In order to really experience a place with every ounce of your perception, it's important to let go of the concept that you're too good for something. You'll be amazed at what you discover. Take Cherokee, N.C. for example.
There's a big, fancy Harrah's in Cherokee, aka The Qualla. If that's your thing, go for it! It's nice. But if that's not your scene and you want to experience the area in a little less vain, more gritty and far more inexpensive way, you're in for a treat. The area is rich in so many ways, and it's only a roughly three-hour drive from Charlotte (if you take the highways.)
The Qualla (the area in which Cherokee exists) is First Nations land. It's where the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians fled capture during Indian Removal in the 1830s. Those who were run out of their homes slogged along what we now know as The Trail of Tears and became the Western Band out in Oklahoma. This place though, this untouched sprawl of mountainous bliss, is the Eastern Band's homeland. It's a beautiful, scenic place that will touch and inspire you and is a true reminder of how important it is to respect the land, even if it's not fancy and Paula Dean-ed out like you'll find at Harrah's.
So, if you enjoy frugal travel like I do, here's is my cheapskate's guide to weekend entertainment that highlights the things you need to see and do in Cherokee from my very short-sighted but highly-moved perspective:
See a traditional dance
Cost: whatever you're moved to give
Bonus: This is a good opportunity to re-frame what you know about American Indians. There's been a lot of hullabaloo and rage towards Urban Outfitters lately about their exploitation of this culture. Come get a better sense of what the hell is actually going on. Reading and watching "A Letter to Urban Outfitters" by Autumn White Eyes will get you up to speed on the Urban Outfitters controversy.
Eat an nDn taco at SoCo Diner
Bonus: Frybread is one of the most delicious and under-appreciated foods ever in the history of my mouth. YUM is an understatement. You want to try this.
Take in some cloudporn
Bonus: It's the perfect temperature right now in Cherokee. It's warm in the sun and short sleeves and jeans are just right, but then at night it's just cool enough to wear a sweater, which makes it charming. Beautiful clouds bring a clear mental state. I'm convinced and you will be, too.
See Mingo Falls
Bonus: It takes150+ steps to see this — hope you're not a smoker! Even if you are, it's worth hefting yourself to the top because the view is spectacular.
Sit and reflect along the beautiful The Oconaluftee river
Bonus: This river runs right through town and throughout the land and is definitely worth spending some time reflecting by. If you give it 20 minutes, the birds will forget you're there and will be pretty active while you sit. Great potential for birdwatching, obviously!
Visit the bamboo forrest
Right in the middle of the very big cultural district in this very small town is a bamboo forest that is spectacular. I know, I know, bamboo is an invasive, non-native species, but when you're standing inside it's truly something to marvel at. I'm sure this is where teenagers come to make out at night, but during the day it's spectacular. View this and some other campy goodness in the slideshow below!