Enjoy a Drive on Scenic Highway 129 near the Great Smoky Mountains and Experience the Tail of the Dragon!
Scenic Highway 129 starts in languid Chiefland, Florida, a far cry from the blue haze and cooler temperatures of the Great Smoky Mountains. Hundreds of miles from its inception, this iconic highway enters Tennessee west of the Smokies near the banks of Chilhowee Lake. The stretch of Highway 129 between Knoxville, Tennessee and Robbinsville, North Carolina winds through some of the best views and most exciting, motorcycle-friendly curves in the world in an 11 mile stretch known as the “Tail of the Dragon.”
Just before the start of the world-renowned “Tail of the Dragon,” drivers are treated to a stunning view of the majestic Tennessee hills rising behind Chilhowee Lake. Year-round, the blue of the water reflects the mountains in a display that makes drivers instinctively stop for photographs. The famous Foothills Parkway may be accessed to the left of Lake Chilhowee. This parkway offers stunning vistas, including some that span a hundred miles or more. There is no commercial development on the Parkway, which allows for the visitor to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature unfettered by urban clutter and noise.
In the few miles leading around Lake Chilhowee and prior to the start of the “Tail of the Dragon,” outdoorsy types can take a left onto Happy Valley Road and follow the signs to Abrams Creek Campground, a National Parks Service campground under the lush canopy of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Convenient to Look Rock and a variety of park-maintained hiking trails, Abrams Creek offers a great place to set up camp prior to enjoying the amazing “Tail of the Dragon” by car or motorcycle.
Motorcycle and sports car owners from all over the country pack this portion of 129, especially on weekends, three seasons out of the year, with a steady, but much thinner, stream making the drive in winter. The route, also known as Deal’s Gap, features a Harley Davidson store, other stops geared toward feeding and selling souvenirs to the cycling set, and at least three professional photography companies set up along the way, snapping away and then offering the weekend’s photographs for sale online.
The eleven miles of the “Tail of the Dragon” pack 318 curves with names like “Horns of the Dragon” and “Copperhead Corner.” Passengers are the only ones who can enjoy the view of surrounding forests and mountains as the road, while beautifully banked in the turns, forces the full attention of the driver. In the last ten years, 28 people have lost their lives in this short stretch, 27 of these were on motorcycles. This year, in the month of September alone, 177 traffic citations were issued and seventeen crashes took place. Sport bikers roar around Goldwing cruisers out for a Sunday drive. Sports cars of every make and model meet scooters and trikes, sometimes traveling in small entourages as friends make a special event out of the Dragon. The highway is alive with visitors with an appetite for fun.
The Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort offers motel and camping amenities on the North Carolina end of the Dragon, where 129 meets Highway 28. The resort, which also features a restaurant and store, is a hub of activity in every season except winter, when it is temporarily closed.
Check out this video of the world’s fastest rider, the Dragon Slayer, who is part of the USA129Photos.com Race Team!
If you choose to head south to Robbinsville, North Carolina as you exit the “Tail of the Dragon,” you’re in for a real treat. The community has a tucked-away feeling that makes one instinctively grab for real estate tracts. Lake and forest vistas and small-town charm foster a sense that all is right with the world. The Native American community of citizens in Robbinsville reminds the traveler that these hills have a history longer than our nation. The area around Scenic 129 has seen buffalo stampedes, British troops and Civil War intrigue and angst. It’s wonderful to know that the area is now devoted, by and large, to the joys of nature and the fellowship of family and friends.