With quaint hotels, shops galore, cobblestone walkways, a mountain roller coaster, wineries, Alpine food and copious amounts of specialty drinks and beer, you would think you were reading about a sizable tourist town in or around a large city, but not Helen, Georgia. Even though it is the state’s third most visited city, the population remains like its hotels, quaint – at only 430 residents.
Helen was platted in 1912, and named after the daughter of a lumber official. Formerly a logging town that was in decline, the city resurrected itself by becoming a replica of a Bavarian Alpine village. The town touts there is no other town in America known to packs so much charm into only 2.1 square miles. Honestly, it may very well be true. Tourism is a key economic activity in Helen, catering mostly to weekend visitors. Packed full of seasonal fun, Helen’s most favorite time of the year is October when autumn leaves typically peak. It also hosts its own Oktoberfest during September, October and November.
Running through the city is the beautiful Chattahoochee River. Summer weekends also are a favorite as Helen plays host to thousands of tubers who delight themselves with a leisurely hour long tubing expedition right through the heart of the city.
If you are a nature enthusiast, Unicoi State Park and Lodge is close by, spanning 1,050 acres of glorious forestland. The park encompasses Unicoi Lake, freshwater lake, offering outdoor activities for all seasons. Among these are a swimming beach, trout streams, wheelchair-accessible fishing docks, seasonal canoe, kayak and paddle boat rentals, seven picnic shelters with charcoal grills, three playgrounds for children, spots for birding, 7.5 miles of hiking within the park, 8 miles of mountain biking trails within the park, and a number of places to enjoy the natural environment of the lake and park. While there are many hotels in the area, Unicoi State Park also offers lodging in several forms.
For those who love to experience the sport of fly fishing, a stop by Unicoi Outfitters, just outside of town is a must. The waters of the Chattahoochee harken for the guided tours provided by these fine folks – just remember to make your reservations in advance – and tell ‘em Karen sent ya. After you’ve worked up an appetite in the creek, enjoy a hearty meal at The Village Tavern just across the street. Need a more formal restaurant for the family? I would certainly recommend Mully’s Nacoochee Grill located right next door.
From the infamous year-round shopping at The Christmas Shoppe, to the hot air balloon race every June, there’s not a season Helen doesn’t accommodate. So for a German-style delight, it’s certainly a place to put on your list for a short two-day getaway.
Have a couple of minutes? Enjoy this video of the history of Helen. Narrated by Georgia’s beloved author, the late John Kollock, the film shares the appreciation of the revival history of Georgia’s tiniest tourist town. For more information visit Helenga.org