Driving The Dragon (US 129) – Southern Tennessee

At the end of August we had a family reunion down in North Carolina. We stayed in an AirBNB in a huge backwoods lodge at Huffman Creek Retreat about 12 miles west of Robbinsville, NC. Our daughter flew in from Washington, without her kids, so we had all five of our children, two of our in-law kids and six grandkids. This was the first time that all five of my children have gathered together since October 2016. We car-pooled it down there from Lexington, KY thru Knoxville, TN and then on to “The Dragon,” (also called the Tail of the Dragon) which started near Chilhowee Lake near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The Dragon is an eleven mile stretch of US 129 that skirts the southwest border of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Coming from Kentucky, the drive begins at Chilhowee Lake (an extension of the Little Tennessee River) and meanders south along the lake. It features 318 curves, so it’s slow going. But very scenic.
Keith and Merrielee Turley, proprietors of Dragon 318 at Punkin Center.

Driving from Lexington, we took I 75 south and then once in Knoxville, we too US 129 through Maryville and Alcoa.  As we approached from Maryville, we eventually arrived and stopped at a small souvenir shop called Dragon 318 in Punkin Center, TN. The shop is run by Keith and Merrielee Turley…a very friendly couple who were happy to provide lots of info about the Dragon. In discussing our pending drive down The Dragon, Keith reminded me to remember that The Dragon is completely in Tennessee. They carry lots  of hats, t-shirts, patches, pins, leather goods, snacks, etc.  They even have cabin rentals! It is definitely a great stop before hitting The Dragon!

Showing off my books at Punkin Center
US 129 sign at Punkin Center
The Turleys helping customers at The Dragon 318
Shirts and things at The Dragon 318
Dragon Pins are a must!
Dragon Signs for the Man Cave
Merrielee kindly shows off my books!!
Getting for our 318 in 11
After our visit with Keith and Merrielee, we made our way south into Tallasee on US 129, eventually getting to “Stitchin’ on the Dragon,” a roadside stop with hundreds of biker patches.  They even sew them on to your vest or shirt or hat while you wait!  Stitchin’ is run by Lady Blue, another friendly soul! But the real drawing card is “Stitch” the Dragon, a 12-14 tall winged wooden dragon. Lady Blue, if not busy, will come over and take a picture of everyone with Stitch. Be warned, there is no cell service, so Lady Blue only takes cash for her goodies.
Stitchin’ on the Dragon
Family with Stitch the Dragon in Tallassee, TN
Sumoflam with Lady Blue at Stitchin’ on the Dragon

From this point you begin the 11 mile wind along The Dragon, which then ends at the North Carolina border are Deals Gap. Along the way there are typically four or five photographers who take photos of all the vehicles that pass along the way. These are posted online for purchase.  According to one biker’s website, The Dragon is considered to be the number one motorcycle road in America. (see https://matadornetwork.com/trips/12-best-motorcycle-roads-america/) .  Other sites also have it as number one and one of the most difficult rides for bikers.  We saw dozens of bikers along the eleven mile drive.

US 129 South — The Dragon portion — begins near Tallassee, TN
Motorcycle Warning
Bikers heading north on the Dragon
US 129 South
The Dragon runs along Chilhowee Lake, which is formed by a dam on the Little Tennessee River
Chilhowee Dam on US 129

The winding eleven miles end up at the border of Tennessee and North Carolina at a place called Deals Gap.  Once into North Carolina, the Deals Gap “Tail of the Dragon” is an awesome stop.  In fact, the best photo op NOT on the actual road is the huge metal dragon on the west side of the road.  In fact, you can’t miss it, but you should stop for a photo op.  There is a also a couple of places to eat, souvenir stands and a big parking lot for meetups, if needed.

Deals Gap, NC
Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort
The Dragon sculpture at Deals Gap is very impressive.
Close up of dragon’s tail around a motorcycle
Back view of The Dragon
Tail of the Dragon shop in Deals Gap
Another smaller tail of the dragon with a bike
A dragon gate
Another Dragon with a flag
Some of the family with the Dragon

Ultimately, this eleven mile drive can be pretty dangerous, especially for bikers. Fortunately, there are a few places where one can pull off the road to let others by.  But, with so many curves, the drivers need to watch for traffic coming toward them as well.


I am currently working on my FOURTH book, titled “8154” to represent the mileage of my epic road trip with family.  Stories, including the one above, will be included. You can visit my Amazon Author Page to see my other books at https://amzn.to/3azY36l