Great Road Trips: The Snake

Great Road Trips: The Snake

by Michael Satterfield - 09/06/2021

In the third installment of our great road trip series powered by Shell V-Power NiTRO+ Premium Gasoline, we head to the Appalachian Mountains where we weave our way across the Carolinas and Tennessee, ending by driving the legendary mountain road known best as ‘The Snake.’ For this trip we picked up a BMW M5 at the BMWZentrum Museum in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Since Shell V-Power NiTRO+ is engineered for enhanced performance and optimal efficiency, it is the only fuel BMW recommends for their M cars, it even says so inside the fuel door. 

Great Road Trips: The Snake

The Zentrum Museum, situated next to the BMW Spartanburg plant where BMW builds all of their BMW X3, X3 M, X5, X5 M, and X7 Sports Activity Vehicles and X4, X4 M, X6, and X6 M Sports Activity Coupes. Over 70% of the vehicles produced at the factory are shipped overseas. But while massive car factories are cool, we jump in the M5 and hit the road towards the first stop, the incredible Biltmore Estate. 

Biltmore Estate

The Biltmore is the largest privately-owned home in the United States at 178,926 square feet, the estate was designed to be self-supporting, so Biltmore had his architects also design its own village, complete with cottages, a post office, shops, a doctor’s office, a church, and a school. Set upon 8,000 acres the estate boasts farmland, a dairy, a winery, and hunting grounds. Today the property is stilled owned by the descendants of George Washington Vanderbilt II and is a major tourist attraction that features two luxury hotels, restaurants, and an outdoor recreation center. While most people come to tour the mansion and relax at the hotel, we are headed to Antler Hill Village, home to the Land RoverExperience to take a classic Land Rover Defender 90 off-roading. 

Land Rover Experience Biltmore

We would be meeting with lead instructor Aaron Owens, who takes hotel guests and new Land Rover owners through a challenging off-road trail designed to showcase the off-road capabilities of the latest Land Rovers. But for this adventure, I would be driving the iconic Land Rover Defender 90, one of the few original Defenders sold in the US during the 1990s.

We follow Aaron from the cabin that houses the Land Rover Experience office to the course just a few minutes down the road. In pre-pandemic days the instructor would ride in the vehicle, but today Aaron walks alongside and helps guide me along the trail which has been designed to challenge drivers and even though I have done a lot of off-road driving, there were sections where I wondered if I was going to get the Defender stuck. But with Aaron’s expert guidance I made it through the course and finished just as the rain started.

Jumping back in the M5 we decided to stop by and see the mansion just as a major downpour started, so instead of walking around in the rain we headed northeast towards Mountain City, Tennessee, which is the unofficial starting point of ‘The Snake.’ In reality highway 421 starts in North Carolina, but it really doesn’t get interesting until Mountain City. The BMWM5 Competition is perfectly suited for this kind of road trip as it can soak up highway miles in comfort mode and at the touch of a button become a canyon carving sports car. 

Great Road Trips: The Snake

The next morning it was time to take on highway 421, if you plan your day out right and do the full loop you will experience 489 curves in just thirty-seven miles. The loop takes you up Iron Mountain into a dense forest, after several miles of challenging twists and turns we exit the trees into Shady Valley, Tennessee, the valley is home to a popular stop the Shady Valley Country Store where road trippers pick up their souvenir t-shirts and stickers. After a quick pitstop we take TN-133 towards Damascus Virginia, the road takes us through the valley before plunging you back into the forest as we climb back up into the mountains. In Damascus, we take a right on Highway 58 and then keep right on to TN-91 to enjoy a winding adventure back towards Mountain City. Turning right once again on 421 ‘The Snake’ we push straight through Shady Valley once again before climbing back up into the mountains.

The road straightens out as we descend towards South Holston Lake before pulling into Bristol, Tennessee home to Bristol Motor Speedway and thankfully another Shell station so we can fill up the BMW for the road trip back down to South Carolina. The Snake is one of those roads that every enthusiast should try to drive, but if you are planning a trip to the region give yourself some extra time and add the Tail of the Dragon, and BlueRidge Parkway to your list. 

Historic Shell Gas Station

Now we couldn’t come all this way on a road trip Powered by Shell V-Power NiTRO+ and not venture a little further east to Winston Salem, North Carolina home to a very cool bit of Shell history. Back in the early days of service stations, and when mimetic architecture was all the rage, Shell decided to build eight shell-shaped service stations in the Winston Salem area. Today this station at the corner of Sprague and Peachtree is the only one left and was restored by Preservation North Carolina as a designated historic site of motoring history. 

For more check out our video below:

The Snake Video The Gentleman Racer