The Back of the Dragon: 32 miles, 438 curves, and a once in a lifetime ride
There’s a reason The Back of the Dragon is a bucket list route for motorcyclists and sports car enthusiasts. It’s 32 miles of twisting, turning, knee-dragging road, running through three mountain ranges.
The Back of the Dragon Route
The “Back of the Dragon” is Virginia’s only designated motorcycle route and the premier riding road on the East Coast, boosting thirty-two miles and over three hundred curves. Ideal for sports cars or motorcycles, the road crosses three mountain ranges and offers switchbacks, slaloms, hairpins, limited access and spectacular views.
The route runs between the towns of Marion and Tazewell, considered the “gateways’ to the Dragon. Along the ride, you’ll wind through Hungry Mother State Park, the rolling farmland of Rich Valley, and parts of Washington and Jefferson National Forest.
You can find a Back of the Dragon map at the Marion visitor kiosk on Main Street, or the Back of the Dragon Welcome Center in Tazewell.
The Best Time to Ride Back of the Dragon
Peak season for the Back of the Dragon is Memorial Day through Labor Day, but the road has plenty to offer during other times of the year.
During the summer, enjoy the cool mountain breezes of higher elevations, and be sure to pack layers. Early mornings and evenings can be cool, warming up nicely during the middle of the day. The route will take you through shady forested areas, where the green of the trees almost forms a tunnel overhead, then emerging from the shadows into the sunny open valleys of Smyth County and Tazewell County.
Fall is particularly beautiful along The Back of the Dragon, as the leaves begin turning brilliant orange, red and gold. Expect mild weather through the beginning of November, with fall color beginning first at the highest elevations before reaching the valley.
To avoid the crowds and have the road to yourself, plan a visit for late spring or the shoulder season of August/September.
Plan Your Trip to Back of the Dragon
Tazewell and Marion offer a number of lodging options, including hotels, cabin rentals, and camping. Marion also makes a good home base to explore the other scenic routes in the region, like The Claw of the Dragon and the Mount Rogers Scenic Byway.
During your visit, don’t miss the brand new Back of the Dragon Welcome Center in downtown Tazewell, offering a coffee shop and brewery, food truck and official Back of the Dragon merchandise. And after your ride, enjoy the restaurant scene in downtown Marion – motorcycles welcome! In Marion, check out 36 Fifty Brewing, and Highlands Distillery, offering bourbon, moonshine, and gin.