Some roads are too good to be kept a secret. Thanks to the enthusiasm of an avid motorcyclist named Larry Davidson, Virginia State Route 16 is a popular road today known as the Back of the Dragon. The towns of Tazewell and Marion in Virginia invite driving and motorbike riding fans from around the world to tackle this scenic winding route through the Appalachian Mountains. Don’t forget to stop into town and trade stories with likeminded dragon slayers when you’re done!

For this drive, our tool of choice was the 2024 MINI Cooper JCW 1 to 6 Edition. This is the final model year that MINI will offer a manual transmission. We therefore felt the Back of the Dragon would be the perfect way to give it a proper sendoff. Watch a full review of the car and the road below courtesy of Modern Motoring:

The Back of the Dragon belongs on every driving and riding enthusiast’s bucket list. Here’s everything you need to know to plan your road trip to ride Virginia’s Back of the Dragon.

Presented in partnership with Virginia Tourism

What is the Back of the Dragon in Virginia?

The Back of the Dragon is the informal name for Virginia State Route 16. It runs on a winding route between the towns of Tazewell and Marion through the Appalachian Mountains. Because it’s both a scenic drive and a challenging and technical road, it’s a popular destination for driving and motorcycling enthusiasts.

How many turns are in the Back of the Dragon?

The Back of the Dragon includes 438 curves over 32 miles and climbs up and down three separate mountains. It reaches elevations of up to 3,500 feet.

How long does the Back of the Dragon take?

At a typical pace, a run on the Back of the Dragon will take from 45 minutes to an hour. Expect to complete two to three round trips in one day with a good amount of time for breaks.

If you’re getting a run in much quicker, you’re probably going too fast. While Virginia State Route 16 is well-known to be a drivers’ and riders’ destination, it’s also a public road that’s frequented by locals. Expect to encounter all types of vehicles and driver skill sets while navigating the route, and please respect the surrounding communities so the road can continue to be enjoyed by all.

Is the Back of the Dragon a challenging road?

Most of the Back of the Dragon is appropriate for drivers and riders of intermediate skill. However, a few sections call for extra caution. In some curves, the road briefly tips into reverse camber with nothing but a guardrail between you and some hillsides you definitely don’t want to become intimate with. You’ll also find significant potholes and loose gravel at some turns throughout the route. In comparison to the length of the road, these portions are relatively brief.

The Back of the Dragon is great fun, but it deserves respect in equal measure. It’s a good idea to be cautious, especially on your first run. That goes doubly if you’re on a motorcycle, and maybe a little bit more again if you’re riding a sport bike. Remember to wear all the gear, all the time. Replacements are available at the Back of the Dragon Visitor Centre if you need them.

Which direction is best on the Back of the Dragon?

If you’re passing through the area and can only ride the Back of the Dragon once, and you have a choice of which direction to take, we recommend starting in Tazewell. The drive from north to south offers more opportunities to enjoy the views, and the southernmost section is more pleasant to navigate as a descent into Marion than as an ascent heading northbound.

Is the Back of the Dragon the same as the Tail of the Dragon?

Not at all! The Tail of the Dragon is an 11-mile route that straddles North Carolina and Tennessee. It’s on the same branch of the Appalachian Mountains as the Back of the Dragon, but the two routes are more than 200 miles apart.

Wytheville, Virginia, makes a great home base for exploring the Back of the Dragon and the surrounding area. Learn more about Wytheville here >

What should I watch for while on the Back of the Dragon?

Before you set out, visit Tazewell and the Back of the Dragon visitor centre. There’s a coffee shop and snack bar with pizza, nachos, and other quick bites, and the souvenir shop is packed with great merchandise to remember your ride by. If you’re back in Tazewell at the end of the day, stop back in to sample some brews from Back of the Dragon Brewery.

As you begin the drive, you’ll encounter a sweeping hairpin turn roughly 8 miles from the visitor centre. It’s nicknamed Kudzu Corner because it becomes overgrown with the prolific vine in the summer months. On most days, photographers are stationed at this corner ready to take pictures of drivers and riders tackling the Back of the Dragon. If you spot them while you’re out, you can find and purchase their photos at botdpix.com. You can search images by date and time, so they’re easy to find.

While there are scenic lookouts and breathtaking views throughout the drive, some of the best are at Kudzu Corner, the Million Dollar View immediately to its south, Walker Mountain Lookout, and the descent toward Hungry Mother Lake when heading southbound toward Marion.

Turn your Back of the Dragon drive in a spectacular Virginia road trip. Start your planning here >

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