There are so many things to do in Helen, Ga, and it ranks among our favorite Georgia Mountain Towns because of the number of outdoor adventures. It is no surprise that Alpine Helen/White County has been designated by the State House and Senate as Georgia’s Outdoor Adventure Destination. With so much to do, we can’t list everything to do in Helen, but we’ve highlighted our very favorites. What about you? What do you love?
Hiking and Waterfalls
Anna Ruby Falls – Anna Ruby Falls is actually two waterfalls, where two rivers meet and create Smith Creek – the creek that fills the lake at Unicoi. The falls are majestic, and the walk is short and easy. You simply cannot visit Helen without taking in this natural beauty. In fact, I think it’s reason enough, alone, to make the journey from Atlanta.
Raven Cliff Falls – Many families avoid this hike because they fear it isn’t family-friendly. Have no fear – most of the hike is very flat, and it follows Dukes Creek, with multiple smaller falls and places to dabble in the water. It is only the very last 1/8-mile that is not safe for kiddos, but the hike is still worthy – awesome, in fact – if you can’t do the whole thing.
Dukes Creek Falls – I love this waterfall in winter, but any time of year will do. From the cabins at Smithgall Woods or from the Dukes Creek parking lot, it is only a 2-mile round trip to the viewing platform. We love the multi-tiered fall dropping 150-feet.
DeSoto Falls – Two falls for the price of one (yes, this is a paid park area.) You’ll hike to the left to see the lower falls, then head back and to the right to see the upper falls. The entire trip is only 2.25 miles, but if you can’t do it all (or you’re not sure the kids will make it the whole way,) I recommend heading to the upper falls first.
Horse Trough Falls – This waterfall is within the Upper Chattahoochee campsite in the Mark Trail Wilderness area. You must pay to camp here, but not if you just want to see the falls. It’s only a half-mile walk and sees far fewer visitors than other falls in the area.
Yonah Mountain – This one is a 4.4-mile difficult hike primarily because of the pitch. I haven’t done it with my young ones. Go without them and then reward yourself at the nearby vineyard. You’re going to love the views from this 3100-ft bald.
Whitley Gap Trail – Take this short trail (named for a nearby AT shelter) to the top of Wildcat Mountain, this trail is filled with fairyland shrubbery that my kids adore. It’s a short trail, but one of my favorite in the area.
Other Outdoor Adventures
Tubing the Chattahoochee – This, my friends, is a Georgia must-do! Rent a tube from Cool River Tubing and hitch a ride from them to a drop-off location up the river. Whether you take the short ride or the long one, be sure to purchase a push stick!
Helen Waterpark – If the water is too low for tubing (or you just want to have some old-fashioned fun!) then head to the waterpark where you can tube the 1000-ft lazy river, or take on the four waterslides. Tube rental is also available here.
Camping – There is nothing like camping in fall in Helen, with the changing leaves and the crisp mountain air. Andrews Cove is a small campground just off the road but a world away. The Upper Chattahoochee Campground is a bit more secluded, with toilets and a waterfall. There’s also camping at Yonah Mountain and Unicoi State Park.
Alpine Mini Golf – Alpine Mini Golf is right on main street. The clean course, with German flare and white washed fences was a wonderful way to spend an hour. I highly recommend it on a trip to Alpine Helen. Be sure to make time for an ice cream next door. (Full review coming soon!)
Chattahoochee Stables – One of the few horseback riding places we’ve seen with no age limit. Kids under 5yo can ride with an adult! Take an hour guided trail ride, including 1.5 miles along the river (the only “river ride” around!) Trips go out every hour.
Woody’s Mountain Bikes – Woody’s offers the complete mountain bike experience Tuesday – Saturday for kids 12 up to adults. The trip package includes a bike, a helmet and transport, and prices start at $50.00 per person. The most popular ride is the Gap Ride- 14-miles, mostly downhill, at your own pace, with 5-miles along the Chattahoochee. Reservations are recommended.
Wildwood Outfitters – Select from 4 different 5-10 mile kayaking trips down the Chattahoochee – either a leisurely trip or an exciting whitewater experience. Trips are 2-5 hours, depending on where and how long a trip you take. Rentals include kayaks, canoes or tandams, life jacket, paddles, helmet and shuttle. Kiddos must be at least 5 yo. If you have your own canoe or kayak then use their shuttle service for a nominal fee.
Alpine Carriage Company – Whether you are visiting with your family, as a couple, or on your own, you can’t skip the carriage ride with Alpine Carriage Company when in Helen. Sit back, relax, and unwind while enjoying great views of the city. Kids will especially get a kick out of this adventure and feeding the horse! Reminder – don’t forget to tip your driver…these guys and gals are in the hot sun all day.
GeoCaching – There are plenty of geocaches all over Helen and her neighboring towns, but we adore caching in the state parks. With two parks in Helen, this is the ideal place to start completing your Geo-Challenge Passport.
Pokemon Go – Am I really adding Pokemon Go to this list? YES! If you or your kiddos are Pokemon fans, then you’ll love Helen. Within walking distance of the main downtown area are dozens of Pokestops and enough Pokemon to capture that your little ones will be pre-occupied long enough for you to enjoy that Bavarian pretzel without having to share!
State Park Adventures
Smithgall Woods State Park – There are two Georgia State Parks in the small town of Helen. The first one want to introduce you to is Smithgall Woods State Park. We’ve visited about half of the state’s lovely parks, but this is my favorite one by far. I love the creek running through, the towering trees that change the temperature by a good 10 degrees with their full canopies, and the unique cottages from which you can explore. The cottages allow easy access to Dukes Creek Falls (or you can drive only a few miles to the trailhead.) Hiking, trout fishing, geo-caching, ranger programs…there is so much to do!
Unicoi State Park – There is a second state park in Helen with outdoor activities galore: Unicoi State Park. Enjoy hiking, biking, walking, fishing, boating, canoeing, swimming, and more! In fact, they have an all new Adventure Lodge Program that is The Bomb. You can adventure all weekend and still not get in everything there is to do. Don’t forget there is lodging here, too…Barrel Cabins and cottages (3 are pet friendly,) camp grounds and a Lodge. (Full review coming soon!)
Hardman Farm – This is the newest Georgia State Park Historic Site, sitting on 173-acres. You can take tours of the Italianate architected house and dairy barn built in 1870. The Nacoochee Mound is a burial site and was probably used long before the Cherokee inhabited the area. Soon there will be a trail running from here to Smith Creek and Anna Ruby Falls.
Shopping and Museums
Nacoochee Village Antiques – There is just something about being in the mountains that makes me love antique shopping. Granted, I’m mostly “window shopping,” but it is still so much fun! This is also a great place to grab a bottle of Habersham Wine or locally roasted JumpinGoat Coffee.
Babyland General – If you are a product of the Cabbage Patch generation, this is a must see. Even my boys were drawn in and unexpectedly happy and enthused by the visit. Just about the time we were checking out, we heard the chime of a new baby about to be born. We gathered around the birthing area….a series of cabbages on a “hill,” a nurse came to check the baby. We watched as she helped the new little “boy” come into the world.
Old Sautee Store – This is a really fun way to experience history with the kids. The building is beautiful by itself, but it is fun to see that the shop keeps the spirit of roots in their detailing, candy barrels, and sweet staff. Whatever you do, don’t leave without asking them to start the music player.
Sautee Nacoochee Center – Did you know Sautee was named one the ‘100 Best Small Art Towns in America?’ (John Villani) The Sautee Nacoochee Center is an arm of the Sautee Nacoochee Community Association (SNCA,) which encourages exploration and education in arts and history. It includes a theatre, a history museum, dance and art studios, an art gallery, a folk art pottery museum, and an environmental educational resource center. If you have an appreciation for the arts or a desire to learn about the history of the area, I highly recommend a stop.
Nora Mill Granary – Do stop into the granary to see the millstones and the dam. Take a peak at the 1876 building, with all her character. Pick up a package of freshly milled grits. But don’t under-estimate your kids…talk to them about the process here. It’s history…in real life.
Hansel & Gretel Candy Shop – These people literally wrote the book on candy making (Candy making for Dummies.) 5,000 sq-ft of production include peanut brittle, chocolate covered cherries, nut clusters, and over 100 different candies. Get a sample and take some home.
Fred’s Peanuts – Stop in for the peanuts, but take time to look around and enjoy yourself. Say hi to the “old folks” dolls perched on the porch. If you’ve never had the Cajun flavored boiled peanuts, try a sample, and take home a bag!
Betty’s Country Store – This is the town’s grocery store. It’s a great place to stock up for the weekend if you’re camping. There are also great sandwiches and a deli in the back.
Hofer’s Bakery and Café – This could not have been a more perfect family-friendly lunch spot. The food was spot-on, the staff was superb, the atmosphere was casual and light, and …well….the bakery! We’ll be here again and again in the future. Can’t wait to try eating outside next time. The outside tables each had umbrellas to keep off the sun, with vinyl tablecloths, reinforcing a comfy, family-friendly atmosphere.
Hot & Sweet – this is a GREAT coffee shop off main street in the downtown area. We love their full immersion brewing method. Be sure to stop and get the kids some ice cream or a cookie with your cuppa.
Nacoochee Village Tavern – The perfect family eatery, with craft style pizza using corn mill from Nora’s across the street. Plus local wines and craft brews for mom and dad. Check the website for their daily specials.
Old Sautee Market – can’t stop thinking about the “adult” grilled cheese – farmer’s cheese, bacon and tomato, with black bean soup. Hmmm. My mouth is drooling just thinking about it. It’s great for the kids, too, with an outside dining area complete with shade, bubbles, and a place to run around. We do not go to the mountains without stopping here for lunch!
Paul’s Steakhouse – We visited here for the first time recently and really enjoyed it. Ask for a seat by the windows so you can see the river. Steak and country-fried steak are winners. I love when I ask for medium-rare and I actually get it. There’s a kiddo menu and a great adult beverage selection.
Troll Tavern – The Troll Tavern is a fun and upbeat restaurant, catering to locals, visitors, families, and couples. I noticed that, like us, most families were seated out on the patio overlooking the water and tubers. It gave the kids something to do while waiting on the food. The Troll Tavern is a place people come to eat dinner (or lunch,) but also to hang out for an extended period, have a few beers, enjoy the weather and the company of those around them. The noise level is hyped a bit (again, great for families.) The wait staff is tuned into this atmosphere also, so if your kids are getting antsy, or you have somewhere you need to be…tell the waiter. Otherwise, he’s expecting you to claim your seat and stay several hours (awesome!)
Scoop de Scoop Ice Cream – Scoop de Scoop is great for an ice cream treat with the kids after playing a round of mini golf next door (although you don’t have to play in order to indulge.) The inside was set up like an old soda shop, which is fun. My peanut butter shake was awesome, and the kids had delicious scoops! The soda-shop décor is neat for a rainy day, but head outside on the patio to enjoy great weather.
Bodensee – We arrived to Bodensee for an early dinner, so there were not too many people as we arrived, although it was picking up quickly as we left. There were other families like ours, couples seemingly on dates. I am a huge fan of Bodensee! The care put into it the food is obvious, as it is delicious. The atmosphere is family-friendly, and the staff is super kind to kids. For such a casual and relaxing atmosphere, and large food portions, the price was also right.
Oktoberfest – Helen’s Okterberfest is a can’t-miss. It’s the longest running Oktoberfest in the US, starting right after Labor Day through Oct 30. Besides the brats and beer, there are Alphorns, Cowbells and Accordians for your listening pleasure when you head to the Helen Festhalle. Don’t miss the kick-off parade – Sundays are free for Festhalle events. Even if you skip the event hall, just walking the town during this festival is unforgettable. October.
Hot Air Balloon Festival – The South’s oldest balloon event and the United States’ only long distance hot air balloon race will begin (weather permitting) with a mass ascension of 30 bright and colorful hot air balloons. We can never get enough of this festival – love it! June.
Christmas in Helen – There is nothing quite like Helen at Christmas. Tour the Festival of Trees beginning in November, with the culmination being the Helen Christmas Parade with a bonfire, s’mores and paper lanterns. Can’t make it? The weekend prior is the Christmas in the Mountains Lighted Parade, with lighted floats. Eat breakfast with Santa at Babyland. Find the perfect gift at Christkindlmarkt, a German tradition where the center of town is filled with booths offering specialty gift items, decorations, assorted savory food, drinks and candied treats, the first two weekends of December.