Shady Valley Tennessee - The Striped Snake and Other Twisties
Covering Three States in One Day

Bucolic Shady Valley - Great for Touring

Nancy and I made this run on a Monday in June of 2007. We rode our KLR 650s which are Wheeler tuned, jetted and piped. They turn-out an amazing 41 hp from the stock 32-34. These bikes are great for exploring, taking in both paved roads and gravel with ease.


Tail of the Dragon recently took a day off to tour the Shady Valley area which is located just to the east of Bristol , Tennessee . US 421 just east of the intersection with TN91/TN133 has been given various names by riders …. The Striped Snake and Motorcycle Playground. Some riders compare this section of road to the Dragon but we found it fell far short in many respects.

We began our journey on our KLR650s in Elizabethton where we made a quick stop at the covered bridge built in 1882 over the Doe River .

We then headed north on 91 through the small communities of Hunter and Carter bordering the Cherokee National Forest . Not much going on here, but after about 16 miles of rural yawning the road suddenly rises into the forest and gets your attention. The pavement is broken, heaved and badly patched, but we like challenges. One side of the road is rock cliff and the other side a drop-off making the Dragon look tame. Not only are there metal railings in many spots, but one section has just the posts - teeth ready to chew up any rider sliding into them. This is not a place for knee dragging, losing concentration or getting run off the road by another vehicle. Two miles of this and we cross the Appalachian Trail and begin the descent into Upper Shady Valley .

After a couple of interesting curves the road quickly flattens into the valley floor with bucolic views of farms with distant mountains in the background. The center of the Shady Valley community is at the crossroads of US421 and TN91. The small store known as the Country Store offers fuel, food, and rocking chairs on the front porch. We passed on the food hoping to find a more appetizing place up the road.

Heading north on TN133 there are several more miles of straight asphalt and farmlands. Finally we find a few sweepers leading once again into the forest. A scenic stop on 133 is the Backbone Rock Tunnel. The 20-foot tunnel was carved in 1901 to allow passage of trains carrying timber. It just may be the shortest tunnel in the world as claimed by the locals. This is a great place to stop and have a picnic lunch. There is also a campground located just north of the picnic areas. Nancy hiked up to the top of the Backbone while I explored Beaverdam Creek.

Continuing north on TN133 we crossed into Virginia and arrived in the town of Damascus .  We stopped at the Baja Café hoping to find a good lunch, but the place was a little too authentic to its south of the border name for us. Dot’s Inn on 91 was supposed to be a good biker diner, but it was closed. The Damascus Old Mill Restaurant was only open Wednesday through Saturday, so we parked near Laurel Creek and watched the ducks and geese while eating a quick snack we had brought just in case. Guess Mondays isn’t the best time to ride if eating is a requirement.

Since Nancy is an avid bicyclist we made a quick stop at JC’s Outdoors, one of the bicycle rental places in Damascus . The Creeper Trail is one motorless ride that I might even be interested in taking one day. The 17-mile bicycle trail follows the old railroad bed through the Jefferson National Forest . Rent a bike, catch the shuttle to the top of the mountain, then coast just about the entire way down (2-3 hours). CLICK HERE FOR INFO

We scooted south on VA91/TN91 ( Mountain City Highway ) for a few miles into Tennessee before deciding to turn around and run US58 east. This turned out to be a great ride through the Jefferson National Forest - mostly sweepers through the woods, but good enough to wake Nancy up. After 22 miles we took a right onto VA751 ( Sturgills Road ) and entered North Carolina . The scenery on US58 and VA751 is mostly Christmas tree farms. Must be a good business because these farms are everywhere on the hillsides.

At Sturgills we hung a right on NC194 passing through the backwoods towns of  Lansing and Bina. At Warrensville we took a right onto NC88 which turned out to be a great twisty ride through the county. We did hit a short patch of loose gravel on a newly paved section once we reentered Tennessee . We then turned right onto the four-lane US421.

After Mountain City the four-lane turns into two and we were soon on what is known as The Striped Snake. The really twisty section is only about 4 miles in length east of TN 133. The pavement is good, but the corners are repetitious, lacking the variety of the Dragon. Locals claim 489 curves in a 12-mile radius, but this must include the driveways too from what we saw.

At the crossroads we headed back south towards Elizabethton on TN91. This pass we enjoyed the dangers of the descent over the tricky two-mile stretch with posts like gaping teeth.

There is another section of US 421 to the west heading for Bristol that we didn't ride on this trip. We rode it years ago and locals consider it even better than the eastern section.

STATES COVERED – Three states, Tennessee , Virginia , North Carolina
HIGHLIGHTS – The lesser rated back roads

We recommend these roads to cars, touring bikes and cruisers looking for good sightseeing roads. We wish we had more time to explore the really back roads a little bit more. The KLRs are great for getting deeper into the backwoods even though we have them set-up for the street.

Sportbikes can have some fun on US421, but the good sections are short.

Motorcycle friendly camping at Switchback Creek Motorcycle Campground near Shady Valley CLICK HERE

The posts along TN91 .... nasty.

Climbing northbound on TN91

Coming down into the Valley

The Valley floor

The Country Store at the crossroads

TN133 north of Shady Valley

Backbone Tunnel, worlds shortest tunnel

Damascus Old Mill

US58 in Virginia


The Striped Snake

Looks like an earthquake twisted this section of TN91
heading downhill, southbound.