For years now, Matt and I have had an unspoken agreement that for our birthdays we must do something memorable. Beyond the usual treasures of a nice dinner and cake, we like to include something that we can look back on in the years to come and associate it with turning a certain age. Last year, he took me glamping in western Maryland and I took him wine tasting in South Africa. This year we ramped up the adrenaline and headed south to try our luck on the Tail of the Dragon.
What is the Tail of the Dragon?
Located between Tennessee and North Carolina, the Tail of the Dragon is considered a bucket list worthy stretch of road. It spans 11 miles and contains over 300 twists and turns sure to leave even the most confident of drivers with clenched white knuckles. Many people with sports cars and motorcycles make the trek from near and far to “tame the Dragon”. Most drivers conquer it but the remnants of those who do not can be seen embedded in the passing trees.
Prior to our trip, while Matt’s mother was asking him about where we were going, he decided to show her a map online marking each place along the road where a motorist suffered a fatal crash. Don’t be like Matt. Don’t scare your mother.
While there have been enough crashes to pin them all on a map, if you pay attention and don’t exceed your personal limits, this can be a really thrilling experience. We buckled up, cranked the volume on the radio, and battled the beast. I tried my best to capture some of the footage from our trip, but forgot to grab my camera from the trunk before we began. Excuse my peekaboo finger and the trail of bug stains on the windshield in my less-than-stellar cell phone video!
Most likely, if the Tail of the Dragon is in your itinerary, you will be bringing your own car/bike rather than flying. Most people will start in Deals Gap, Forney’s Creek, NC. We ended up staying in Knoxville the night before so we arrived through Tennessee and essentially did the drive in reverse of most traffic. This direction will put you on the side straddling the drop offs, rather than hugging the mountains. At any rate, US Route 129 is where this stretch of road can be found. There are a few places to stay nearby. Be safe and arrive in the daylight. I imagine those mountain roads can be quite treacherous come nightfall.
At the Deals Gap end there is a general store, a gas pump, and a place to buy a quick bite to eat. I couldn’t help but walk away with a souvenir sticker. They have apparel, patches, and other mementos if that’s your jam, but I just love collecting little reminders I can stick in a memory book.
Know Before You Go
Make sure you have plenty of gas. Once you enter the Dragon, there are no stops other than a few places to pull onto the shoulder. While this is not a terribly long stretch to go without seeing any businesses, Matt and I almost ran into trouble. We kept waiting to fill up our tank thinking we would come across a gas station of our preference, but we never did. We passed a few options up before realizing it was too late and we had already entered the start of the Dragon. Luckily for us, there is a gas station at the end (or beginning, depending where you start).
This is not a scenic route. If a beautiful view is what you’re after, look elsewhere. Not to say this isn’t a gorgeous piece of land, but the road itself is the attraction here. People come from all over to conquer the turns. If you’re in their way, driving slower than grandma with your eyes wandering off into the woods, they aren’t going to be too happy with you. Matt and I had to pull onto the shoulder a number of times to put some distance between ourselves and the slow cruiser in front of us.
There are, however, definitely some photo worthy places before/after the Dragon.
Screenshot your directions. Or have a map. You know one of those handheld ancient relics that I can never seem to fold correctly when I am finished. Either way, you will probably lose service in the mountains. After we finished driving the Dragon we were without GPS for a good 10 minutes of driving. Luckily, one of us has a decent sense of direction. I’m not naming names.
Smile for the camera. Unsurprisingly, several photography companies have capitalized on setting up shop here to snap photos of the passing cars/bikes. Be sure to visit their websites the day after your drive to see what they have captured of your journey. You are able to download digital copies and/or order prints for a small fee. If I missed any, please let me know in the comments!
These two photos below were taken by the photographers at Killboy!
If this is not already on your bucket list, what are you waiting for? Pick a date when the weather is good, buckle up, and enjoy!
Are there any other bucket list roads like this one we should know about? Tell us in the comments!
Megan & Matt