They call it Tail of the Dragon — a treacherous twisting road squiggled into the hills and hollows of the Great Smoky Mountains. “The Dragon” famously squeezes 318 wheel-whipping curves into 11 magic miles. This legendary stretch of US 129 on the Tennessee/North Carolina border attracts drivers from all over the world.
Hollywood has come calling for decades. Scenes from Thunder Road, Two Lane Blacktop and The Fugitive with Harrison Ford were filmed there. The Dragon is always ready for her close-up, Mr. DeMille.
She’s also a merciless killer. More than 24 lives have been lost to accidents on the Dragon since 2000 according to a TV show called “Hell Roads.” This area is as remote as it is wild. Forget about cell service. If you wrap yourself around a tree, the nearest hospital is an hour and a half away.
On summer weekends, the din of superbikes and turbocharged sports cars echo through the hills. Give it the gas. Brake. Accelerate hard. Brake for the next curve. Repeat 318 times. Doesn’t this plot seem scripted for an electric car? An EV’s low center of gravity, instant torque and regenerative braking is perfect for riding the Tail of the Dragon.
Ready to explore the countryside in your electric vehicle? Here’s an electrifying tour if you like gliding silently through long narrow valleys past Amish buggies, stopping to watch hawks circle above mountain tops and photographing charming red covered bridges nestled among picturesque farms. There are Tesla, CCS & CHAdeMO fast chargers and several Bed and Breakfasts with L2 destination charging to stretch this day trip into a weekend getaway.
Charging Stations: Tesla Superchargers and 50 kW DC Fast Chargers (CCS/CHAdeMO) in Hagerstown, MD and Carlisle, PA. Level 2 destination charging for overnight guests at Mercersburg Inn and Carlisle House.
Highlights: 13 covered bridges, Waggoner’s Gap Hawk Watch, Boiling Springs Iron Furnace, Appalachian Trail, Historic Round Barn & Ski Liberty.
Pennsylvania has nearly 200 covered bridges, more than any other state. This tour visits nine bridges in PA plus four more in Maryland for a total of 13. The route shown on the map is a loop that begins near Frederick, Maryland, however, you can enter the route at any point.
For years, Vera and I have taken great joy in EV road trips, first in our THINK City and now in our Tesla Model S. No matter what electric car you have, with a little planning and a smartphone app like PlugShare, you’d be surprised how far you can go and how much there is to enjoy.
Many road-trippers seem to take highways but we prefer more scenic and adventuresome backroads. Most recently, we went on a loop that included rural areas of Loudoun, Montgomery, Howard and Frederick Counties in the Washington, DC area. We took White’s Ferry to cross the Potomac River, explored a couple of parks, learned a bit of Civil War history and spotted an orchard that we plan to return to in apple picking season. We did the 115 mile drive in an afternoon and made sure the route included EV charging stations spaced at convenient intervals.
Route Description and Highlights
We began in Clarksville, Maryland but you can start anywhere on the loop and follow our route or use the map as a rough guide to make your own tour of the area. Antwerpen Nissan in Clarksville has a CHAdeMO DC Fast Charger that’s on the NRG eVgo network. There’s also a few Level 2 charging stations within walking distance of some restaurants. Our drive started by heading west on Rt. 108 and turning right onto Ten Oaks Rd. toward Brighton Dam. There are some gorgeous large homes on this road.
The road traverses the top of Brighton Dam, an imposing structure that holds back Triadelphia Reservoir on the Patuxent River. There’s a parking area on the western end of the dam and we stopped there to see the five acre azalea garden on the lake side of the road. If it’s a hot day, cool off by the mist swirling in the air at the bottom of the dam’s spillway.
We did a little bit of exploring between Brighton Dam and White’s Ferry which at one point had us driving down a road that suddenly narrowed and turned to gravel (W. Old Baltimore between Rt. 121 and Barnesville). This time we decided to turn around and backtrack rather than pushing on. Probably good that we did because later when I looked at the online map I found that there was a stream ford up ahead that even the Google Street View car didn’t drive through. This is one reason why we keep plenty of buffer, it gives us flexibility to go off the predetermined route or recover from getting “lost” without undue anxiety.
Float Across the Potomac on White’s Ferry
From Brighton Dam Rd. the route turns onto New Hampshire Ave. and goes through Laytonsville and by some county parks and crosses under I-270 north of Germantown. Follow Rt. 121 to Boyds as shown on the map to stay on paved roads, then take Rt 117 to Barnesville and follow the route to the end of White’s Ferry Rd. where you line up to board the ferry. The toll is $5.00 – cash only. See details and operating status on White’s Ferry Facebook page.
After departing the boat on the Virginia side, you can head for the Leesburg Corner Premium Outlets for a CCS, CHAdeMO or Level 2 boost at the EVgo station there. The route shown on the map then goes through downtown Leesburg but you can opt to take the bypass if you want to go straight to the backroads near the village of Waterford.
Waterford Village in Loudoun County
The Waterford Baptist Church, on the corner of High St. and Patrick St., has a Civil War Trails Marker by the parking lot beside the church. It’s interesting to read how, during the Civil War, the mostly Quaker village inside of pro-Secessionist Loudoun County, was a fierce Unionist stronghold with an underground Union newspaper published by three Quaker girls named Sarah, Lizzie and Lida.
From the Baptist Church on High St. we continued out Loyalty Rd., Rt. 665 to Taylorstown and turned left to follow the mapped route across the Potomac to Point of Rocks, Maryland. This is a good stop for a short walk along the C & O Canal or to get an ice cream cone. UPDATE July, 2016: there are now two ChargePoint Level 2 connectors in the MARC Train Station parking lot.
SAE Combo & CHAdeMO at Royal Farms
One of the unique aspects of this tour is that it is routed to include one of the first SAE Combo Fast Chargers in the Mid-Atlantic. It’s part of a dual-unit with CHAdeMO and is at a new Royal Farms store on Fingerboard Rd. in Urbana, Maryland. It came online July 31, 2015 and costs $0.29 per kWh, $3.50 minimum. It’s on the ChargePoint network, so bring your card.
Mt. Airy – The Mayor Drives an EV
I met Mayor Pat Rockinberg of Mt. Airy, Maryland at the ribbon cutting ceremony for a dual-head Level 2 charging station that the town installed in their Municipal Parking Lot in May, 2015. Mayor Rockinberg drives an Electric Honda Fit and knows the value of EV charging to draw visitors to the town’s historic Main Street. We always try to stop and dine at one of the downtown restaurants when passing through the area.
Completing the Loop
We always like to drive the slower roads that parallel I-70 east of Mt. Airy. The map shows a marker at Twin Arch Bridge which is a one-lane, short tunnel under an old railroad bridge. The map shows the route that we usually travel instead of the Interstate and Rt. 32 to get to Clarksville. The route shown on the map is one of several options you can take.
UPDATE March, 2016: Royal Farms in Glenelg, MD now has a DC Fast Charger with CHAdeMO and SAE Combo.
That’s it! I hope you have as much fun as we do. Any comments on your experience are welcome. Contact me here.