With an ominous name like Tail of the Dragon, this famous road lives up to its name. It is dangerous, popular, and drivers from all around come to adventure along its curves, but where is the road located, and why is it so famous?
The Tail of the Dragon, also known as Deals Gap, is an 11-mile stretch of US Highway 129 along the east stateline of Tennessee, where Tennessee meets North Carolina. Car and motorcycle enthusiasts come from around the world to experience the 318 turns within its 11 miles.
The Tail of the Dragon is both a famous and infamous road. It is widely popular but also very dangerous. However, with the right information and knowledge, travelers can safely experience this road’s razor-sharp turns and the surrounding scenery.
The Location Of The Tail Of The Dragon Road
The Tail of the Dragon Road is also commonly known as the gap, the hill, or the dragon and is located along the southwest edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Part of the road is in Tennessee, and the other part is in North Carolina. The road is also close to the Little Tennessee River. Some parts of the road even seem to mirror the shape of the river.
It is a narrow two-lane highway that seldom goes straight. As soon as drivers complete one turn, they are getting ready for the next. Maneuvering on these s-curves can be an exhilarating and unique drive but also requires quick reactions.
These intense turns make the Tail of the Dragon a mecca for motorcyclists and sport car drivers. They love the thrill of trying to conquer this road’s twists and turns, many of them maintaining a high speed as they do so. But unfortunately, many people see the road as a challenge. It isn’t easy to maintain speed and control when going around corners fast on a public road.
There is even a motorcycle resort, Deal’s Gap Motorcycle Resort, close to the road. The resort has places to stay, and they have photographers that take pictures as people drive the route. From staying a few nights to a quick gas stop, Deal’s Gap helps travelers with their needs as they pass through the Tail of the Dragon.
Those who drive sports cars are also very interested in driving the 11-mile snaking road. Some consider it a way to test their skills and vehicles.
There is no fee or toll to use this road, so drivers are free to use it throughout the year. However, it is occasionally closed because of rockslides or other debris like downed trees in the road. In the past, it has closed temporarily because of accidents too.
The lack of tolls combined with the twists and turns of the road makes it very busy throughout the year.
The speed limit in the past was 55 MPH on both the North Carolina and Tennessee sides of the road. In the 1990s, it was lowered to 40 MPH and later to 30 MPH; although, it is not uncommon to see many cars and motorcycles exceeding the speed limit on the road. Some of the fastest times are recorded on the road’s unofficial website.
Why is it Called Tail of the Dragon?
The Tail of the Dragon Road got its name from all the twists and turns. All these curves resemble a dragon’s tail.
Many of them are blind turns, so it is impossible to see what’s around the corner. The name represents well that the road isn’t for the faint of heart. Matching the intimidating road name, some of the curves also have names like:
- Copperhead Corner
- Hog Pen Bend
- Beginner’s End
- Brake or Bust Bend
One of the most appealing things for many about this road is that there are no intersecting roads or roads that interfere with the Tail of the Dragon. Since there are no crossroads or merging traffic, there are no red lights, no stop signs, and there are reduced chances drivers will encounter any obstacles that aren’t the sharp turns. Of course, there are still animals like deer that cross the road, but no cars entering or exiting the roadway.
Road Trip Answers Fun Fact: Some of the route known today as Tail of the Dragon was a path worn down by buffalo herds. Native Americans, in turn, used this path for hunting and travel.
Is Tail of the Dragon Dangerous?
Historically, Tail of the Dragon is one of the most dangerous roads in the country. Usually, mountain roads are safe because they have less traffic and slower speed limits, but this road is an exception. It is notorious for speeding because of its layout and the culture surrounding the road.
Often when someone visits the road, they don’t just ride it once; they ride it upwards of 20 times or more. The more someone will ride or drive it, the more confident they get and the faster they go.
The road averages about 80-90 accidents or crashes per year, and an average of 1.5 per year are fatal. The majority are motorcycle accidents. When a crash does occur, anyone driving on the road typically stops to help while they wait for emergency medical services.
The blind s-curves are a significant reason the road is dangerous, and accidents occur. Unfortunately, many of the accidents also occur due to excessive speed, excessive braking, or collisions with larger vehicles that take up more than one lane when turning.
Due to the layout of the road, it is treacherous to drive if it gets snowy or icy. All these aspects combined make this road more dangerous than most. Therefore, drivers and riders are encouraged to know their skills and not drive beyond their abilities to mitigate any risk.
What is the Best Time to Drive the Tail of the Dragon?
The Tail of the Dragon Road has the best conditions from April through October. The road will most likely be dry during these months. The weather will also be warm enough so visitors can enjoy some of the activities around the road like:
- Relax near Santeetlah Lake
- Cruise the more relaxing Cherohala Skyway, which has excellent views of densely wooded mountains and even waterfalls next to the road. On this road, there are many places to pull over and explore.
- Visit Wehrloom Honey, where you can learn about how bees make honey, see farm animals, and sample and buy different kinds of honey.
Since this is such a famous road throughout the world, it is difficult to find a time when it isn’t busy. The summer months are the peak of the busyness and the hardest time to drive the road without other cars or motorcycles around. However, in the first few weeks of November, the road is usually still dry and not nearly as busy.
The road is open at night but is much more difficult to navigate since most visitors don’t want to worry about driving around all the corners and twists in the dark.
Do Police Patrol Tail of the Dragon?
Police frequently patrol The Tail of the Dragon. Sometimes the police receive reports of racers or high-speed vehicles going too fast down the road. When this happens or if there is an accident, they will increase patrols throughout the road.
The police are strict on enforcing crossing over the double yellow lines in the middle of the road, and many people have been fined for crossing them. Enforcement is tough because of how many collision accidents happen on the Tail of the Dragon.
Motorcycle police officers are a common type of patrol, and many visitors related that the officers are nice and there is an excellent relationship between motorcycle officers and motorcyclists on the road.
Is Tail of the Dragon Part of the Blue Ridge Parkway?
The Tail of the Dragon is not part of Blue Ridge Parkway, though they are both close. Both lay at the southern border of Great Smokey Mountains National Park.
The two roads are separated by only 53 miles. Some tourers travel on both roads if they have the time since Blue Ridge Parkway also has many exciting turns.
Are Semi-Trucks Allowed on the Tail of the Dragon?
After being a contested issue for years, both Tennessee and North Carolina eventually banned commercial vehicles over 30 feet from driving on the Tail of the Dragon. This decision was because these semi-trucks were the issue when it came to many accidents because to maneuver around tight corners, they had to take up most of the road.
RVs under 30 feet are still allowed on the Dragon. However, RVers should be extra careful and try to travel during the week instead of on weekends because it’s less busy and RVs still have a tough time getting around some of the corners.
An Exhilarating Ride and a Risky Road
The Tail of the Dragon is a thrilling drive for some with the right vehicle or motorcycle combined with the proper skills. But if a driver has a larger vehicle or doesn’t have experience navigating narrow, windy roads, the drive can be stressful. Nevertheless, the Dragon will remain a popular place to visit. Drivers from near and far want to come and try their hand at navigating the twists and turns of this switchback-packed drive.