The “Tail of the Dragon” Is One of the Most Scenic and Dangerous Drives

If a lengthy, twisty road with smooth pavement is a playground for any car enthusiast, then the “Tail of the Dragon” can be considered heaven, or possibly hell. For those not in the know, the Tail of the Dragon is a stretch of road that cuts through the mountain pass known as “Deals Gap,” which is on the border between North Carolina and Tennessee. And while this stretch of road is one of the most scenic drives in the country, it’s also one of the most dangerous.

The Tail of the Dragon is the best road in America for spirited driving

The road is part of the US129 highway and to get an idea of just how curvy the “Dragon” is, the famous road spans 11 miles and is filled with 318 different curves and corners along the way. Its name refers to the fact that the road resembles a dragon’s tail. According to the Tail of the Dragon website, it’s not a difficult road to drive, but its two-lane architecture and blind corners can be tough to negotiate. If you have never experienced white-knuckle driving before, then The Dragon will surely give you a lesson.

Although, with the proper precautions and driving behaviors, it can be a really exhilarating and safe experience. The road might only have two lanes, but it has scenic overlook stops along the way so you can pull over and take your touristy photos of the surrounding foliage or let a faster car pass by. One of the best parts is that there are no intersecting roads, so there’s no need to worry about cross traffic pulling out in front of you when doing this drive.

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a corner on the tail of the dragon
The Tail of the Dragon | Getty Images

The Tail of the Dragon is not a race track

Thrill-seekers from around the world seek out this destination drive but, unfortunately, the Tail of the Dragon is not a race track, which means that its speed limit is set at 30 mph. But even at that speed, if you don’t negotiate the blind corners well enough, it could lead to a head-on collision with a tractor-trailer, a motorcycle, a car, or even a large animal. Approximately 37 deaths were recorded between the years 2000 and 2017.

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There are rules when driving The Dragon

To help keep drivers and motorcycle riders safe, the website for the Tail of the Dragon has some helpful guidelines.

  • Stay in your lane: There is a double-yellow line that separates the two lanes, if you touch it, you could be pulled over by the police as it is illegal to do so.
  • Drive according to your skill level: No one is going to give you a trophy for the best lap time, so drive at your own comfort level and let faster cars pass. Driving too fast can be treacherous.
  • Don’t overuse the brakes: Stay in a low gear the whole time and don’t overuse the brakes as they can quickly fade and cause you to run into someone else or go off the road.
  • Use caution: Watch for wildlife, make sure that your vehicle is mechanically sound, and be sure to warm up the tires when you start driving.

It’s not too often that a specific stretch of road has its own set of rules for those planning to drive on it. But when the road is as famous and potentially dangerous as The Dragon, we can see why the rules exist.

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a map outlining all the deaths on the tail of the dragon
A “death map” of the Tail of the Dragon |

Destination driving at its finest

Just like the Nürburgring or the autobahn, the Tail of the Dragon is easily one of the most popular destination drives for any motorcycle or car enthusiast. And while the drive might seem like a great way to test your driving skill, you could be damned if you do. But let that deter you from actually driving it. As long as you drive safely, you can still have a great time while taking in the beautiful scenery that surrounds you.