What Is the Tail of the Dragon?

What Is the Tail of the Dragon?

Last Updated March 29, 2024 | Nate Moonis

The Tail of the Dragon at Deals Gap is considered by many to be the best sports car and motorcycle road on the East Coast. Otherwise known as US 129, it's an extremely technical road that poses a challenge to even the most experienced drivers.

Where Does the Tail of the Dragon Begin and End?

While you can run the Tail from either direction, most start in Deals Gap, North Carolina. Then, they take the 11- mile journey across the Tennessee state line. After a challenging and enjoyable ride, the Tail of the Dragon ends at Tabcat Creek Bridge in Tennessee.

While the scenery along the route is worth the trip itself, you don't come to the Tail to look at what's around you. You're there to drive, and your focus is on the road.

If you're interested in tackling the Dragon's Tail, there're a few things you should know before you go.

Driving the Dragon's Tail

The road has many defining characteristics that have attracted enthusiasts for years. Check out the video below for a first-person view of the drive in a GT350.

How Many Curves Are in the Tail of the Dragon?

The Dragon's Tail features 318 curves along an 11-mile stretch of road. The paved, two-lane road is mostly flat, unlike the steep mountain roads of the West Coast. While motorcycles typically perform best on the Tail, newer Mustangs and other sports cars can still take on this challenge.

But, if you're going to be taking an older Mustang, be aware there are some tight turns. For example, you'll encounter plenty of banked turns and almost 300-degree hairpins. This makes it the perfect road for anyone looking to test their technical driving ability.

Map of the Tail of the Dragon on Google Maps
Credit: Google Maps

What Is the Speed Limit?

Because the road is so skinny and the turns are so tight, the speed limit is 30 MPH. While this may sound pretty slow, this isn't a top-speed road and most turns you'll experience are 2nd or 3rd gear. There's also no passing over the yellow line. Don't worry though, there are plenty of spots to pull over and let people by.

All 318 curves can be completed in around 30 to 40 minutes on average.

When Should You Visit the Tail of the Dragon?

The best time to try and conquer the Dragon's Tail is from April to October. The road can get pretty sketchy in the winter time, so it's best to avoid it in the colder months. Also, the earlier in the morning you can go, the better. The road only gets busier as the day goes on.

Many think of this route as an autumn past time. The falling leaves make for breathtaking views, and the temperate climate make for a great day.

Section of Tail of the Dragon during the fall

How to Stay Safe

While everyone is there to have fun, the Tail of the Dragon can be dangerous if you don't take it seriously. Here are a few safety tips to make sure you have fun, but also stay safe.

Keep Your Eyes On the Road

It's important to be wary of oncoming traffic. Tail of the Dragon is a skinny, two-lane road with almost no run-off. While illegal, many people also drive over the speed limit on the road and cross the double-yellow lines. If you're going to drive this road, you need to be paying attention at all times.

Use the Designated Pull-Offs

If you're going to take pictures, use the designed pull-offs and don't park in the middle of the road. This should be a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised at the amount of people that do this.

Stick to the Speed Limit

Stick to the speed limit of 30 MPH. While I'm sure many of you will want to go faster than that, the speed limit is there to keep you safe. There are many sharp turns and hairpins that can easily catch a driver out if they're going too fast.

There have been 63 deaths on the road since 1995 and hundreds more crashes. Sticking to the speed limit is the best way to make sure you don't end up becoming a statistic.

Don't Push Your Luck

Finally, always drive within your limits. Pushing too hard is a recipe for disaster and things can go wrong quickly on the Tail, especially at night. This road is a challenge for even the most experienced drivers, so don't feel bad if you have to take it slow.

What Else Should You Check Out?

You might find it hard to justify a long trip just to drive an 11-mile stretch of road, so here are some other places to check out that'll make your trip more worthwhile.

Tail of the Dragon Events and Meetups

There are too many events to name, so I'll direct you towards the official event calendar. However, some highlights include the many Dragon Rallies that take place throughout the year and the many car/manufactuer specific meets.

The Tree of Shame

This tree is covered in pieces of crashed motorcycles from accidents on the Tail. It's a reminder to all that the Dragon isn't a joke and should be taken seriously.

Picture of tree covered in broken motorcycle parts

Keep Your Car in One Piece

Don't want your Mustang's parts to end up on the Tree of Shame? Make sure you add some of these autocross Mustang mods to make the drive more manageable.

Cherohala Skyway

If you're looking for a great compliment to the Tail of the Dragon, the Cherohala Skyway is a spectacular road that's within a 30-minute drive. With around 43 miles of pavement twisting and turning through the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina, this road climbs over 2,700 feet with long, sweeping curves and great views.

Windy road on Cherohala Skyway during the fall

Cheoah Dam

Famous for the scene in The Fugitive where Harrison Ford's character leaps from the bridge and into the water below, Cheoah Dam can be seen from the Dragon. There is a pull-off along the northern side of the Tail that allows you to get a good look at Cheoah Dam if you're interested.

Cheoah Dam in the fall

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

If you find yourself loving the scenery and area surrounding the Tail, Great Smokey Mountains National Park is a great place to check out. With amazing views, impressive wildlife, and plenty of places to camp or hang out, it's a must-see landmark for anyone in the area. It's also been said that Bigfoot inhabits the park, so that's something.

Map of the Smokey Mountain Loop
Credit: tailofthedragonmaps.com

Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort

Located at either the beginning or the end of your ride of the Tail, this resort is a landmark for many bikers and car enthusiasts. There's great food, fun souvenirs, and plenty of restrooms. If you're looking for a Tail of the Dragon hotel, you can stay the night at the resort for easy access to the Dragon and the other roads nearby. However, it can be hard to actually book a room during peak months (April-October).

Wide angle view of Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort
Credit: Deal's Gap Media Gallery

A Worthy Bucket List Item for Every Enthusiast

The Tail of the Dragon is a bucket list road for many car and motorcycle enthusiasts that lives up to the hype given to it from thousands of riders and drivers. While the Tail can be loads of fun and a great challenge, I can't stress enough how important it is to drive safely. If you find yourself wanting to tame the Dragon's Tail, you'll be sure to enjoy the journey.

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Sources: Your Guide to a Tail of the Dragon Road Trip, Reader's Digest | US 129 Deals Gap, Tail of the Dragon | The Dragon: Super-Twisty N.C. Road Is the Ultimate Fall Ride, USA Today

This article was researched, written, edited, and reviewed following the steps outlined in our editorial process. Learn more about CJ's editorial standards and guidelines.