This is the Scariest Road in the Smoky Mountains and Daredevils Love It

The Tail of the Dragon

The Dragon is considered the most dangerous road around the Smoky Mountains (photo by Jackson Rose/shutterstock)

The 11-mile Tail of the Dragon features 318 curves along the side of a mountain

When we moved to Blount County, Tennessee and I discovered we had a road known as The Dragon, my interest was piqued. What I found was that The Tail of The Dragon – a section of U.S. 129 – more than lives up to its name. The Tail of the Dragon is officially Tapoco Road in NC and Calderwood Highway in TN. It stretches the Fugitive Bridge near Robbinsville to Tabcat Bridge in Tennessee. Mostly known as The Dragon, the road offers 318 curves in 11 miles along the border of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Cherokee National Forest. It runs from Blount County in Tennessee to North Carolina.

Without houses with driveways, businesses or intersecting roads, it’s known as possibly one of the best rides in the country for motorcyclists. In fact, it is said to draw more than a quarter-million motorcycle riders each year. The Dragon is also popular with sports car enthusiasts. At least a couple of movies, such as “The Fugitive” with Harrison Ford and “Two-Lane Blacktop” had scenes filmed there. The irony of the situation is The Dragon cuts through some of the most scenic terrains in America.

The stretch of road takes about 30 minutes to cover. There are pull-offs for visitors to stop and take in the scenery. But, in my opinion, it is in no way a road to go sightseeing on. If you’re just sightseeing, you’re probably better off with other options. I recommend Cherohala Skyway about 45 minutes to the South. 

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A motorcyclist on the tail of the dragon
The speed limit is 30 mph due to its several twists and turns. Cyclists should use extreme caution (photo by Josh Betts/shutterstock.com)

Is the Tail of the Dragon dangerous?

The speed limit on the Tail of the Dragon is set to 30 mph due to the road’s many twists and turns. Regardless, it can be quite dangerous. With dozens of blind curves and crests, a moment of distraction can be costly. Add to that the number of riders and drivers who treat The Dragon as their private race track and things can go from idyllic to bad in the blink of an eye. 

Many of the notorious curves even have nicknames. Some of these are Beginner’s End, Bust Bend, Shade Tree Corner, Hog Pen Bend, Sunset Corner and Mud Corner. Make no mistake, The Dragon should be taken seriously. For that reason, the Blount County Sheriff’s Office dedicated serious manpower to patrolling the roadway. In addition, they created a website to provide safety tips for The Dragon. The site also reminds us that this is a rural area, and medical help is not necessarily nearby.

“Remember when visiting this very unique highway, you are not the only one there. There are many people who have to use this road every day commuting to and from work or are visiting family,” the site says. “Drive like you would want people to drive on the roads you and your family travel daily. If everyone would do this, there will be far fewer injuries and deaths, and when you see a deputy, you won’t be leaving with an invitation to return at a later date.”

tail of the dragon around a lake
The Dragon is a scenic route, but be sure to keep your attention on the road (photo by Reet Whiting/Shutterstock)

Tips for riding The Dragon

If you want to ride along The Dragon, come prepared to respect the road. Here are a handful of tips to help you prepare:

  1. Gear up: Wear every piece of safety equipment you have. I don’t know that you are statistically more likely to lay your bike down on The Dragon than anywhere else. However, lots of people have lost their lives up there. Be safe.
  2. Pay attention: You’re up there to ride, not gawk. So save the leaf-peeping for somewhere else. Follow the speed limit, this is no place for antics. Drive or ride at your skill level. Brake lightly. Stay in your lane.
  3. Do not ride it at night: This one seems self-explanatory. Also, don’t ride it from November through March. Conditions at higher elevations can change quickly. Many riders have been caught in a rough spot because he/she trusted an off-season weather report. 
  4. Get a global satellite GPS messenger: Cell service is non-existent in the mountains. Also, even in a best-case scenario, it can take an hour or more for emergency personnel to reach you in the event of an emergency. The Dragon can be a fun ride, but preparation is key. 
  5. Check the tank: The only gas station on The Dragon is at the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort located in the North Carolina part of the tail. Of course, it’s also a good idea to check your tire pressure. Fun fact, the resort has a tree decorated with various motorcycle parts lost in crashes on The Dragon. The “Tree of Shame” was started by Harley riders in the 1980s and looks like a Transformer that blew up during a midlife crisis.
The Tree of Shame on Deal's Gap
This tree is decorated with motorcycle parts (photo by Steve Lagreca/shutterstock.com)

Have you ridden The Tail of the Dragon? Let us know in the comments.

Have a question or comment about something in this article? Contact our staff here. You may also contact our editorial team at editor@thesmokies.com.

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13 thoughts on “This is the Scariest Road in the Smoky Mountains and Daredevils Love It”

  1. Your advice should be well taken , I’ve road the Dragon many times and seen some really bad thing because people didn’t take that piece of road seriously and paid for it , nice ride just respect it and you will be fine , I hope to be there again next week and looking forward to it and all the other great rids down there. !!!!!

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  2. Coming from Texas to ride the dragon with some buddies. I have rode the dragon before so this will be my second time. Looking forward to it.

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  3. We have riden The Tail many times. Our word of advise is if you look in your rearview mirror and see a motorcycle or sports car coming up fast behind, PULL OVER and you might very well save multiple lives!!! In our opinion, amateurs beware !!!

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  4. With a Maserati trailing we drove the tail in my Lincoln LS full throttle, full brake. The Maz owner was just shaking his head when we finished at the pull-off on the west end saying; “was that your first time through there? I have another one of these (the car) back in Baltimore I’ve raced for 10 years”. Still shaking his head….it was THE most exhilarating drive EVER! Following two motorcycles bent on setting a record. Wow! Extreme fun. Never left the pavement.

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  5. I attended this year’s TAIL OF THE DRAGON RENNSport Porsche Fall Rally 2023. On the first day, I rode as a passenger in the Cayman GTS of one of the group leaders. I grew up in Germany, 50 miles from the Nürburgring, spent endless times on the track, and used to race in my earlier days. I think driving the Dragon Tail could not be more complex than racing on the Nürburgring. I was very wrong. The way my driver approached the turns with speed, most of the time triple what the road sign read, and ripping the car, I had never experienced before on a racetrack. That adrenaline rush you feel when driving the Dragon Tail is simply addictive.

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  6. This stretch of road is not for the faint of heart and you need to pay attention cause we have seen motorcycles go off the road and they were not alive when people went to check on them. Use common sense when you ride on this road is

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  7. Hello. I live local about 40 minutes from Tab Cat Bridge. I bought my first Miata in 2012 and was introduced to The Dragon then by my son-in-law from Knoxville who’s been riding it since he was in high school.
    I’m now in my third Miata and run The Dragon pretty regularly.Love it and all the comradery of the like minded motor heads who gather up there.
    One thing I’ll mention is that during the warm weather months [riding season] I NEVER go up there on weekends! It’s become such a tourist attraction/destination that it’s just too crazy,crowded and the 11 miles more resemble a parade route and crawls like a funeral procession.
    I was up there yesterday afternoon [12/8/23] and the entire road was pretty much deserted and I enjoyed an excellent run up and down.
    Many want to blame the “Ricky Racers” for the accidents and/or deaths that occur up there.True, there are some certifiable idiots that arrive there and risk their lives and others as well. There are also some very talented drivers/riders that enjoy the melding of man and machine.
    If statistics are kept I think you’d find that a very high percentage of the accidents/deaths that have occured are from senior citizen riders on big heavy cruisers that don’t have the needed skills or experience to be on that type of road. And before you go off on me for the senior comment – I’ll be 73 next month.
    Enjoy the ride/drive,stay aware,don’t drive exceeding your abilities and for God’s sake STAY IN YOUR LANE !

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  8. I grew up riding Decker Rd to the beach in So. Cal. so riding “The Tail” wasn’t any challenge. The danger is other riders/drivers who cross into lanes to make their turns and take you out, or accelerate over the double yellow lines to pass you (even though you’re 10 MPH+ over the speed limit). It’s best just to cruise this road, enjoy the scenery and pull over once in a while to take pictures and let the others pass you. Mother nature (wet leaves, deer crossing, muddy corners, ice, etc.) can take you out just as easily as a speed demon intent on their demise on this road.

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  9. We had a lot of fun at the Rennsport. I actually like the Cherohala better… I will see you at the next one.

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  10. Living in North Georgia I get a lot of practice on roads such as Richard B Russell Scenic Highway, Wolf pin Gap, Blood Mountain… so while it is a lot of Corners in a short distance I did not find it intimidating. Just manage your ability and your ego and your car’s ability and you’ll be fine. Note.. do not do this drive hungover.😄

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