As a child of the 80s, the education of my youth came with a handful of recurring staples from elementary through middle school.
Each year – seemingly at random – the teacher would wheel in a rickety cart with a television and a top-loading VCR. The lights would be turned down and a video like “Rikki Tikki Tavi” or a cartoon version of “The Hobbit” would be played.
These were rites of the school year. These moments have stuck with me long since other schoolboy lessons have faded into the ether.
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 while The Tail of The Dragon – a section of U.S. 129 – may not be hoarding mountains of gold and a penchant for hubris, it more than lives up to its name.
Where does the Tail of the Dragon begin and end?
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. View a map here.
The Tail of The Dragon – though it’s mostly known as The Dragon – 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. It snakes along, uninterrupted through the mountains. In fact, it draws 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.
However, it is in no way a road to go sightseeing on.
What is the speed limit on Tail of the Dragon?
The speed limit is set to 30 mph due to the road’s many twists and turns.
Is the Tail of the Dragon dangerous?
It can be, yes. 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 own 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.
“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.”
The site also reminds us that this is a rural area, and medical help is not necessarily nearby.
How long does it take to drive the Tail of the Dragon?
The stretch of road takes about 30 minutes to cover.
There are pull-offs for visitors to stop and take in the scenery.
But honestly, if you’re just sightseeing, you’re probably better off with other options. I recommend Cherohala Skyway about 45 minutes to the South.
Read Also: Where does the Cherohala Skyway begin? Your guide to this scenic drive
6 tips on 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:
6. Remember Bilbo
As Bilbo Baggins said in “The Hobbit”, “Never laugh at live dragons.”
This dragon is alive.
5. 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.
4. Pay attention
You’re up there to ride, not gawk. 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.
2. Get a global satellite GPS messenger
Cell service is non-existent in the mountains and, 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.
1. 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.
Have you ridden The Tail of the Dragon? Let us know in the comments.
2 thoughts on “Tips for riding The Tail of The Dragon, your complete guide”
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. !!!!!
Just seen a half a million dollar Ferrari upside down on the 25th of October. Very dangerous