Tail of the Dragon (Deals Gap)
The Tail of the Dragon, also known as Deals Gap or just the Dragon, is considered by many as one of the world's best motorcycling and sports car roads. Anyone looking for an exciting piece of asphalt will enjoy this stretch of US 129 at the Tennessee/North Carolina state line. The Dragon is only 11 miles long and boasts 318 curves in that 11 miles. It is ridden by many enthusiasts as well as motorcycle "factory" riders, testing thier skills and thier bike's handling capabilities.
The Dragon in the late 1920s was designated as TN72 on the Tennessee side and NC288 on the North Carolina side (today’s NC28 to Fontana). Completion of the bridge near Tapoco in 1931 allowed connection of NC108 to NC288. In 1934 NC 108 and TN72 was renumbered as US129 and was most likely paved for the first time around that date.
The road was only lightly traveled for decades, primarily by locals and lost tourists. The small motel and diner went through many different owners from the 50s to the 90s. It was owned by the Moodys, the Craftons and was known after that as Macs Motel.
In 1992 Doug Snavely, hearing about a great ride in the Smokies, came up from Road Atlanta to ride US129 for himself. The ride proved even more exciting than he had ever imagined. He met Pete, owner of the Crossroads of Time, a small café/motel located at the junction of US129 and NC28. At the time Pete catered to fishermen, hunters, and the few lost vacationers. Doug sold Pete on promoting the road to motorcyclists and got a job as manager at the Crossroads, which had been in existence since the 1930s and had been known as Crofton’s Motel and later Mac’s Motel.
Snavely began to publish the monthly Deals Gap Hot Lap newsletter on September 1, 1992. He also got the road mentioned in Rider Magazine. Snavely was not welcomed by everyone. He received many threats and was even shot at as he rode down one of the local roads.
Snavely also created the Deals Gap Riding Society. There are some 350 members from all over the United States. The organization more or less folded when Snavely left the Crossroads of Times after a few years. He lives in Knoxville and still rides the Gap today.
In the next few years motorcycle riding increased dramatically at the Dragon. Each year since then the number of motorcycles and sports cars has seemingly doubled. Today riders and drivers from across the US, Canada, and many other foreign countries come to test their riding skills on the Dragon. There is always a show on the weekends from April through October.
The Dragon, as many have found, is truly a unique road. In 14 miles there are only two intersections; NC28 to Fontana Dam and the lightly traveled gravel road at Parsons Branch. There are no buildings other than the Crossroads of Time. There are 318 curves in the 11 miles located on the Tennessee side. Most of the time there is very little traffic and the vehicles that do use this road are primarily motorcycle riders and sports car drivers looking for the thrill of their lives. It is remote - there is very little evidence of human population within 20 miles in any direction. Most of the roadway is bounded by United States Forest Service property, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and forested land owned by Alcoa Aluminum who operates the dams located along US129.
Deals Gap, the name that many riders know the Dragon by, is actually the gap in the mountains that the road follows. Deals Gap, located at the North Carolina and Tennessee State Line, is the highest point on the Dragon at 1962 feet above sea level. It was likely named for one of the early families who settled here.
It can be reached from the resort town of Gatlinburg TN in about an hour, via the Foothills Parkway (also another great ride) or from Knoxville TN by just staying on Hwy 129 south out of the city and past the Knoxville Airport. The road is still desolate today and can be a real adventure in the winter months. It is not a road for the squeamish, but if you're looking for a little excitement don't miss this one. By the way, if you would like to be able to ride the Dragon all the time, find out how you can purchase an investment rental cabin here and help pay your mortgage. Gatlinburg Real Estate