When just about anyone finds out I live in Sylva, North Carolina (near the Cherokee Reservation), they immediately say, “That’s no man’s land! There’s nothing to do there! You live in the boondocks!” I just roll my eyes and proceed to let them know there are bajillions of fun things to do in North Carolina, you just have to know who to ask and where to look!
Today my friends…you’re in luck!
I happen to be a self proclaimed expert at making just about anything fun and I just happen to live in Western North Carolina which means I know the nooks and crannies of fun that most tourists and students who come to school or to visit here do not discover until many years later if at all!
There are millions of fun things to do in North Carolina for under $5, it might just take a little research or asking around.
I’ve saved you the time and effort with my knowledge of this beautiful area of God’s country.
To help you save a little moola and enjoy North Carolina at the same time, we’ve compiled a list of things you can do in North Carolina without breaking the bank.
AKA: $5 and under y’all!
All about saving that money!
If you think of something we forgot to add here, please mention it in the comments below so we can update this list for our readers!
Wouldn’t be very hospitable of us if we didn’t share the local hangouts with the rookies now would it?
We hope you enjoy doing this fun things in North Carolina this weekend and will share you experience with us in the comments below!
50 Fun Things to do in North Carolina for under $5
- Picnic-the vast list of hiking trails and picnic spots can be found here.
- Visit a North Carolina Ghost Town-These are just about every so many miles along the way and would never fail to creep you out while also being extremely beautiful picnic areas! I know I know…sounds coo coo-but it’s true! My hubby grew up playing in the river and soon brought me into the world of camping in Mortimer Campground where a once thriving mill town and farm land existed (not sure how in that rugged area but it did). Ever since seeing an image of an anaconda sized rattle snake found along the river in Mortimer, I’ve weaned myself of spending much time there. Others, however, have yet to stray from the beautiful mountain town and campground! My hubby’s ancestors once lived there and held their homestead/family burial plot nearby, so it must not have been all that bad. See for yourself!
- Site See-taking a Sunday Drive with the hubby is one of my fav ways to spend time with him. I usually pack our camera, he gathers the dog’s harness/leash and water bowl. We then travel along the parkway or up the road from our home and take in the gorgeous scenery. It’s like driving away from everyday into something unreal. The Blue Ridge Parkway is a good place to start while there are many others. We also like to explore roads in our neighborhood we’ve never driven down.
- Walk/Run/Bike-Our state takes the time to find ways to encourage healthy living. Beyond just healthy living festivals, there are many bike lanes, running trails, mountain biking trails, horseback trails, etc. found throughout the state! See here for where to go!
- Fish-Beyond the cost of supplies to do so, fishing cannot only be cheap, but relaxing! There are companies in the area, which will take you on guided fishing tours, trips and even teach you to fly fish if you’re willing to learn! Check it all out here!
- Attend a Festival-North Carolina has an abundance of festivals which are hosted on any given weekend. Make sure you check weather updates for whether or not a festival is postponed or canceled! Check this site out and narrow down your list to attend! I still haven’t been to all of them yet I think I have been to maybe 1/2 if not 3/4 on that calendar of events. My family has attended those that I haven’t attended (we are festival goers in this crowd) so feel free to ask about any of those events in our comments section or on our social media pages to get more inside info!
- Waterfalls-Western North Carolina plays host to so many beautiful waterfalls! I couldn’t possibly express the beauty and fun they bring to the mountains with words so you’ll have to see for yourself at this site. Please, BE CAREFUL! Getting too close to the edge can be deadly and rocks are slippery! Also, be alert. Wildlife utilize these areas for sources of water too.
- Talking Trees Forest-Holmes Educational State Forest is a great place for families, couples or anyone wanting a scenic run. There are recorded messages providing educational information about each type of tree found in North Carolina. Check it out here. This was something my mom insisted we attend as a family for our education as kids and came in handy on our fifth grade required science project to identify trees around us. I fully intend on taking my daughter there when she is old enough to understand what is happening.
- Parks-There is also an abundance of parks in North Carolina. My current favorite is East Laporte Park in Sylva, North Carolina. This park is located right along the river where it is not uncommon to find someone fishing, swimming or wading, reading a book, sunbathing, picnicking, playing with their dog, you name it!
- Sliding Rock-This requires sever safety hazard when attending while lifeguards are not on duty. This will be noted at the entrance and the cost is $2 while kids 6 and under are free. There are annual passes offered at a rate of $25 to utilize this beautiful resource of fun! Lifeguards can be on duty during normal hours, but awareness of the hidden dangers of swimming as well as sliding on this rock is necessary. Avoid during storms or high water! Check this site for this information prior to attending! However, this is an awesome natural water slide and my family has used this for entertainment year after year! Even my dad (almost 60) will slide this thing and it’s quite hilarious!
- Camping-There are so many campgrounds, both primitive and fancy! Our personal favorite is Lake James campground in Nebo, North Carolina. Book ahead! The spots get gone fast-unless you are going to a primitive spot of course. Be safe and check up on bear and snake safety protocol too ;). We do have poisonous snakes and neither they are the bears have a sense of boundaries!
- See Elk in Cherokee and along the parkway. Make sure you look into safety precautions used when in Elk territory! They seem docile and slow, but don’t let them fool you!
- Visit Corn Mazes in October! They are EVERYWHERE and so much FUN!
- Church Locations: Being that we are in the bible belt of the United States, one must take the time to visit the various churches located in each and every city of NC. My personal favorite is Webster Baptist Church located in Webster, NC (between Cullowhee, Sylva and Dillsboro). Pop in to take pictures, enjoy a picnic on the grounds, fish across the road from the church or simply take in the beauty of the area.
- Haunted Attractions-October is full of fall festivals, Apple Festivals, and of course haunted attractions. These range from corn mazes, haunted houses, haunted barns, haunted trails and more! Each is unique and worth the trip-I promise! Check to see regulations for children and for prices prior to attending. Many of these do not accept cards-cash only-but some may. Our personal favorite is about three hours from us and we make the trip every year to Spookywoods in Kersey Valley, NC. It’s worth every penny and the three hour drive from Sylva to Kersey Valley because of how over the top they are in production!
- S=top in at a local Apple Orchard for delicious homemade goodies, cider, and apples! Search by the city you are located in-you’re bound to find an orchard nearby!
- Ghost Hunting-other than the cost of equipment or a ticket for a tour, many locations will allow you to conduct your own ghost investigation! I have ghost hunted at a few locations and used to love doing so! Keep in mind, you can easily record evps with a simple recorder found at Walmart or on your cell phone!
- Gem Mining-Found all over Western NC, gem mining is a fun activity for kids, families and couples (or the lone searcher) hoping to score a pretty little stone (sapphire?) or a big ruby! If you want to go for free, grab a handful of stones out of the river while swimming and you’re sure to find a tiny-medium sized sapphire (yellow or red in color) almost anywhere in our state-I’m serious!
- Shopping in downtown Sylva-There are so many spots I love to stop at along the way on main street. My particular favorite is the B & B Gifts. We also love to pop in the antique shops all around town for some hidden treasures!
- Concerts on the Creek-Jackson County, NC chamber of commerce hosts free small concerts featuring local bands at the local Bridge Park (located right on the creek-imagine that)! Each Friday evening in the summer time, grab your camp chair and a drink, head on down to the park and jam with the community! Check the website for date schedules.
- City Lights-A small town bookstore filled with charm and class located near Main Street Sylva, North Carolina. This little book haven also serves drinks and pastries (plus they make awesome crepes) while you browse their collection of fantastic book selections.
- Casino Lounge-Make sure you swing through Harrah’s Cherokee Casino in Cherokee, North Carolina and checkout the Essence Lounge. Here, patrons can sip on a drink of their choice while watching sports on the many televisions, listen to a dj spin the hottest tracks or get to know a local band showcasing their own tunes as well as covers while guests dance on the floor below the stage. Free to enter-just bring your ID and you must be 21 or over!***recent update-There is now an area that is family friendly and allows children with a stage for bands, an arcade and bowling area. Even us adults take a night off to go spend about $10-$12 for unlimited play in one area on specific nights they allow it. Check their site for more!
- Casino Gambling-Harrah’s Cherokee Casino is a large casino which houses live tables, concerts, small-local bands and incredible food venues! Be sure to take a moment to check this place out!
- Rose Walk at Lake Junaluska-Usually at it’s peak in September, the Rose Walk of Lake Junaluska (near Waynesville, North Carolina) is a gorgeous site to see edging the beautiful lake with surrounding mountains as a backdrop. Residents and visitors are usually out walking dogs, spending time walking with family or taking their afternoon run along the paths which follow the shape of the lake.
- Brown Mountain Lights-Similar to the Thomas Divide Lights mentioned below, the Brown Mountain Lights have been seen for years surrounding the Brown Mountain itself. To view these lights, travel along the parkway to mile posts 310 (Brown Mountain Light Overlook) and 301 (Green Mountain Overlook). Other locations reported to be used as siting locations are the top of Table Rock (requires a hefty hike) and Wiseman’s View which is near Linville Falls, North Carolina.
- Thomas Divide Lights-According to Cherokee Legend, this pull off is where lights can be seen dancing along the treetops in either blue, red, or yellow/white colors. It is believed this is the lantern of a member of the tribe who sacrificed himself for the freedom of his family during the great removal. Others say it is a witch or ghostly entity haunting the ridges. We have since found evidence of what is causing the lights, but out of respect for the community we live and love, we will not be sharing that. In the meantime, you should check it out for yourself on any given clear night in the Smoky Mountains.
- Fields of the Woods-Located in Murphy-a bible park for the public’s enjoyment. I have lived in North Carolina for over 20+ years and I just now discovered this. I’ll be happy to share my experience once I get to see it myself.
- Tail of the Dragon-A great sightseeing road, but be sure to pay attention to where you are going! This road is not for the faint of heart! Typically driven by bikers and the like as a competitive or adrenaline rush moment, the Tail of the Dragon is quite the course to take for an adventure!
- Nantahala Brewing Company-While the beer served may not be at the $5 and under range, the free music and ability to walk in and out of the open garage like seating area is. You are welcome to bring food from other venues into the location and sit to enjoy music and beer while you eat. Or simply bring the family for some free dance music to boogy own to on the dance floor!
- Festival of Lights and Luminaries. Dillsboro hosts a beautiful display of Christmas Lights and luminaries along the walkways, restaurants and inns located in the town. There is also a Santa & Mrs. Claus picture opportunity in at least one of the local businesses where kids and families can pop in to share their Christmas list as well as take a picture with the Claus crew. There is hot chocolate served in various locations and chocolate is found in the fudge shops!
- Road to Nowhere This scenic drive attracts locals, Western Carolina students and tourists every year. Read at the link attached to find out more on the history of this literal road to nowhere.
- Visit any lake-seriously-take your pick!
- Carson House This historical home is epic in sharing North Carolina history with its patrons and the displays tell of a time once lived in this home as well as conflicts which occurred right on or near their property!
- Grove Park Inn-Be sure to checkout the huge fireplaces and beautiful Christmas tree of displays throughout the Inn! Friends and family gather here for their annual Christmas photos in front of the sleigh or the fireplaces and to see the Gingerbread Contest entries posted on each floor of the Inn. This location is also known to be haunted by a woman who jumped to her death many years ago.
- Jackson County Library-Visit Jackson County’s library housed in the old courthouse. See their many events at the site linked above.
- Visit Sassyfrass in downtown Sylva to see remnants from the filming of the movie Three Billboards Outside Ebbing of Missouri.
- Lake Lure-Dirty Dancing was filmed here and the locations boasts a historical feel with great restaurants and scenery. Not a bad fishing spot either!
- Chimney Rock-An especially spectacular view on Easter morning at sunrise. Free to all who attend and watch as the sun rises over Lake Lure while bagpipes, dulcimers, and many other musical talents are brought to the top of this incredible mountain for a short sermon and gospel singing. Truly magical!
- Judaculla Rock-Whether it’s a Cherokee Legend or a magical being of sorts, this rock holds a key to something secret, which has yet to be solved! The markings are similar to petroglyphs found in caves in the area, but have not been deciphered officially. Go visit this rock and see yourself for free!
- Bald Eagle watch along the Tuckaseegee River. Believe it or not, we have witnessed a Bald Eagle eating on the Tuckasegee River in Western North Carolina on our way to work one morning! We hear their calls near the office we work at in Cullowhee and see what we believe to be Golden Eagles around our home too!
- Deep Creek Tubing in Bryson City-This is a must and my 40 year old hubby loves going at least once a year to tube at this location as well as many of the church groups in our area!
- Jack the Dipper Ice Cream Parlor-This ice cream parlor has been a popular spot since the beginning of time. Handcrafted cinnamon and vanilla waffle cones or bowls are made to order on the spot with plenty of choices in sweet treats to fill them with!
- Carl Sandburg Home-Not only is this gorgeous home a location which once housed one of America’s finest poets, but it also is home to hiking trails, beautiful picnic areas and a bookstore as well. Free for the grounds, only cost is the home itself.
- Baxley’s Chocolates-We have more than one chocolate shop in town, but this one is not only our favorite, it is legit the best chocolate in all the land! They now offer gelato, sugar free items, and have a few granola treats too!
- Drum Circle-Asheville is host to so many musicians, it’s no wonder a drum circle is found in Pritchard Park in downtown Asheville, North Carolina! Anyone (locals and tourists) can join drumming, dancing, or watching any Friday night April-October. This is completely free and fun to join in the rhythm! Sometimes, it’s fun just to people watch the diversity of Asheville!
- North Carolina Arboretum-This beautiful gardens hosts many free events! Check their site at the link to see what the Arboretum is up to now!
- Go on a Bear Hunt! No-not a real bear (wouldn’t recommend it) but a fiberglass bear hunt through Cherokee at the Oconaluftee Island Park and all around town. These bears are uniquely painted with various designs and Cherokee related symbolism. Great photo op!
- Attend the local Farmers Market-There seems to be a farmers market everywhere you turn in NC which is quite handy! I love attending these when I have the freetime on weekends. See for yourself for free at the Asheville Farmers Market or The Jackson County Farmers Market where locals attend as vendors with their own booth full of homegrown plants, herbs, flowers, bushes, trees, food items, vegetables, fruits, etc. My personal favorite is chocolate mint and unique flowers!
- Visit one of many sites for filming The Hunger Games movie (first of the series) in Hildebran, NC. The buildings used as backdrops in the first film (and possibly others) showing the bakery, the home of Katniss and Primrose, and more can be seen in person for free! The buildings are now a “ghost town” resemblance of the once mill town that existed many moons ago.
- Swimming-Living in the mountains comes with its own perks! Like free swimming holes almost anywhere you turn! We love Hooker Falls in Brevard and Lake Glenville in the Glenville community. There are so many swimming holes around as well as rivers to splash in or kayak, fish, swim, and float in just ask a local and they will point you in the right direction!
We hope you not only enjoy this list of things to do in North Carolina, but you will also hop over to see our fun things to do in Maggie Valley North Carolina post and our fun things to do in Asheville North Carolina post too!
We hope to put together a list for fun things to do in Charlotte North Carolina soon. Any suggestions? They are greatly appreciated!
We hope y’all enjoyed yourselves and you’ll come back now!