Marion to Tazwell - The Back of the Dragon, a 29 mile long section of VA 16 runs north / south between the towns of Marion and Tazwell, Virginia. Climbing up and down the mountain ridges along the way it holds both sweeping curves in the valleys and tight and twisty sections carving through the rocky cuts in the high parts. There is little along the way, a few homes and farms. Most of it is wooded passing through Hungry Mother State Park at the south end. It is a useful road, one of the nicest ways to traverse this area, easy to work into your travel plans. Over the years it has been popularized and marketed as a motorcycle destination ride. The hub of this motorcycle related activity is at the north end in Tazwell where the Back of the Dragon Visitor Center opened a new facility in 2020. Several good rides connect to it and there is some great riding in the surrounding area.
Wayah Rd, a.k.a. "Thunder Road" makes a long and winding climb from the middle of the Nantahala Gorge. The road follows the river up the mountainside passing an overlook at Upper Nantahala River Cascades. There are numerous small pullouts along the road as it's a popular fishing river.
Once you reach the top of the climb the road relaxes and rolls across a broad area on the mountain. This is the neighborhood where Eric Rudolph hid from the FBI for years. You'll wind through homes along Nantahala Lake, the source of the river.
Leaving the lake the road starts another tight climb to reach the top of the mountain. There are a few steep unpaved driveways in the sharp curves, watch for gravel wash.
Once you crest the mountain the road straightens out as it crosses near the top of the ridge. An unpaved road leads to a lookout tower atop Wayah Bald. Once you pass the trailhead where the Appalachian Trail crosses the road a steep plunge down begins.
The switchbacks last a mile or so then you wind through woods and out into a valley. The roads relaxes again on the hilly run to meet Old Murphy Road a few miles west of Franklin. Loafer's Glory Store is a classic rest stop with swag.