconds of this motorcycle video:
History of the Tail of the Dragon
While the present-day Tail of the Dragon is frequented by bikers and motorists, centuries ago, it hosted very different travelers. Much of the 11-mile route was worn down by herds of buffalo roaming across the unspoiled frontier. The Cherokee used the trail for hundreds of years, and Euro-American settlers began hunting and trapping along the route in the early 1700s.
Trail of Tears and the Civil War
When the Indian Removal Act of 1830 forced the Native Americans to leave the Smoky Mountains, many Cherokee used the Tail of the Dragon to hide from the soldiers enforcing the law. During the Civil War, the notorious Kirkland Bushwhackers, a gang of deserters, would ambush Union troops along the trail. The grave of Bas Shaw, a victim of one of these attacks, can be seen around mile 6.5 of the Tail of the Dragon.
U.S. Route 129 is Born
After years of collecting tolls along the path (with the threat of hanging for those who did not pay up), the trail was converted into a road. U.S. Route 129 was paved around 1934 and existed in relative obscurity for the next half-century.
The Secret is Out
The Tail of the Dragon came to national attention in the 1990s when motorcycle enthusiast Doug Snavely launched the Deals Gap Hot Lap newsletter and formed the Deals Gap Riding Society. Deals Gap is a mountain pass along the Tail of the Dragon at the North Carolina-Tennessee state line.
Over the years, more and more bikers have discovered the thrills of riding the Tail of the Dragon. The road has even been featured in a number of movies, including Thunder Road, Two-Lane Blacktop, The Fugitive, and In Dreams.
Directions to the Tail of the Dragon from Gatlinburg
Coming from Gatlinburg, TN, the quickest way to reach the Tail of the Dragon is as follows:
- Take US 411 S from downtown into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
- After about 2 miles, take a right onto Little River Road (TN 73) at the Sugarlands Visitor Center and continue all the way into Townsend (US 321 West).
- Follow US 321 West to the Foothills Parkway.
- Turn left onto US 129 from the Foothills Parkway.
- In roughly 3 miles, you will find the Tail of the Dragon.
This route can take anywhere from 1 hour and 15 minutes to 1 hour and 45 minutes depending on traffic. If you’re using a GPS, enter the street address 1755 Tapoco Road, Robbinsville, NC 28711 as your destination. Please note that cell service and internet access can be spotty in the mountains.
Quick Tips for Driving the Tail of the Dragon
Riding the Tail of the Dragon can be extremely dangerous for the ill-prepared, so it is only recommended for experienced motorcyclists and motorists. Here are a few quick tips to keep in mind as you plan your trip:
- The Tail of the Dragon is not for sightseeing; keep your eyes on the road.
- April through October is the best time to drive the Dragon.
- Bikers should definitely avoid US 129 during the winter.
- Do not drive at night.
- Get your motorcycle checked before heading out.
- Always wear a helmet with a face mask, jacket, and gloves.
- Carry a Global Satellite GPS Messenger in case of emergency.
For more information, visit the Tail of the Dragon website.
More Fun Things to Do in the Smoky Mountains
Looking for more fun activities to enjoy during your next vacation in Gatlinburg? Check out our comprehensive listing of things to do in the Smoky Mountains!