June–August (amphitheater season)
160 miles from Atlanta
What it is: The home of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians upped its ante, so to speak, with a $650 million casino and resort expansion completed last year. The recent additions of alcohol sales and live gaming also raised Harrah’s Cherokee’s cred on the gambling circuit. Outside the casino, don’t let dated roadside attractions deter you from worthwhile cultural sights like the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and the Qualla Arts & Crafts cooperative. During summer, visit Oconaluftee Indian Village and watch Unto These Hills, the nation’s second-longest-running outdoor drama, tracing more than 170 years of the tribe’s history. visitcherokeenc.com
Insider tip: Join the Caesars Total Rewards program to earn complimentary food, entertainment, and lodging.
Where to stay: Harrah’s new Mountain Tower, with views of the surrounding Smokies.
What to do: There’s the 18,000-square-foot, Balinese-style Mandara spa, a new Robert Trent Jones II golf course, and big-name shows like this month’s concert by the Zac Brown Band. Eat at national chains or the requisite casino buffet.
Why I go: “It’s a respite from the everyday, and it only takes about three and a half hours to get there. In terms of gaming and eating and overnight accommodations, it’s very comparable to other places I’ve been. I never was really big on the slot machines, because I just don’t feel like I have anything to do with whether I win or lose, so I was really pleased when they got the table games.” —Jackie Hewitt, an Atlanta middle school teacher who’s also been to Tunica, Biloxi, and Las Vegas