Bucket list road trip complete! I’ve had my Mini Cooper for 10 years and unlike me at all, I cannot remember when it was that I found out about the Tail of the Dragon. It may have been years before, when I dreamed of the day that I might have a Mini Cooper of my very own, or was it after I had my dream car? Either way, I once upon a time saw an article about Mini Coopers driving the dragon and I have wanted to do it ever since.

That day finally came. I tried last summer to get my guys to go when we were in Gatlinburg, but they both very enthusiastically refused. That particular trip we were in the family vehicle so it wouldn’t have been as fun anyway. My next thought was to bring my nephew along with me for a very long day trip, he was all for it. But then, Stephen said he’d come after all. (Little did my boy know, what a cool trip it was. All those fancy and fast cars we were surrounded by all weekend long. He’d have been inspired to trade his truck in for one as soon as possible I bet.) Anyway, Stephen, Yuki, and I loaded up the Mini, or Lucy as she is also known, one Thursday morning and made the 5 hour and 45 minute trek east.

The drive to get to Highway 129 was nothing special. We stopped once to eat and once for gas. Once you hit Nashville, the freeway is full of traffic and there are exits everywhere so it never seemed like a long drive at all. Plus, I enjoy driving. And drive I did, there and back. 🙂

I had somewhat hyped myself up beforehand not knowing what to expect on one of the most dangerous roads in the US, or so I had read anyway. It’s a high crash road and everyone thinks it’s their own personal race track were things I also came across. Weeks before, I was a little nervous until my dad informed me that our big blue truck had driven the dragon, and it wasn’t that big of a deal. Okay, great, what did I have to worry about now? Well, I sometimes think my car is on her last leg. She’s been in and out of the shop probably more than she should lately. Plus, she burns oil, has an oil leak, and something smells weird after driving for longer than usual distances. What if my Lucy Cooper doesn’t make it there, or doesn’t make it back? These were my real concerns for the trip. I got everything checked out before we left, so Que sera sera; my final thoughts, cause this was gonna be an adventure anyway.

Guess what? We made it there and back with no troubles whatsoever. Neither Yuki nor Stephen got car sick, and my guy so wonderfully time lapsed my first drive on the dragon for me. He had his phone in hand for all 11 miles of the 318 curves which took approximately 25 minutes. I only had to use a pull off once that time for a much faster Chevy Camaro, which I shortly after passed myself due to its passenger being car sick.

And in true tourist fashion, I bought the picture. (I only wished I would have washed my car before we left on our little trip.) There are a couple of photographers set up on the road and they take pics as you pass which you can later go to their website, look up the time you were on the road, and find your pictures. Pretty neat idea! There was over a thousand pictures of plain ole cars and trucks for that day, which was even a slow day of the week.

The main reason for the trip done, now it was time to take it all in. It was the perfect time to go to see all the pretty fall colors. I loved it! And we were in the middle of nowhere, so the time away and somewhat unplugged was wonderful.

Tail of the Dragon scenic overlook on a Thursday afternoon.
Tail of the Dragon scenic overlook on a Sunday morning.

Where We Stayed

There wasn’t a lot to chose from. The closest town was Robbinsville from what I saw on the map. However, my dad had told me about the Fontana Dam Resort years before when he hiked the Appalachian Trail, so I looked into it. It was closer and not far at all from where we wanted to be. I had originally booked a one room cabin, which was really a small, older trailer when we got checked in. We were hoping for something a little more modern, so luckily we were able to upgrade. The cabin we ended up with was much nicer, however neither of our choices had internet, or even a phone. And our cell phones, no service at all. I can’t remember the last time we were literally so disconnected. It wasn’t a bad thing. We came with our own snacks and such for our weekend away (no Walmart near by), and there was continental breakfast and internet at the lodge so we were able to be connected here and there. 🙂

Maybe there’s service on the trails? Actually there was on some around the resort.

I didn’t take many pictures at all of the place we stayed. It had plenty of amenities. There was a really good restaurant that we ate at twice, dog friendly outside. There was mini golf, disc golf, fire pits, other outdoor activities, swimming in season, and even a place to wash your car. (Did I mention it was like a car convention all weekend long with revving engines echoing through the valley?) There was a laundry place, a general store, an ice cream parlor, and a gas station/souvenir shop. A few things were closed for the winter, but even so we weren’t at a loss for what we needed there in the middle of nowhere.

Where We Ate

We had two choices and we ate at both twice. The Fontana Dam resort had a restaurant that was really good. In fact, there is usually two restaurants but one was closed, I think due to Covid.

The best of two was at Topoco Lodge which was a short drive from the end of the Dragon. This place was great! We waited the extra time it took to eat along the river. The views were perfect and so was the weather. We ate lunch here and then went back another evening for dinner, riverside as well.

When we go back, yes we will go back, we’d like to plan to stay at the Tapoco Lodge. It was a great looking place!

What We Saw

It was a scenic trip for sure. In addition to all the driving, we walked around a good amount as well. We went one day to see Fontana Dam, which was pretty impressive. We took a stroll along the Marina. Then we parked at the bottom of the Dragon and spent a good hour watching the cars drive by. There were so many cars on that Saturday afternoon.

Cheoah Dam

Yes, it was a great weekend, and yes, we will definitely make the trip again. Perhaps in a new Mini Cooper, or something else that Stephen will be driving. He did say after the trip he could see himself in a vehicle upgrade. The cars we saw the most of were Miatas and Porsches. Followed by Subarus, Corvettes, and Camaros. Then of course there were plenty of motorcycles.

If you’re a seasoned windy road driver who likes rear view company, Friday and Saturday would be the days for you. Me, I’m more of a loner and Thursday was my ideal. We left for home on a Sunday morning with some traffic, I did have to use the pull over twice for the faster Corvettes and Subarus, but word in the village was that Sundays are not too busy. In case my ramblings were not enough, here are a few videos: the time lapse from my first drive and about 3 minutes watching the Dragon on a Saturday afternoon. Thanks for reading! ❤

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