Long a popular tourist destination, Helen is set in a scenic spot amidst the North Georgia Mountains alongside the Chattahoochee River. While the vast forests and valleys around it offer up all kinds of fun outdoor activities, it is most known for its brilliant Bavarian-style buildings and glut of German restaurants, bakeries, and specialty shops.
Formerly a struggling mining town, it was resurrected and reinvented in the late 1960s with it now instead being known as ‘Georgia’s Alpine Village’. Thanks to its attractive architecture and enticing ambience, millions of tourists visit each year to sightsee, stay in cozy chalets, and sample schnitzel, strudel, and sauerbraten with the fun-filled Oktoberfest being one of the best times to stop by.
Aside from exploring downtown, there are also countless waterfalls, vineyards, and mountains to see nearby with hiking, tubing, and ziplining being just a few of the most popular things to do in Helen.
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12. Nacoochee Village Antique Mall
Home to an extensive and eclectic collection of antiques, collectibles, and curiosities, the incredible Nacoochee Village Antique Mall lies just a few minutes drive outside Helen. Spread across its three floors are untold treasures and trinkets for visitors to stumble across with everything from vintage cameras and Vietnam War memorabilia, to unique and unusual bowls, vases, and plates on sale.
A fun and fascinating place to explore, the historic Martin House it occupies is home to around fifty dealers with knick-knacks crammed into every available nook and cranny. While the beautiful 1876 building and its rooms full of antiques and oddities make for some fabulous photos, the mall’s real appeal is that it is the perfect place to pick up some souvenirs or gifts from your time in town.
11. Yonah Mountain Hiking Trail
Widely considered to be one of the most scenic hiking trails in North Georgia, the steep climb to the top of Yonah Mountain is sure to reward you with divine panoramas of the surrounding countryside. A very popular and picturesque path, it stretches 2.3 miles in length with stupendous scenery, nature, and views on show the whole way along.
Lying just ten minutes drive south of the small town, the 3,166ft tall Mount Yonah rises dramatically above the rolling hills of White County all around it. While hiking along the well-signposted route, you’ll pass through lush woods and scramble up steep inclines with precipitous drop-offs and rocky outcrops dotted here and there. At its lofty Lover’s Leap lookout – so named after a local Cherokee legend – you can bask in epic views of the hills, forests, and rivers stretching away before you.
10. Alpine Mini Golf
If you’re after a slightly less strenuous outdoor activity, you may instead prefer to head to the lovely little Alpine Mini Golf. At its green grounds in the town center, you can putt away til your heart’s content with simple strokes, challenging shots, and inventive hole-in-ones being par for the course.
Great fun for all the family, it has eighteen well-maintained holes for you to navigate with gorgeous flowerbeds, fine sculptures, and a charming alpine chalet lying alongside them. At night the lovingly landscaped course and garden are delightfully lit up by twinkling fairy lights strung up between its trees. Besides enjoying an exciting round of mini golf, you can also stop off for a refreshing ice cream before continuing on your travels.
9. Raven Cliff Falls
Another picture-perfect spot to hit up not too far from Helen is the fantastic Raven Cliff Falls which lies tucked away within the wild confines of the Chattahoochee National Forest. Situated at the end of a 2.5-mile-long trail, its jet white waters make for a stunning sight as they course their way down through the middle of a craggy cliff with dense foliage and vegetation lying all around them.
In total, it has several scenic sections for visitors to enjoy with some towering 60 feet in height and others plunging into deep pools down below. As the pretty path winds its way alongside a bubbling creek, plenty of other reflective pools and sparkling waterfalls can be spotted amid the vast valley’s verdant woods with lots of great photos and views to be had along the way.
8. Habersham Vineyards
After having partaken in some tough outdoor activities and tiring sightseeing, it is well worth taking a minute to relax, unwind, and enjoy a glass of wine at the award-winning Habersham Vineyards. At its atmospheric tasting room, you can sample a wide variety of local wines before purchasing some bottles, specialty products, and gourmet foods as gifts or souvenirs in its little store.
One of the oldest and largest wineries in the state, the family-owned business has been producing delicious wines since 1983 from juicy grapes grown in Georgia. In its rustic-looking, white-washed building, guests can try sumptuous chardonnays, sauvignons, and merlots, while knowledgeable staff members teach you about the various tastes and aromas of the wines and what they best accompany.
7. Georgia Mountain Coaster
An absolute must for adrenaline junkies, the hair-raising Georgia Mountain Coaster sees you shoot down the steep slopes of the mountain at an incredible speed. As you twist and turn your way about its tracks, you pass through lots of lovely, lush woods, and enjoy fine views of the surrounding hills and tiny town below.
Only opened in 2019, it has quickly become one of Helen’s top tourist attractions with many people instantly buying another ticket once they arrive at the bottom. Unlike traditional roller coasters, only one or two passengers ride in each cart and the driver controls the speed. While the coaster’s max speed is only 25 mph, it feels much faster as you weave your way about its steep and winding route.
6. Go Ziplining
Yet another exhilarating activity you can enjoy in the rugged hills and forests surrounding Helen is to go ziplining, with a number of companies offering unforgettable aerial adventures. These include not just Nacoochee Adventures and Cool River Adventures, but Sunburst Adventures and the superb Unicoi State Park, too.
At all of them, you step out onto a lofty platform before zipping your way above forests, rivers, and fields with the longest of the ziplines impressively reaching half a mile in length. Besides being an exciting experience, it also offers unrivaled views of the mountains and countryside from above. In addition to ziplining, the various parks have everything from canopy tours and challenge courses to giant swings and climbing walls for you to try out.
5. Dukes Creek Falls Trail
Just a ten minutes drive west of town is another of the Northeast High Country’s wonderful waterfalls for you to visit: the spectacular Dukes Creek Falls. Located at the end of a scenic trail, it reaches a colossal 160 feet in height with its sparkling waters standing out delightfully against the rocks, trees, and shrubs that lie all around it.
As the trail to the foot of the falls is only just a mile in length, the path is very accessible to all with its three viewing platforms offering up some astounding views of the cascades. Just as eye-catching as its rushing waters and the craggy, lichen-covered rocks that surround it are the gorgeous woods and mountains of the Chattahoochee National Forest that line the trail.
4. Unicoi State Park
Nestled amidst the rolling foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Unicoi State Park boasts lots of beautiful landscapes, scenery, and nature, and offers up all kinds of fun outdoor activities. Situated just a stone’s throw from the center of Helen, it encompasses everything from picturesque lakes and rivers to magnificent mountains, forests, and waterfalls.
A firm favorite with locals and tourists alike, it is one of Georgia’s most popular parks thanks to its wealth of outstanding amenities and activities. Besides hiking and biking about its trails, guests can fish, swim, and kayak about the enormous Unicoi Lake or zipline through the canopy and try out the outdoor archery and air gun range. In addition, there are plenty of cozy campsites and cottages for you to stay at with cultural events and festivals also being held in the park from time to time.
3. Downtown Helen
While north Georgia’s natural riches just beg to be explored, no visit to Helen can ever be complete without ambling about its attractive and atmospheric downtown. As most of its buildings are built in a brilliant Bavarian style, it really feels like you’ve stepped into a tiny alpine village with traditional German restaurants and bakeries being dotted here and there.
Colorful and kitschy, yet charming at the same time, it lies along the winding Chattahoochee River with countless quaint B&Bs and cozy cafes to be found next to lively taverns, tacky souvenir shops and year-round Christmas stores. Aside from taking in its appealing ambience and aesthetic, visitors can enjoy some hearty German fare and tasty fudge with Oktoberfest being one of the best times of year to visit, as rowdy celebrations take over the whole town.
2. Tubing on the Chattahoochee River
Another of Helen’s most popular pastimes is to go tubing on the idyllic Chattahoochee River which gently courses its way through the center of town. While floating peacefully along, you can take in the striking beauty of the surrounding mountains, valleys and forests and stop off from time to time to splash about in its cool waters or lounge on an inviting beach.
Currently two companies rent out tubes with both Cool River Tubing and Helen Tubing offering up one or two hour outings and a shuttle service back to your car once you’ve navigated the river’s little rapids and shallow rocky stretches. If you are still looking for yet more relaxation and fun after your time tubing, the latter also has a great waterpark for you to check out.
1. Anna Ruby Falls
Due to its staggering size, scale, and splendor, the incredible Anna Ruby Falls are definitely not to be missed out on when visiting Helen. Tucked away amidst both the Chattahoochee National Forest and Unicoi State Park, it lies just fifteen minutes drive north of downtown at the end of a half-mile-long paved path.
Towering a huge 154.2 feet in height, it tumbles its way down the steep side of Tray Mountain with the 50-foot York Creek plunging down right alongside it. At the foot of the fabulous falls, they join to form the scenic Smith Creek which eventually flows into Unicoi lake.
Besides snapping photos of the waterfall and enjoying its stupendous views, you can hike around the park with its pretty bridges and paths passing over rapids and creeks and through lots of lovely lush woodland.