The Inside Scoop on Riding Canada’s Version of the Tail of the Dragon

Multiple turn warning and slow speed warning signs on Highway 129 in Ontario
When it says to slow down, you really should.

If you’re a motorcycle or sports car fan, you’ve likely heard about the legendary Tail of the Dragon route in the United States. Part of Highway 129 in Tennessee, its 11 miles (almost 18 kilometres) feature 318 magical curves and is a dream for driving and riding enthusiasts alike. If you like to tilt your bike over in the corners, you need to put this road on your bucket list.

But fret not, Canadians, especially if you live in Ontario – there’s no need to cross the border to tame a mythical beast. The province boasts its own Tail of the Dragon, and in a weird twist of coincidence, it’s also on Highway 129 – Ontario’s version, part of the King’s Highways system. And it offers real adventure for those on two wheels or four.

Highway 129 in Ontario is a lonely, two-lane ribbon starting at Thessalon, on the shores of Lake Huron, just west of Sudbury on Highway 17, and snakes north 221 km to end in the small town of Chapleau in Northern Ontario. The road was built primarily for logging in 1949 and was gravel up until it was fully paved in 1982, but is little used today save for local traffic, outdoorspeople, and the occasional large truck, which is part of what makes it so special for motorcyclists and drivers. The Ontario Provincial Police, however, still patrol the area.

It also cuts through some of the most ruggedly beautiful terrain in the country. The route is lined with the Algoma region’s dense boreal forest, pockmarked with large blue lakes and smaller creeks, and much of it is set along the banks of the mighty Mississagi River. You’ll do well to keep your eyes peeled for wildlife such as bear or moose all along the way.

It doesn’t matter where you start the route, but fuelling up in either town is a good idea, as there are only a couple gas stops along the way. Coming from Thessalon, you’ll warm up your leaning or cornering skills with wide, sweeping curves, passing by the hamlet of Wharncliffe. And then it starts to get really fun: the next 80 or so kilometres feature some of the best thrills I’ve had on two wheels, with tight, slow curves coupled with wider, faster corners, and in some stretches, you’ll find you’re more often pitched over on the bike than you are sitting upright. And all of this surrounded by breathtakingly beautiful wilderness, though it might be more prudent to focus on the turns.

The terrain also offers up some small hills and valleys, which can be fun but can also hide some surprises over a crest; I’ve been jolted by a wandering bear ahead of me once, who was just as surprised as I was before he scampered off into the bush. As you travel farther north, the road begins to gradually flatten and straighten nearer to Chapleau, but that only means you can take in more of the glorious nature surrounding you. With so little traffic, it’s easy to feel like you’re the only person in the world.

A few hours could suffice for this ride, but a full weekend is best to take advantage of everything this road has to offer. You could find motel accommodations in Thessalon or Chapleau and take a couple days to hit the curves once and again, but there are other things to see and do here, too. Aubrey Falls, for example, is a stunning waterfall around the mid-way point, with a 2-km round trip walk through a bush path that takes you over a bridge and past a tribute to the Group of Seven, who used the area as inspiration for their art. There’s also the smaller Grindstone Falls, or even Pig Pen Chute, where you can catch your dinner in the Mississagi’s swift-running waters.

If you don’t want a motel in the terminus stops, there are quaint cabin resorts and lodges along the way, with rustic names such as the Aubrey Falls Trading Post and Outpost Camp, Limberlost Lodge, or Snowshoe Camp, among others. I stayed for a couple nights at The Outpost Lodge, in a cozy one-bed cabin overlooking Jobammageeshig Lake that offers a 1950s-era woodsman ambiance. Jim, one of the owners, will gladly show you his model train set in the main lodge, and he and his wife Ann offer up home-cooked meals and friendly conversation in the evenings. It’s best to book these lodges and cabins well ahead of time, as the area is popular with outdoorspeople.

The region is also ideal for Crown Land camping, and you can pick up gas and supplies at the Tunnel Lake Trading Post and Motel; don’t forget to pick up your Tail of the Dragon stickers, shirts or other souvenirs here. And nearer to Chapleau, stop for a photo at the Arctic Watershed sign – north of this point, water drains into Hudson Bay, while south of it water flows to the Great Lakes.

Highway 129 isn’t even the only source of riding thrills here; branching off this road, other routes, such as Highway 556 headed west towards Sault Ste. Marie, or Highway 667 going east to Sultan, as well as countless other smaller roads, offer even more twisty exploration for the adventurous biker. Be aware, however, that the 667 and others are not paved, and some are heavily used by large trucks for logging or other industries.

If you ride a motorcycle, chances are you like adventure. And if you like adventure, the Tail of the Dragon on Highway 129 – the Canadian version – needs to be on your list of rides, with its natural beauty, thrilling curves, and low traffic. It may be a paved route, but you can easily get lost in this visceral motorcycle experience.


  1. I rode in 2019. Worth taking if you’re in the area.
    Part of it were very bumpy. Not too much of an issue for me, but one of my group was on a Harley and getting beat up pretty bad. I resisted the urge to suggest getting a bike with some actual suspension travel.

  2. I was advised by a rider in Thunder Bay to take 129, to get to Sault Ste. Marie.
    A far from direct, but allegedly more twisty route than following the lake along the Trans Canada. 129 is far from twisty. Somewhat curvy, but nowhere near Tail of The Dragon, or even Mulholland Snake fun.

    Thankfully, the destination on that trip was Cape Breton Island and the Cabot Trail.
    That’s a road that deserves recognition as a place to shorten peg feelers and remove chicken strips. That trip started, on another island. Vancouver Island where another of Canada’s Greatest Roads deserves recognition. The Marine Pacific Route, also known as “the Loop” is a couple of hours of romping that’s well worth the trip.

    And now prepare for fans of 31-A in BC, Alberta #6 from Waterton to the US border and Manitoba 44 from Telford to Whiteshell to speak up !!

    Know a great wrinkly road ? Do share…..we’re all looking for excuses to ride :- }

  3. Decent enough road, but to compare it to the Tail of the Dragon does it a great disservice. If you go there expecting North Carolina type roads you will be hugely disappointed.

    I took it coming from Western Canada, and regret not sticking on Hwy 17. The rough pavement of 129 makes the curves not worth it. I would have been much better off sticking to Hwy 17 and seeing the nice views of Superior and getting a fresh apple fritter.

    • Have you taken a tour of the Tail of the Dragon? I don’t doubt your comment but I know that Ontario is repaving a lot of roads west of Georgian Bay so if it hasn’t been repaved it probably will be worth it in the future when it is.

      • Yeah, I’ve been to the Tail of the Dragon in NC/TN numerous times..twice in the past 15 months. The roads in NC/TN are way, way better than most of the roads in Ontario for motorcyclists. If you ride a motorcycle and haven’t been down there, you need to go.

        I was on the Ontario 129 with my KLR in 2020 and was kind of impressed, but this August with my Gold Wing, was not impressed at all. I’m thinking the long soft suspension of the KLR might have been the difference, or the pavement has deteriorated so much in the past 3 years that it has ruined the ride.

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