Tail of the Dragon - A Motocyclist's Dream
Thrill-seeking drivers head for Deal’s Gap, where the road is the destination.
For those who like to tour on two wheels, the mountains of North Carolina provide some of the most scenic and challenging motorcycling roads anywhere. One of those is considered by many to be the best in the world and has been featured in National Geographic Adventure and numerous motorcycle magazines.
The constant rumble of motorcycle engines in Deals Gap attests to its popularity. This winding passage over the mountains into Tennessee was part of a Cherokee Indian trail network in centuries past. Today, the route is covered by a ribbon of blacktop officially designated U.S. Highway 129, but the bikers and sports car drivers that come from all over the globe to negotiate this famous stretch of road call it the "Tail of the Dragon."
Anyone who has taken it on understands why. The Dragon borders the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on one side and a privately owned, unspoiled forest on the other. And, although it is one of the most beautiful roads in the country, its twists, turns and switchbacks require a driver’s undivided attention.
In fact, experienced riders warn, “No sightseeing allowed.” At least, not while driving. Several pull-outs and a scenic overlook provide opportunities to stop and enjoy the spectacular views. Speaking of views, the Dragon’s starting point at Tapoca Bridge, a.k.a. Fugitive Bridge, has a view of Cheoah Dam, where Harrison Ford made his death-defying leap in the movie The Fugitive.
A steep climb and multiple “S” curves later, the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort offers accommodations, a restaurant, gas station and store. From there, drivers grab the Dragon by the tail and hang on through the next 11 miles and, count ’em, 318 curves. Some are so sharp, they’ve earned names like Copperhead Corner, Wheelie Hell, Gravity Cavity, Beginner’s End and Brake or Bust Bend. The Tail of the Dragon ends at Tabcat Bridge in Tennessee.
Watch the recent "Good Morning America" clip with Bill Weir
To get there from Interstate 40 near Asheville, go south on U.S. Highway 76 to U.S. Highway 129 at the west end of Nantahala Gorge. Continue past Robbinsville to Deals Gap.
The Dragon has a strictly enforced speed limit of 30 miles per hour, and veteran riders caution against crossing the yellow line due to the blind corners.
Another mountain road in the area gaining popularity among motorcyclists is the breathtaking Cherohala Skyway, which runs from Robbinsville to Tellico Plains, Tenn., and reaches elevations exceeding 5,400 feet. North Carolina’s most expensive road, it cost $100 million and took 34 years to build.
By Carol Cowan
Courtesy of Journal Communications
By Carol Cowan
added: December 9, 2008
updated: March 21, 2012