Tail of the Dragon: 5 alternatives that rival the renowned road

Photography Credit: Chris Tropea

In the Southeast, and perhaps all over the world, the Tail of the Dragon is considered legend: 318 curves packed into just 11 miles. No driveways, no cross streets, no stop signs. 

While truly worth the trip, all the fame has dampened the experience a tad. With all this popularity comes traffic, police scrutiny and negative attention. If you catch it right–offseason or early in the day–you can still enjoy a magical drive, but more often than not, there’s a good chance you’ll get stuck behind someone. 

In a decade of putting on our Classic Motorsports Smoky Mountain Tour–our tour schedule also finds the fun roads in Kentucky, New York and, yes, even Florida–we have explored every nook and cranny of the Great Smoky Mountains. Here are five area roads that we believe are as good or better than the famed Dragon. 

Route 60

Dahlonega, Georgia, through the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest

This ribbon of pavement–Georgia State Route 60–between the towns of Dahlonega and Morganton is smooth, banked and far from civilization. This stretch covers 42 miles, and curve after curve is only interrupted by stunning scenery.

Place to stop: The Wolf Mountain Vineyards, just north of Dahlonega, serves as the perfect lunch spot: gourmet offerings with an amazing view. Owner Karl Boegner is quite a Porsche collector. If you’re lucky enough to swing by when the garage doors are open, you’re in for a treat.

The Rattler

Hot Springs, North Carolina, to Iron Duff, North Carolina, via NC-209

North Carolina State Route 209 from Ferguson Supply near Iron Duff (north of Maggie Valley, North Carolina) to Hot Springs has been named The Rattler. Thanks to its 290 curves in 24 miles and virtual absence of traffic, this road can be called clearly superior to the Tail of the Dragon. On a recent drive, we came upon just one other car–and it politely pulled off and let us by. In a handful of recent runnings, we have never seen a police officer. As a bonus, the scenery is truly gorgeous.

Place to stop: While The Rattler terminates in the funky little town of Hot Springs–complete with its mineral baths, brewery and coffee shop–the hot tip is to visit the Wheels Through Time Museum in nearby Maggie Valley. While mostly filled with motorcycles, there’s plenty to keep any gearhead enthralled for at least an hour or two.

Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest

Robbinsville, North Carolina, to Tapoco Lodge

Just south of the Tail of the Dragon, you’ll find some curvy roads through North Carolina’s Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest: Joyce Kilmer Road, Santeetlah Road and Cherohala Skyway. We think they’re worth the visit. While everyone drives up 129 to get to the Dragon, we instead take this little-traveled series of roads around Lake Santeetlah.

Place to stop: When you get to Tapoco Lodge, stay put. This nearly 100-year-old lodge offers terrific burgers, pizzas and salads. Seating is outdoors along the river in an idyllic setting.

Wayah Road

Nantahala, North Carolina, to Franklin, North Carolina

This route is so unknown that we’ve met very few people who have ever heard of it. Starting from Nantahala, you travel down Wayah Road/North Carolina State Route 1310 around Nantahala Lake and then into Franklin. This roughly 35-mile stretch is heaven on earth as you curve your way along the river and pass waterfalls. You’ll see few cars besides those of trout fishermen.

Place to stop: The route passes several waterfalls. Stop and check them out.

Highway 276

Waynesville, North Carolina, to Brevard, North Carolina

Locals know this route well. This 39.1-mile stretch through the eastern side of the Nantahala National Forest is loaded with thrilling curves and scenic waterfalls, all while following a beautiful river.

Place to stop: Looking Glass Falls, along the route, is a quick and picturesque stop. If you detour north on the Blue Ridge Parkway for a few miles, you can grab a fantastic lunch at the Pisgah Inn.

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Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
5/22/24 8:57 a.m.

Marking these on the map for future reference...

crankwalk (Forum Supporter)
crankwalk (Forum Supporter) UltraDork
5/22/24 1:48 p.m.

60, SR 180, and 129 in North GA are all great and underrated. We like them that way because the Dragon is too crowded on weekends. 

Joyce Kilmer on the hill climb route is fantastic and a nice view at the top.

300zxfreak Reader
5/22/24 2:07 p.m.

As I have done at least some part of all those roads, and all of several, I can agree you can definitely enjoy yourself more there than putting up with the overrated "Dragon" ( and I hate cutsie poo names for roads).

The only caveat I would have is Fall season, where all roads in that area are clogged with leaf lookers and their land yachts, but you can still find sparsely traveled roads that will delight you.


29_SpeedSix New Reader
5/22/24 8:49 p.m.

Another route in the same area is Warwonan Rd from Clayton, GA to Walhalla, SC. With a name like "Warwonan", it HAS to be good!

Sparkie New Reader
5/23/24 2:18 a.m.

Backroads of Appalachia has an awesome, free, downloadable app that has tons of great routes in VA, WV, KY, & TN! Great app, with great people doing great things for the whole Appalachian region! :) 



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