tail of the dragon tennesseePhoto Credit: Creative Commons: BRP_HDR_26" by sporadic is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

The AutoSlash team loves cars and we look for every opportunity to drive on fun, iconic roads. The Tail of the Dragon, just over the North Carolina-Tennessee border, is a stretch of road with 318 turns in 11 miles. It's a scenic drive that requires a lot of focus, with 29 turns per mile. I tackled it in a rented 2017 Nissan Versa Note, and it was remarkably a blast.


Slaying the Tail of the Dragon


The Tail of the Dragon is located near the Deals Gap mountain pass along the North Carolina-Tennessee state line, bordering the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. From North Carolina, you cross the gap into Tennessee to the Tail of the Dragon.

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The curvy road got its name because it is said to resemble a dragon's tail. Some of the sharpest curves have names like Copperhead Corner, Hog Pen Bend, Wheelie Hell, Sunset Corner, Gravity Cavity and Brake or Bust Bend.

During my approach through the Great Smoky Mountains National Forest, I encountered my first Killboy truck. Killboy is one of the companies that photograph drivers on the Tail of the Dragon and posts photos online in the hopes that drivers will purchase those commemoratives. The Tail of the Dragon is serious business in the region. Seeing the Kilboy truck prepped me for the photographers I would see later standing on trucks, and I was able to find my photos easily listed under the generous "Other Cars" category upon arriving at home.

After pulling into Deals Gap, I gathered some intel. For instance, I was told to expect three more photographers and zero police on the route; the knowledge of no police officers on the road may or may not have altered my driving behavior. So I hopped in the Versa and safely blasted my way across the border of US-129 into Tennessee and the start of the Tail of the Dragon. The entirety of the Tail of the Dragon is in Tennessee, although Deals Gap, in North Carolina, somehow takes credit.

There are many friendly (and not-so-friendly) dragons around.

Before attempting the Tail of the Dragon, it's important to note a few critical facts:

  • It's remote, so there won't be many gas stations in route (and none during the 11 critical miles).
  • It's touristy, so plan your visit accordingly around weekends and holidays.
  • Cell phones really don't work, so don't do anything stupid.
  • If you do something stupid and you're on a motorcycle, contribute to the Tree of Shame.
  • The Tail of the Dragon is sometimes closed due to accidents, rock slides or weather, so check in advance.

How technically challenging is the Tail of the Dragon? Can you think of anywhere else in the world where you see signs warning that the next 11 miles are a high accident area?

Accident warnings are not only for motorcycles.

The Tail of the Dragon is exceptionally popular with motorcyclists and drivers of performance cars. I suspected that the most interesting aspect for me would be the late-season foliage, which would ideally distract me from watching how quickly my car was actually burning fuel. I had a blast. It was not as fun as racing Ferraris, but it was fun.

The outdoors is one of the reasons I live in Tennessee.

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Here's a video of the road so you can get an idea of what it's like.

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