The Tail of The Dragon, a popular motorcycle and sports car road, is famous for its 318 curves in eleven miles. It begins at Deals Gap in North Carolina, winds through the remote and scenic mountain area bordering the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and ends at the Tabcat Bridge in Tennessee. Tour groups from all over the United States, and worldwide come to experience the thrill of "Riding the Dragon". The general route of highway 129 through the mountains historically offered the most favorable path for travel between Western North Carolina and East Tennessee, and Deals Gap was a natural break in the mountains. This route was once part of the old Cherokee Indian trail system used by the Native Americans prior to European settlement. It was followed by the first white explorers, hunters, and trappers, and later by the early settlers. It allowed access to the Cades Cove Community, now a part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The road was used by the settlers for travel and trade extending throughout the surrounding settlements. The route continued to be improved as the use demanded, first for horses and wagons, and later for motorized vehicles. Around 1934 it was paved for the first time and designated as U.S. Highway 129.
The Tail of the Dragon is an eleven mile section of U.S. Highway 129. Since modern earth moving machines were not available in the early days of road building, construction techniques involved designing the road to wind around all of the mountain curves, and in and out of every hollow, without benefit of dirt fills to straighten the path. For the eleven mile section of U.S. Highway 129 that is known as "The Tail of the Dragon" this process resulted in a pattern of "S" shaped curves that was determined by the topography of the rugged mountain terrain, much to the delight of modern day thrill seekers. It is one of the few places in the world where people come just because of the road!
The Tail of the Dragon has been voted as the number one motorcycle road in the world. It is also popular with sports car clubs and other groups. It has been featured in many motorcycle magazines and has been the subject of numerous other travel and adventure articles in a variety of publications. Scenes for a number of motion pictures, including "Thunder Road", and "Two Lane Blacktop" were filmed on sections of The Dragon. Filming for some of the scenes in "The Fugitive" was shot at the Tapoca Bridge area, located just south of Deals Gap. Harrison Ford's jump scene was shot at Cheoah Dam in this area. Some people consider the Tapoca Bridge as the south end of the Tail of the Dragon, and consider it as a 12 mile stretch, instead of the traditional 11 miles. The "twelve miles in twelve minutes" challenge considers the Tapoca Bridge as the beginning point of the Dragon.
Follow U.S. Highway 19 to Highway 129 at the West end of the Nantahala Gorge. Follow Hwy 129 past Robbinsville to the Tapoca Bridge and Deals Gap. Enjoy "Riding The Dragon"!