If your summertime travel plans include hitting the open road for an epic journey, we’ve got a great one for you. Head toward the Tennessee-North Carolina border and look for signs to US Route 129. There, you’ll find an amazing 11-mile stretch of highway dubbed the Tail of the Dragon – a top contender for one of E3 Spark Plugs‘s picks for America’s best driving roads.
The word “curvaceous” brings to mind a lovely feminine figure. Well, this figurative dragon is no lady. But she offers up a gorgeous view and a ride you’ll never forget. She runs along miles of forestland shadowed by the Great Smoky Mountains. And she’s known worldwide for her stunning curves – all 318 of them.
The Tail of the Dragon is located in an area called Deals Gap in Blount County, Tennessee, also the name of a small unincorporated motorcycle resort and community tucked away in a gap in Swain County, North Carolina – just east of the state line. And when we say “small,” we mean it. That tiny motorcycle community has an unofficial population of six, according to its welcome sign.
The fact that this internationally famous road tripping destination is perched atop a 1,756-feet above sea level elevation makes its curves all the more thrilling and worthy of their ominous-sounding names. A few of the sharpest curves are called Copperhead Corner, Hog Pen Bend, Wheelie Hell, Shade Tree Corner, Mud Corner, Sunset Corner, Gravity Cavity, Beginner’s End and Brake or Bust Bend. From overhead, these curves resemble those of a dragon’s tail, ergo its name.
If you’re up to the challenge of taking the dragon, keep in mind that many a motorist has gone the way of an overly confident medieval peasant with a wooden sword, bent on being the fairytale hero – broken bones, [road] burns and busted-up egos. And there’s a “Tree of Shame,” decorated with crash mementos like busted helmets and twisted hunks of metal to prove it. To help keep the blood loss at bay, police now frequent the area in such numbers that getting a ticket is considered a rite of passage for newbies to the path – especially since 2005 when the speed limit dropped from 55mph to 30mph. Also, know that while the entire stretch is called US 129 and State Route 115, it’s dubbed Calderwood Highway in Tennessee and Tapoco Road in North Carolina.
Have you successfully ridden the Tail of the Dragon? Post your stories and pics on the E3 Spark Plugs Facebook Fan Page. And, check out this segment from AutoBlog’s The List: 1001 Car Things to do Before You Die for a video preview before planning your trip to Deals Gap.