Take a walk on the wilder side with The Tail of the Dragon. Designated US 129, the road is bordered by the Great Smoky Mountains and the Cherokee National Forest with no intersecting roads or driveways to hamper your travel. This amazing road is bookended by Chilhowee Lake and Fontana Lake.
This infamous Smoky Mountains, TN road is popular with bikers and sports car drivers and for good reason.
If you’re seeking adventure, this route is for you – there are 318 curves on this 11-mile stretch where The Dragon tests your driving abilities. It’s best to be cautious as the turns are tight, but the Tail of the Dragon is guaranteed to be the ride of your life. Remember to yield to those who are ready to drive a bit faster than you. The road has many pull offs where you can take a break and take in the scenery.
Some curves have names like Copperhead Corner, Hog Pen Bend, Wheelie Hell, Sunset Corner, Gravity Cavity, and Brake or Bust Bend.
Even at low speeds, the blind curves, narrow roads, and weather conditions add up to create a lot of risks in any vehicle. While adrenaline junkies celebrate besting the Tail of the Dragon, many regret trying. Between 2000 and 2017, 37 deaths were recorded there.
There’s a tree at the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort known as the “Tree of Shame.” Motorcyclists hang parts of their wrecked vehicles there as a warning to others.
Of course, The Dragon is more than just a winding adventure. There’s plenty to behold with the scenery, too.
The Deep Creek Loop Trail, which is located just outside of Bryson City, North Carolina, is a moderately difficult, 4.6 mile roundtrip hike with rewarding water views, plentiful wildflowers, and peaceful river sounds.
This loop hike takes you past three great waterfalls. Approximately 0.8 miles into the trail, turn right onto the Indian Creek Trail – this marks the beginning of the trail loop.
The first waterfall on the hike is Tom Branch Falls, an easy 1/4 mile from the parking area. The path is nice and wide. You will even find benches next to the water.
Approximately 0.8 miles into the trail, turn right onto the Indian Creek Trail – this marks the beginning of the trail loop. One-tenth of a mile after this junction, you will see a small trail on your left side – this trail leads down to a beautiful 45-foot waterfall and is well worth the jaunt. You take a slight detour off your trail to head uphill and then downhill to be at the base of the falls. This is very near the put-in point for any tubing. After rejoining the main Deep Creek Trail, it hits the horse trail and heads uphill. There are also a few bridges to cross. Continue hiking over a footbridge and past the Rhododendron-rich Indian River Valley on your right. Around 1.4 miles, you will reach a junction in the trail – continue straight ahead (one mile to the right is the Thomas Divide). When you get to the 1.7-mile point, there is an intersection with the Deep Creek Loop – turn left to stay on the loop and ascend 350 feet over the next half-mile.
Next, you will reach the Sunkota Ridge junction at around the 2.2 mile mark – to stay on the loop trail, continue straight ahead. This is the highpoint in the Deep Creek Loop trail and it is downhill or flat hiking from here! At approximately 2.9 miles, you will reach the Deep Creek Trail again – turn left. Now, you will continue across a footbridge.
The trail culminates in the Juney Whank falls. It’s a quick downhill walk from there to the parking lot. You can just sit on the bench, built into the bridge with Juney Whank falls running beneath us.
Directions to Trailhead: From Gatlinburg, drive into the National Park on the main Parkway. When you pass the Sugarlands Visitor Center on your right, take note of your mileage and continue 32.1 miles through the National Park. Once you reach the intersection of Route 441 and Route 19 in Cherokee, turn right on Route 19 and continue for 10 miles to Bryson City. Turn right onto Everett and continue for 0.2 miles to Bryson Street. Turn right onto Bryson Street and continue for 0.2 miles. Take your third left, which is Ramseur Street. Make your second right, which is Deep Creek Road. Continue on Deep Creek Road for 2.8 miles to the Deep Creek Loop trailhead (you will enter park 0.5 miles prior to arriving at the trailhead).
It will take you about 2 hours to get to the trail from one of our Great Smoky Vacations cabins. So, plan on making a day of it.
If you’re imagining hikes to frozen waterfalls or pictures with snow covered mountains as the backdrop, winter may be the perfect time for you to visit the Smokies!
What to Pack
Depending on the elevation, the average high for this season in the Smokies is 45°F and the low is 22°F, so you’ll want to pack plenty of warm clothes to wear. Layers are always a great idea because even though it’s cold. When you start your hike, the weather may be comfortable. But, as you get to higher elevations, it will get colder and you may experience snow on the ground. You may also experience mud at the higher elevations from the snow and ice melt. Be sure to wear appropriate foot wear. You should also bring some snacks and enough water to last for the entire hike. Just be sure that you don’t leave trash or leftover food anywhere, because it could attract wildlife. Feeding Wildlife is illegal and could lead to a nuisance animal which may have to be uthenized. Please refer to our Bear safety guide.
What to wear
Dress in layers, cover all of your skin, wear sunglasses or goggles and pack a flashlight.
Where to Hike
There are over 850 miles of hiking trails in the Smoky Mountains, however, some are better than others at certain times of the year. Waterfall hikes like the Laurel Falls Trail are gorgeous during the winter! You’ll feel like you’re in a winter wonderland as you look up at the half-frozen, 80-foot falls. The hike to the falls is arguably just as beautiful, with mountain views peeking through the bare trees. Please note they are starting to require a parking pass for Laurel Falls. So, be sure to purchase yours in advance. Another great place to hike during the winter months is Porters Creek. This trail is rich in history and is conveniently situated at a lower elevation, making it less likely to be closed off due to snow.
Grapeyard Ridge Trail in Greenbrier
With less foliage to camouflage old home sites and farmsteads, winter is a great time to take historical hikes. Prior to the creation of the national park in 1934 hundreds of families lived in the Smokies and many remnants of their legacies are still standing today. Old engine wrecks can be found from a time when railroads were one of the primary methods of transportation through the mountains. The Grapeyard Ridge trail in Greenbrier is an excellent place to see one of these wrecks as the old engine, which turned over in the creek, is still largely intact.
Another option that tops the list of best winter hiking trails is Alum Cave Trail. Alum Cave is a concaved bluff that towers nearly 80 feet above the trail. During the winter months, droplets coming off the ledges above the bluff form into large icicles.
Schoolhouse Gap is another family friendly winter hiking trail that is located near Cades Cove. The trail is relatively short and is one of the trails where hikers are most likely to spot wildlife. Cades Cove is also home to many cabins and historic sites, many of which have been restored to how they looked over 150 years ago.
What Roads Are Open
Scenic drives are a great thing to do during any season as long as the roads are in good condition to be driven on. There are several primary roads that are open year round as long as the weather permits. These roads include US-441 (Newfound Gap Road), Little River Road, and the Cades Cove Loop Road. You can enjoy the stunning mountain views as you go along your way, and there are lots of spots where you can pull over to take pictures.
Lower elevations in Great Smoky Mountains National Park typically see several snowfalls each winter, while higher elevations tend to get more snow more frequently. Although many winter days see temperatures of 50 degrees or higher, the lows tend to range at or below freezing. It is important to check the conditions of the park and its roads any time you are planning a visit during the winter months. For the latest information on road conditions, check the Great Smoky Mountains National Park website or call (865) 436-1200.
If you have never seen snow in the Smokies, you are missing out on some beautiful scenery. Winter snowfalls, frozen waterfalls, and hanging icicles offer ample opportunities for capturing some amazing winter photos.
You also have an opportunity to spot wildlife during the winter in the Smoky Mountains. Watch for animal prints if there is snow as you venture down the trails. Just remember to maintain a safe distance from the animals. Check out some of our wildlife safety tips before you head out.
I personally love hiking in the winter. The trails are much less crowded and the temperature is much more enjoyable. Just be prepared and plan to spend the day stopping to smell the roses.
Dynamic Attractions specializes in fun, innovative attractions that integrate top-of-the-line engineering and technology. The company’s flying theaters provides riders an exciting, immersive experience.
The world-class flying theater experience features a state-of-the-art ride system and a custom film that highlights natural wonders and iconic landmarks in the nation.
After riders take their seats, the floor disappears from beneath them. While on the ride, they’ll feel like they’re actually flying around the video setting.
The theater will show a custom film, created with drone and helicopter footage, shot throughout the country. Riders will be transported to some of America’s well-known landmarks and other scenic locales. In addition to the feeling of flight, riders will also experience realistic scents and mists during the ride. The new ride will be located adjacent to The Island’s Great Smoky Mountain Wheel and The Island Show Fountain.
North America’s longest pedestrian simple suspension bridge nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains also has a new scenic trail.
The Gatlinburg SkyTrail is a scenic walkway that will connect each end of the SkyBridge along Corockett Mountain. The trail will provide guests the opportunity to take a leisurely walk in the mountains along the half-elevated boardwalk, half paved walking path while enjoying new views of the famous SkyBridge. At just over one-third of a mile in length, the SkyTrail is an enjoyable walk for adults, kids, and even dogs and offer three distinct sections.
The Boardwalk is an elevated wooden walkway leading from the SkyDeck back along the hillside of the ravine that cuts under the SkyBridge. Along the way, interactive signage provides information about the engineering of the SkyBridge, the history of iconic Gatlinburg SkyLift, and the wildfires of 2016 that swept across Crockett Mountain where the SkyTrail stands today.
The Lookout will is a steel tower set in the back of the ravine accessed by rope bridges and featuring elevated viewing platforms
At 680 feet across and 150 feet high, the Gatlinburg Skybridge is the only attraction in the downtown area where you can see the three highest peaks in the Smokies: Clingman’s Dome, Mount Le Conte and Mount Guyot.
The bridge may look bold at first, but when walking at a “normal pace” it takes only 3 minutes to get from one end to the other. However, visitors will no doubt want to stop along the way to take in that fresh mountain air an epic view.