If you’re an avid road tripper, you’ve probably heard of the “Tail of the Dragon” down in Tennessee/North Carolina… We’re sure a good number of you have even driven the Dragon at some point, but we’re guessing fewer of you know about the Tail of the Dragon’s equally awesome neighbor, the Hellbender 28…
Skirting the edges of Fontana Lake in North Carolina’s portion of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Hellbender 28 offers both an exciting drive or ride and tons of beautiful scenery making it the perfect compliment to your trip on the Tail of the Dragon. Sara Locke with the Town of Fontana Dam gives a first-hand account about what makes this drive so great:
Words cannot describe how much I love Hwy 28. The 10 miles stretch from Hwy 143 (going into Robbinsville) to Fontana Village Resort is pure bliss! The curves are gentle and sloping rather than being tight hairpins or switchbacks. The topography rolls up and down several ridges allowing for a few amazing overlooks and even a huge rockface waterfall called Rainbow Falls. The Hellbender 28 will quickly become your favorite ride because of its natural pace and how the curves follow the lay of the land. One does not battle this road or fight it like a challenge, one rides this road peacefully and in harmony. From Hondas to Harleys, this is one road that wants to be ridden.
I used to drive this road every day as part of my commute to Fontana from Bryson City and I still sometimes just drive it for fun. I know every curve, I hug every turn, it is a road that is very easy to become familiar with. Perhaps I am biased because every time I drive it I feel like I am coming home.
The 30 miles or so of Highway 28 that make up the Hellbender are fairly undeveloped… Lots of lush forest and wildlife, but the one place along the route to make a pit stop is the Fontana Village Resort.
Open year-round, the Fontana Village Resort plays host to thousands of car and motorcycle clubs who use the resort as home-base for the Dragon, Hellbender, and the several other scenic roads that carve through the Great Smoky Mountains.
The resort offers guests everything from RV or tent camping to cabins to hotel rooms at the lodge and all get you access to their putt-putt course, disc golf, fitness center, restaurants, pools, lazy river, and miles of biking and hiking trails.
If you’re just passing through, Fontana Village Resort is still the place to stop for your t-shirts and gifts to commemorate your trip.
Aside from your pit stop at the Fontana Village Resort, this drive is all about the road and the scenery. The only other major stop you’ll want to make is at the Fontana Dam. The tallest dam east of the Rockies, the Fontana Dam is a hidden gem tucked into the Smoky Mountains and a favorite photo op for car clubs tackling the Hellbender.
From the National Park Service:
At 480 ft., Fontana Dam is the tallest concrete dam east of the Rocky Mountains. The dam impounds the Little Tennessee River forming Fontana Lake and produces hydroelectric power. Reservoir size is approximately 11,700 acres. There is a shoreline of about 240 miles. You will enjoy beautiful scenery in the area. Fontana Dam is located near Fontana Village, North Carolina.
A visitor center operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is open from early May until late October. Fontana Lake offers boating and fishing and access to remote, historic areas of the park like Hazel Creek and Eagle Creek.
If you’re looking for a nice way to extend your weekend road trip through the Smoky Mountains, the Hellbender 28 is a perfect compliment to your time on the Tail of the Dragon.