With 318 curves in 11 miles, is America's number one motorcycle and sports car road. Deals Gap, also known as Tail of the Dragon, is a portion of U.S. Route 129 in Blount County, Tennessee, situated in a gap in Swain County, North Carolina, United States. It's heralded as one of the most scenic drives in USA.
It is located along U.S. 129 at the Tennessee state line. The community has an unofficial population of 6, which is posted on a welcoming sign.The community's approximate elevation is 1756 feet above sea level. The road is desolate and can be a real adventure in the winter months, having to deal with bears, turkeys, deer, and wild boars in the road, trees down, ice/snow, and tractor-trailers taking-up both lanes in the curves. It is not a road for the squeamish, but if you're looking for a little excitement don't miss this one.
Deals Gap is a popular and internationally famous destination for driving enthusiasts (of motorcycles and sports cars), as it is located along a stretch of two-lane road known as "The Dragon" or the "Tail of the Dragon". The 11-mile stretch of the Dragon in Tennessee is said to have 318 curves, many of them monster switchbacks and hairpins, as well as a series of steep “S” curves called The Slide.. Some of the Dragon's sharpest curves have names like Copperhead Corner, Hog Pen Bend, Wheelie Hell, Killboy (formerly Shade Tree) Corner, Mud Corner, Sunset Corner, Gravity Cavity, Beginner's End, and Brake or Bust Bend.
The road earned its name from its curves being said to resemble a dragon's tail. The stretch bears the street name "Tapoco Road" in North Carolina and "Calderwood Highway" in Tennessee and is signed entirely by U.S. 129. State Route 115 is included on maps, and is the name used by Tennessee Department of Transportation for highway contracts.
Since part of the road is also the southwestern border of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, there is no development along the 11-mile stretch, resulting in no danger of vehicles pulling out in front of those in the right of way. It mostly travels through forested area and there are a few scenic overlooks and pull-off points along the route. Prior to 1992 the speed limit in both Tennessee and North Carolina was 55 mph. In 1993 the speed limit on the Tennessee side was lowered to 40 mph. In 2002 the speed limit was lowered to 30 mph, which is still in effect today. The North Carolina portion of the Dragon was lowered to 30 mph in early 2005.
Weather on the Dragon is fairly predictable most of the summer. The winter months from November through March can be impossible to predict. The chart below indicates averages for each month. Be warned that these are averages and the actual temperatures can vary widely, For example we have seen temperatures ranging from the mid-90s in summer to minus 5 degrees in the winter.
There are many ridable days in the winter, but they are not predictable. We have ridden Christmas and New Years, but we considered that lucky. We have seen snow on the Dragon as early as Halloween. The Blizzard of 1993 dropped 38 inches of snow on us in one day, March 13. We have seen snow on the Dragon as late as April 16 one year, when 13 inches fell. Higher elevations of the Cherohala and Blue Ridge Parkway can experience snow well into May.
Many summer afternoons bring widely scattered rain showers. Often the weather stations and web weather will indicate rain for the entire area. Be aware that you can still have nearly a full day of riding before the summer showers hit in mid-afternoon. And these showers are here and there .... not everywhere. They often disipate in the late afternoon leaving several hours of good riding before dark.
Cars can run the Dragon most of the year. Winter is a great time to have the road to yourself. At times the road is dusted with salt/sand, but that is only when a severe storm is coming. It is usually gone after the next good rain. One big advantage of winter on the Dragon is the ability to see through many the corners because the trees have dropped their leaves. Good visibility from November through March. One downside is the sun is lower and can get in your eyes even at noon. The shadows also make for reduced visability.
You will hear a lot about the fastest times on the Dragon. The original unofficial timing involved a run from the Overlook to the Crossroads of Time and then back, an 18.6-mile distance. The round trip time was then divided by two. The Deals Gap Riding Society record for an amateur rider was a 22 minute round trip run, which averaged out to 11 minutes (50.7 mph average). The overall record was 18 minutes, or 9 minutes one-way (62 mph average). In order to compete for a new record one had to make the run along with the current record holder. These records were set back in the early 1990s when there was little traffic on the Dragon. Today, with the road patrolled by sheriff and highway patrol, you will risk severe penalties if you try to beat the records.
The first feature film made on US 129 was Thunder Road. This 1958 Robert Mitchum film about backwoods moonshining actually had scenes filmed on the Dragon. One location that we can identify is at the power line easement at about mile 4.5 on the Dragon map and you can see the old wooden "safety" posts on the open corner. A number of the posts still remain. Darrin Roberts told us that part of the 1971 classic movie Two-Lane Blacktop was filmed on the Dragon. There are scenes of the state line sign, some of the curves, and the original single lane bridge at Tapoco Dam. There are also scenes along 129 on the Little Tennessee River. We were amazed to see the original Deal's Gap diner and Esso gas station in the film too. These scenes are at the end of the movie. Part of The Fugitive (1993) with Harrison Ford was filmed at Tapoco Dam. Part of In Dreams (1998) with Annette Bening was filmed at Tapoco Dam and Calderwood Dam. Several commercials have been filmed here.
Deaths in The Dragon
2010 - Death Aug 2 at Wheelie Hell. Body found next day. Death Aug 28 near Parsons Branch Rd.
2009 - Five deaths as of Oct 7. HD rider off road in the Chicanes. Female HD rider off road Carosel Corner July. Female rider off road Carosel Corner August. Male rider off road mm 8.2. Male rider off road at Hump.
2008 - Four deaths.
2007 - Three deaths. One low side at Guadrail Cliff and a trike versus a vehicle claimed the lives of an older rider and his passenger. Both accidents in July.
2006 - Two deaths: One rider went off road and hit tree another low sided into an oncoming vehicle.
2005 - Three deaths: All three deaths involved failing to negociate corners -two went off the mountain and one slid into an oncoming vehicle.
2004 - Two deaths: Both deaths apparently caused by speed and then overbraking.
2003 - No deaths: There were several deaths in the surrounding area of the Dragon, but none that we know of on the 11 miles of the Dragon itself.
2002 - Two deaths: Cruiser rider passing a car and sportbike losing control and hitting tree.
2001 - Two deaths: The entire Blount County (home of the Dragon) saw a total of four motorycle fatalities in 2001. The total includes the deaths of a 27-year-old Knoxville man who died March 10 in a collision on Old Knoxville Highway in Rockford, the May 5th death on the Dragon, the July 5th death of a 43-year-old Maryville man in an accident on Happy Valley Road, and the October 27th death on the Dragon.
2000 - One death: Blount County had four motorcycle deaths in 2000 including one fatality on the Dragon.
1999 - One motorcycle death in 1999
1998 - No fatal motorcycle crashes in 1998.
1997 - One motorcycle fatality in 1997.
1996 - One motorcycle fatality in 1996.
1995 - Two deaths: In 1995, two men died in separate July 3 motorcycle crashes
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