50+ Insanely fun things to do in Helen ga for couples and families
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C & I love exploring unique attractions in themed villages like Tarpon Springs in Florida or Eureka Springs in Arkansas. When we learned the gorgeous pine cabin in Blue Ridge that we had booked for our Memorial Day Vacation was less than an hour away from Downtown Helen we simply had to visit the beautiful Georgian mountain town. Helen has less than 450 residents and an area of 2.5 square miles but attracts over thousands of visitors and is Georgia’s third most visited city. Popular things to do and attractions include exploring the typical Bavarian architecture, Helen’s Christmas and Oktoberfest celebrations, and river tubing in Helen in the Chattahoochee River. Visitors can rent a tube with the popular companies in town or buy their own river tube to bring along. Alpine Helen also offers a number of outdoor adventures – including some of the best hikes near Atlanta – and is officially declared Georgia’s Outdoor Adventure Destination.
READING TIME 30 mins
- Directions to Helen ga
- Reasons to visit Helen
- History of Helen
- When to visit Helen and what to pack
- Where to stay and for how long?
- 50+ Things to do in Helen ga
- Popular things to do in Helen ga near Downtown, Main Street and around Helen
- Know about Helen’s tourist attractions at the Helen White county convention and visitor’s bureau
- Understand the local art and history
- Visit gifts and specialty shops and buy unique handmade gifts items
- Eat freshly milled hot cornbread, just made fudge, popcorn, jerky, and other fun foods
- Eat Bavarian cuisine and drink German beer
- Take a horse-drawn carriage tour with the Alpine Carriage Company
- Shop for antiques at the Nacoochee Village Antique Mall
- Play golf among the mountains at Innsbruck Resort and Golf Club
- Fun Things to do with kids in Helen ga
- See the miniature Bavarian countryside train display at Charlemagne’s Kingdom
- Play mini golf on a beautifully landscaped course or enjoy a game of laser tag or have fun competing at arcade games
- Buy unique handmade toys for the children
- Get timeless photos in period costumes
- Enjoy the play area at Unicoi Hill Park and have a leisurely picnic
- Pan for gold and precious stones at the many mines in the area
- Outdoor things to do in Helen ga
- Hiking the beautiful waterfalls near Helen ga
- Other hikes and outdoor things to do near Helen ga
- Visit the Romeo and Juliet Indian Mound Tragedy Site
- Mountain bike the Unicoi Gap
- Go fishing in Helen with the Unicoi Outfitters
- Zipline the Blue Ridge Mountains of Northern Georgia
- Tube the Chattahoochee River in Helen ga
- Go camping in Helen ga
- What do you think? Leave comments and let me know! Cancel reply
- Popular things to do in Helen ga near Downtown, Main Street and around Helen
Directions to Helen ga
Helen is a small Bavarian Appalachian village in Northern Georgia. The closest airport is located in Atlanta (flights to Atlanta are so cheap with Spirit!) and Helen is best reached by a short 1.5 hrs drive from the city. Helen is just 85 miles north-east of Atlanta City center and a perfect weekend destination for the locals. C & I rented a car from Enterprise and got a great weekend deal. We drove partly through the Blue Ridge mountains and it was a great drive – must be spectacular in Fall.
Reasons to visit Helen
Alpine Helen is a unique destination in the Appalachians and promotes itself as ‘the charm of Bavaria in the heart of Blue Ridge Mountains’. We found that description spot on – the town resembles a picturesque Bavarian village complete with gabled roofs, painted shutters, cobbled streets, and festive atmosphere. Helen’s traditional German architecture, many events and things to do for all ages, Alpine cuisine – lots of brats – and German beer (including the famous 1-liter beer mugs) are incredibly popular with tourists. The town’s proximity to the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Appalachians and nature makes Helen a great tourist attraction.
Helen is perfect for families because of the many outdoor things to do including hikes, biking trails, many waterfalls and activities like river-tubing, fishing, hunting, and zip-lining. Alpine Helen is also great for nature lovers because of its proximity to the famous Blue Ridge Mountain ranges. Motorcyclists love the winding mountain roads while both RV and tent campers enjoy the state parks in the area and other outdoor attractions. Secluded pine cabins with fireplaces and Jacuzzis are perfect for couples. Helen has a festive atmosphere and celebrates a large number of events including Hot Air Balloon Festival, Oktoberfest, and Christmas on a grand scale. However Helen’s economy is largely dependent on tourists and the town is touristy by nature – think in terms of ‘picturesque’, ‘idyllic’, ‘quaint’ – if you think these words are overused, then maybe Helen is not for you. However, you can still visit Helen at least one – if only to determine whether you like it!
History of Helen
SO WHAT EXACTLY IS A BAVARIAN TOWN DOING IN THE APPALACHIANS?
To understand that, we need to understand the history of Helen. ‘Living on the Unicoi Road’ states that Helen was a Cherokee Indian settlement since the early 15th century. The discovery of gold in the Appalachian mountains transformed Helen into a prospering mining town in the 19th century. As time went on, the Appalachian Mountains became more famous for the wood from their trees than the minerals underneath them. Lumber industry brought the boom of the railroad and Helen changed with the times and continued prospering. However as the lumber industry slowly dwindled, Helen was a town on the decline with no industrial revival on the horizon. That could have been the end of the Story of Helen but for a group of prosperous local businessmen. In 1968, they came together and decided to transform Helen’s main street to attract passing tourists. Armed with significant restoration funds, the group hired John Kollock, a local artist, who came up with sketches and ideas to transform Helen into a Bavarian Alpine town. The idea was well-received by the locals and thus Alpine Helen was born. The book ‘Helen (Images of America) has beautiful pictures detailing Helen’s transformation through the ages. Today the beautiful south German style architecture is present in all buildings – chain outlets as well as new construction has to conform to the Bavarian architecture rules – and is among Helen’s main attractions.
When to visit Helen and what to pack
Visiting Helen is a delight in every season. Variety of seasonal activities and the ever-changing scenery makes each visit to Helen unique. Here are some tips to decide when to go.
Summer in Helen
Summer is Helen’s most popular season. River tubing in Helen, Georgia is extremely popular on summer weekends. What better way to beat the heat than float on the cool river water followed by a giant glass of German beer? Helen also has a water park if you want even more splash fun. Other summer attractions including hiking, camping are perfect to round-off a summer vacation in Helen. Summer events include Hot Air Balloon Festival and more. Don’t forget to pack swimsuits, outdoor activity sunglasses, and a good quality sunscreen to ward off the sun. Also must if you are headed to Unicoi State Park – insect repellent!
Alpine Helen in Fall
Helen in Fall is stunning. Helen’s location amidst the Blue Ridge Mountains makes it a perfect place to watch the leaves change color in the Appalachians. Gorgeous pine cabins and other vacation rentals are perfect to sip apple cider or wines on a charming patio and enjoy the cool evenings with your partner. Helen also hosts Oktoberfest, the Helen Arts and Crafts Festival and many other popular events in Fall. The end of Fall is marked by Halloween festivities including a corn maze, pumpkin patches, hayrides and more. The key to packing for Helen in Fall is layers. The days are still warm but the air rapidly cools in the mountains as twilight approaches. A thick sweater or jacket and cool weather accessories are essential for a Fall trip to Helen.
Winter – That means Christmas in Helen!
I personally feel that Winter is the best time to visit Helen. Helen is all decked up to celebrate a traditional German Christmas with the Christmas Market or Christkindlmarkt, Festival of Trees, Breakfast with Santa and Downtown Helen Parade. Many events are also held on New Year’s Eve. Valentine Day draws couples to the many area attractions. Helen quiets down a bit towards the end of winter and this shoulder season is the best time for couples looking to experience the city without its usual crowds.
Spring Break in Helen, Georgia
The entire town prepares itself for the start of the busy tourist season in spring. Tubing in Helen begins to gain popularity around Spring Break as the waters warm up. Many wineries around Helen have wine tasting events; Hot Air Balloon rides are also popular during Spring Break. Helen also hosts the Spring Bierfest in April and Bavarianfest in May – both events are basically Oktoberfest on a smaller scale – think giant beer mugs, German bands, live music and dancing and Bavarian food – Wurts, sauerkrauts, and pretzels!
Where to stay and for how long?
Helen is chock-full of hotels, motels, inns, Bread & Breakfasts, luxury cabins, and RV parks/campsites. C, S-Boy & I stayed in a beautiful pine cabin in Blue Ridge – it had a large patio and double hammock – and absolutely loved it. We found our cabin on Airbnb – you can get $40 off your first Airbnb reservation using my referral link. While in town we really liked pretty building of The Castle Inn and the riverside location of Helendorf River Inn – they both had rooms with pretty balconies over the river and stunning views. Both seemed perfect for a romantic weekend. I also liked the look of Heidi Motel; they were advertising budget rates and Jacuzzi tubs! If you are headed to Helen for an uber-romantic weekend, check out Black Forest B&B – splurge-worthy rooms, double Jacuzzi tub, on-site spa, plenty of fishing, hiking and boating opportunities nearby and secluded location – perfect! The Unicoi State Park Lodge is perfect for those looking to commune with nature. We also saw many cabins on the way to Helen with amazing mountain views.
There are so many things to do in Helen that you need to stay for a minimum of 2 to 3 days to experience them all. That said, even a short day trip will provide a welcome change while a week-long trip combining Helen with other attractions in the Appalachians will make a great vacation.
50+ Things to do in Helen ga
As C, S-Boy and I discovered to our delight, there are plenty of things to do in Downtown Helen. Time literally flies when you are in this village – there are so many things to see including the pastoral architecture, unique shops, hidden alleyways, delightful snacks and plenty of fun activities and attractions. It is especially true if you are visiting Helen for Christmas or Oktoberfest or tubing in Helen. We have divided this guide into easy sections, you can quickly scroll down to what you want to read.
Popular things to do in Helen ga near Downtown, Main Street and around Helen
Most of these attractions are located in and around Downtown and are great things to do in Helen ga for both couples and families.
Know about Helen’s tourist attractions at the Helen White county convention and visitor’s bureau
The Helen CVB is housed in a lovely little building and offers all kinds of information about things to do and see in the area. This really should be your first stop in Helen. The staff is helpful and knowledgeable (unlike some we encountered at Tarpon Springs in Florida) and will offer excellent suggestions for your stay. There are many brochures to browse and few of them have discounts and coupons for local restaurants. They also have detailed maps of the area.
Understand the local art and history
Helen Arts and Heritage Center
Helen has many free local art museums and galleries. Helen Arts and Heritage Center is another great art museum in the area displaying quality art from artists in the North Georgia Mountains. Their collection includes jewelry, hand-blown glasswork, sculptures, pottery, paintings, photography Christmas ornaments, and more. Many of the art pieces are for sale. They also have historical items detailing the Story of Helen and Native American art in their collection. The staff is knowledgeable and passes along information gems such as Holiday Inn restaurant selling beautiful pine needle baskets and Native American art pieces in their lobby.
Museum of the Hills
Museum of the Hills is a small art museum detailing the area’s history and featuring local art. The museum collection includes great pieces of local art including paintings, pottery, and wooden carvings. Some of the artwork is also for sale. The small history section is informative.
Visit gifts and specialty shops and buy unique handmade gifts items
In some ways, kitschy Helen reminded me of an artists’ colony. Nowhere else have I seen such a wide variety of independent arts and crafts, handicrafts, boutique stores located right next to each other and selling a variety of unique everyday items as well as specialty gifts. Helen is a shopper’s paradise if you like one of a kind, handmade and local items. Here are a few stores that beg multiple visits during your stay – C was so NOT excited about trying out all the stores and then remembering things when writing this post – but it has been a labor of love for me!
Glass Mountain Gallery and Studio
They have beautiful glasswork and friendly staff and artists. Glass Mountain Gallery and Studio is a seasonally open hand blown glass gallery located short distance away from downtown Helen. We enjoyed watching the artists at work at the large furnace to create beautiful glass figurines and unique fine art pieces.
The Glassblowing Shop
This second glass blowing shop is right in Downtown and has thousands of blown glass items displayed on every wall. They also create personalized blown glass names which are kind of cool. When we walked in we could see the staff at work, it was really fascinating to watch.
Notre Gift Handmade Art Studio
The Notre Gift Handmade Art Studio sells beautiful, unique products and gifts including fused glass artwork, stained glass collages, hand-made candles that change color when lit, wire wrapped jewelry and ornaments. The store is easy to miss unless you are specifically looking for it, so here’s a hint – its located next to Cowboy and Angels restaurant.
The Village Peddler
This Women’s Boutique store has clothing, jewelry, accessories and is a must stop. Most of the items are unique and the selection is vast and beautiful. I purchased a beautiful dragonfly trinket from here, also they have extraordinary varieties of quilts, hats, and bags. They also have pine cabin/mountain style home décor. Trust me, you will love looking at their items.
I loved this boutique for the amazing variety of women’s clothing, accessories, and jewelry in their stock. Most of their items were unique and they also have toys for children, accessories for men, and home décor. Also, the store’s atmosphere is inviting and rustic – be sure to drop in into this store once.
Windmill Dutch Imports
This shop has all pretty souvenirs that you would otherwise get from the Netherlands including pottery, windmill souvenirs, blue and white tiles, ornaments, tulips as well as typical European artisan goods like ginger cake, cookies, and chocolate. All items are imported directly from the Netherlands and this is where you must go when you miss the Dutch!
The Christmas Shoppe
Do you love Christmas so much that you wish everything was Christmassy year round? Then Christmas Shoppe is the place for you. This store has unique ornaments including artistic, Dutch and German-themed etc, themed Christmas trees – even a beach tree, and a host of other Christmas novelties. Walking in this shop is a fun thing to do in Helen.
The Willows Pottery
Since we had flown to Atlanta from Houston and could not fit any pottery in our bags, this one was more for window shopping than buying. But they do have a gorgeous collection of handmade stoneware sinks, dinnerware, mugs, soap dishes, and more. This store is located a short drive away from downtown but totally worth the visit.
The Pickled Peach
The Pickled Peach is a delightfully southern version of as seen on TV. It has a mishmash of kitchen items, home décor, bath salts, essential oils, and more. This is a true one-stop gift shop and has something cute or funny or both for everyone. There’s an entire section for dog lovers.
I was struck by the display in this shop that screamed clocks, clocks, and clocks! We obviously had to step in and discovered this enchanting little shop. They have cuckoo clocks and grandfather clocks and all kinds of timepieces from around the world. It reminded me of a car I found in New Orleans decorated with clocks and boldly claiming that ‘We all are doing time’; it is a very intriguing shop. They also have other random mish-mash of gifts and souvenirs including beer steins, Russian Matryoshka dolls, magnets, and more.
Eat freshly milled hot cornbread, just made fudge, popcorn, jerky, and other fun foods
Helen has many specialty artisan stores and what I call country gourmet food stores. Think freshly milled cornmeal, biscuits and cake mixes, different kinds of nuts, fudges, fresh chocolates and candies, blueberry and blackberry jams and so much more. The best part of all these stores is free samples!!
Nora Mill Granary
Built in 1876, the Nora Mill granary is still in operation and grinds cornmeal, biscuit and bread flours, pancake and waffle mixes, porridge, grits, oats, and more. They have a store on site that sells the products including mixes, jams, jellies, sauces etc. and is a great place to shop. The owner is passionate, loves to tell the history of the mill and how it works – which makes for a very interesting history lesson. Also, free cornbread alert!
Jerky Snack Shack
Sampling the many jerkies at the Jerky Snack Shack was great; we tried the Kangaroo jerky, alligator jerky, brisket jerky, and beef jerky. They also have other exotic jerky including python jerky, rattlesnake jerky, ostrich jerky and elk jerky. They also have a great selection of nuts including almonds, cashews, pecans, and peanuts plus jellies and hot sauces. Did I mention they hand out lots of free samples? This was one of the most fun things to do in Helen ga on our trip.
Hansel and Gretel Candy Kitchen
This store has lots of FREE SAMPLES of fudges! Trust me, we must have tried about 12 different fudges before we finalized on 4 to take home. We also bought some truffles and fudge pops. Delicious! I was walking on Main Street when the smell of candy and chocolates hit me and that’s how we discovered this wonderful shop. At the back of the store, we could see them making candy which was a bonus treat.
Fred’s Famous Peanuts
Their roasted peanuts are crunchy, fresh and tasty. We tried the Regular boiled peanuts, Cajun boiled peanuts, and sea salt roasted peanuts. I miss boiled peanuts, I used to eat them by the pound in India and we enjoyed munching them in Helen. They also have pork rinds, natural honey, homemade jellies and jams, barbeque sauces, pralines, plus lots of free samples.
Delicious fudge and lot of samples. The fudge tastes deliciously homemade and the lady behind the counter is very sweet and helpful. They also have other sweet items like brittle, truffles, pralines, and fudge covered items. They also have frequent deals that make buying fudge a breeze.
Betty’s Country Store
Betty’s Country Store is located away from Downtown and a perfect stop on the way to see Anna Ruby Falls. This is not a typical country store; they have delicious cookies, jam, and jellies, salsas, baked goods, large deli section with sandwiches and huge wine section. They also sell marshmallows to roast by the fire.
Alpine Olive Tree
As the name suggests, Alpine Olive Tree superstore has a large variety and flavors of olive oil blends and balsamic vinegar dressings. They have information and pairing guides and help customers with purchases. They have tasting rooms and give out free samples as well. What I really loved is that there are small multipack sampler bottles available for confused people like me.
Helenbach Winehaus & Candle Boutique
Northern Georgia has many wineries for wine tasting but if you want to go to a wine tasting in Helen, then this is the place. They have local and international wines available for tasting with crackers and cheese. Their candles smell amazing and while we did not taste wine on this trip I bought a couple of scented candles to take home.
Eat Bavarian cuisine and drink German beer
Helen has an extensive list of restaurants that serve authentic Bavarian cuisine. The menus are full of schnitzel, pretzels, wursts, smoked pork chops, German potato salad, apple strudel and more. The food originating from the south-German region of Bavaria might be confusing to read, understand or order but it is delicious to eat. Servers in most restaurants are friendly and willing to answer all your questions, so go ahead and order some sauerkraut and wursts along with a chilled craft beer. King Ludwig’s Biergarten is a family-friendly bar and nightclub, serves great German beer and is amongst best places to eat in Helen ga. Their pretzels served with beer cheese dip are delicious. We had lunch at the Old Heidelberg Restaurant and ordered wurstsamplers, schnitzels and Hungarian goulash along with German beers. While the food was good, I especially loved the balcony seating and live German band playing in the square below. My beer was really good. Check here for a complete list of restaurants in the area.
Take a horse-drawn carriage tour with the Alpine Carriage Company
Who doesn’t love a horse-drawn carriage ride? This one is super affordable; we paid about $20 per couple ($5 per child, only cash accepted) to go on a ride that lasted about 20 minutes. The horse carriages line up at the end of River Street. The carriage was big and comfortable and we went down the Main Street of Helen. This is a slow ride and not a tour – so you won’t get to know much about the History of Helen beyond the basics – but it is incredibly romantic with blankets provided for cold weather and the perfect atmosphere for hand holding. We were also able to feed the horse with carrots after the ride and thought it was a great way to see the city.
Shop for antiques at the Nacoochee Village Antique Mall
The Nacoochee Village Antique Mall is located in a historic house called the Martin house. This three-story mall is filled with treasures, antiques, and collectibles of every kind and is a shopper’s paradise. The mall has a variety of objects at different price ranges and is a great place to spend a few hours.
Play golf among the mountains at Innsbruck Resort and Golf Club
The Innsbruck Resort and Golf Club has a really top notch golf course – hilly and challenging – and is located close to the town. The golf course also has excellent views of the hills and is spectacular during the Fall. The Innsbruck Resort is also a great place to stay when in Helen. The on-site restaurant has good German food; their bratwurst is highly recommended.
Fun Things to do with kids in Helen ga
These attractions and games, including model trains (Does your child love trains? Check out 10 gifts for children who love trains) will ensure you have a whale of a time with the family. Many of these attractions are geared especially towards kids, are lots of fun and can be enjoyed by people of all ages.
See the miniature Bavarian countryside train display at Charlemagne’s Kingdom
Charlemagne’s Kingdom is a large model train display. Entry is $5 for adults and $2.5 for children younger than 16 yrs. There is a toy shop next to the display that has educational toys, jigsaw puzzles and more. The display has many trains, trams, lights, miniature castles, hot air balloons, cranes and is a working display of the Bavarian German countryside. The authentic miniature German architecture, mountains and hand-painted figures are very beautiful. We recommend walking up the stairs and taking in the exhibit from the top. The exhibit is currently falling into disrepair and many of the trains were not working when we went. We also learned that the exhibit has a sad story. The original owner was a retired German man who built the display as a labor of love for 30 years but became too old to continue running it. Also, his wife passed away and the new owners are slowly restoring it. In its heyday, Charlemagne’s Kingdom was one of Helen’s top attractions. Even with the disrepair, it was a fun thing to do in Helen and we enjoyed the 10-15 mins that we spent there.
Bavarian Mountain Golf Course
If mini golf is more your style then you will enjoy playing at the Bavarian Mountain Miniature Golf course. They have 2 great 18 holes golf course with scenic views called the Helen and the Chattahoochee. They also have lots of arcade games including pool, ski ball, air hockey, and prizes for ticket winners. This is a great place to celebrate birthdays or other special occasions. We enjoyed our time here and it was one of the most fun things to do in Helen ga. The dogs Rome and Juliet are cute.
Alpine Mini Golf Village
Alpine Mini Golf Course is another place to play mini golf. Their miniature golf course is challenging, beautifully landscaped and a lot of fun. They also have an ice-cream parlor with lots of flavors and discounts if you have played golf that is perfect in the summer. They also have many picnic areas and a pretty flower garden.
Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf
Another mini 18 hole golf course in the town sheds light on the popularity of putt-putt among tourists. Their golf course is pirate themed and has pirate statues throughout the course as well as water and a cave with a hole. They also offer free popsicles at the end, which is a definite highlight in the hot summer months.
Alpine Fun Factory
The Alpine Fun Factory is legit most fun things to do in Helen ga. They have laser tag, obstacle course, arcade games, go-karts and literally everything that will make kids happy. This is a great place to spend time when its chilly outside or raining or to beat the summer heat. Basically, you get it, this is fun just about every time. We tried go-karting and the track was surprisingly challenging and about 10 mins long. They also have a Haunted house attraction.
Buy unique handmade toys for the children
Tims Wooden Toys
Tims Wooden Toys is a local shop where they make unique wooden toys on site. Many toys have customization options like adding names, etc. I saw many wooden whistles, duck toys, wooden gun, figurines, magnets and many other retro toys. They also have cabin décor for sale. We thought the prices were a bit high but hey it’s made right there and the customization is mostly free!
Jolly’s Toys is one of the most fun things to do in Helen. The small store and engaging staff are a treat for families with kids. The staff loves showing their collection and lets children interact with the toys before purchasing them. They have wooden toys, puzzles, brain teasers, card games, magic toys, and more available at reasonable prices.
Get timeless photos in period costumes
Wild West Old Time photos
Wild West Old Time Photos has many vintage props and can take great pictures of the entire family in western times. They have a great collection of backgrounds, period costumes and can take photos in the prohibition era, Wild West times and other time periods. They have great frames that complement the old photos.
Steve’s Old Time photos
Steve’s Old Time Photos has a great eye for recreating a period photograph. You can get your photos dressed as bounty hunters under wanted sign or get a family portrait in old Wild West clothes. The staff is completely professional and manages to get bigger groups dressed in costumes and ready in no time. Their prices are great and the photographs make excellent souvenirs.
Enjoy the play area at Unicoi Hill Park and have a leisurely picnic
We loved visiting the Unicoi Hill Park with its excellent facilities and great location on the top of a hill. S-Boy enjoyed playing and running in the park and we sat on a bench and munched on a couple of fudge pops as he played. It’s a regular park with slides, swings and other play areas, gazebos and nice break from touristy things in Helen. If your kids get tired from all the activities, this is a quiet little place where they can run and just enjoy themselves. There is also a little waterfall at the bottom called the Alana Falls. Visiting Unicoi Hill Park is one of the least touristy things to do with kids in Helen ga.
Pan for gold and precious stones at the many mines in the area
Are your kids interested in ‘treasures’? They will love mining for gems and fossils. Helen was originally established as a mining town and the many sluicing mines around Helen are proud reminders of Helen’s history. Mining is one of the unique activities to do in Helen ga and are a great way of spending time learning about nature and rocks.
Dukes Creek Gold & Ruby Mines
If you prefer the glittery shiny gold, you can go panning for the precious metal at Dukes Creek Gold & Ruby Mine. You can sift through buckets for gold nuggets and precious stones including garnets, sapphires, amethyst and quartz. You can also buy the fossil bucket and find fossils to add to your treasure.
Chattahoochee Ruby Mines
Chattahoochee Ruby Mines, located outside the town on GA 17, is a great place to learn about sluicing mines. They have rows upon rows of glittering rocks spread out for visitors to see. Visitors can also perform their own sluicing by purchasing buckets of stones for $10, $20 or $100. This is a great opportunity to learn and identify the stones.
Outpost Gold and Gem
Similar to other mines in the area, Outpost Gold and Gem offers mining buckets which you can pan for gold, precious stones and fossils. The staff assists visitors in panning and helps in identifying the treasures. There is also a Native American gift shop, Southwestern Outpost, on the site that sells handicrafts, jewelry, paintings, sand art, dream catchers, and more.
Zuzu’s Petals Rock Shop
If you would still like to see some precious stones and rocks but don’t have time to go mining, check Zuzu’s on the main street. This is downtown’s hidden gem and has lots of variety of rocks, gems, jewelry, and more at reasonable prices.
Outdoor things to do in Helen ga
If you are willing to venture a bit from the touristy Main Street and Downtown area, there are a lot of outdoorsy things to do around Helen ga that will satisfy nature lovers. Helen is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains and has great hiking, waterfalls and adventure travel areas surrounding it. Many covered bridges are located in the area and taking photos of these bridges is a popular thing to do near Helen ga.
Hiking the beautiful waterfalls near Helen ga
Helen ga has many waterfalls in the surrounding areas and hiking to the waterfalls is fun. Hiking, swimming and having a picnic in these waterfalls is one of the popular things to do near Helen ga.
Anna Ruby Falls
Anna Ruby Falls are the most popular falls in the area. The hike to Anna Ruby Falls is paved and accessible, making it one of the popular outdoor things to do in Helen ga with kids. The path goes uphill the entire time and we recommend carrying strollers for younger children. There are many benches and rest places to pause along the way. The falls themselves are breathtaking and very tall. The area has great wildlife and interpretative signs are posted throughout the hike. The falls are breathtaking during fall when leaves are changing color.
Dukes Creek Falls
Dukes Creek Falls is a spectacular waterfall located at a short distance from Helen. The short hike is rugged, passed through the forest (meaning lots of shade in the summer) and has a gentle slope. It is wide, well-marked and 1.1 miles one way. It has a viewing platform at the end for taking in the falls and photo opportunities.
Raven Cliff Falls
Raven Cliff Falls is a 5 miles moderate-strenuous roundtrip trail that leads to the falls. The trail goes over small creeks, over tree logs and is for hikers in fairly decent physical condition. The trail is very pleasant, closely follows a river and has many smaller waterfalls along the way. The trail is tiring for small children and recommend a sturdy child carrier if you want to take your little one along. We also recommend good hiking shoes and plenty of water. The hike has a lot of shade even in the summer.
Horse Trough Falls
Horse Trough Falls are an off the beaten path adventure and are about 45 min away from Helen. The falls can be reached by driving 5 miles along a one lane Forest Service Road deep inside the Chattahoochee Wilderness area that takes you to the Upper Chattahoochee River campground. The single lane road is bumpy and busy with bikers, campers, and other cars and we recommend driving very slowly and carefully on it. There is a parking spot near the campground and the waterfall is located at the back of the campground. The falls can be reached by crossing the wooden footbridge at the end of the campground and taking the trail on the right after the bridge to the falls. From the parking lot, it is a short 5 min walk to the foot of the falls. Exact GPS location of the falls is N34* 47.53 W83*47.24. The little pool at the bottom of the falls is great for taking dips. The book ‘Waterfalls and Back Roads of Northern Georgia’ has detailed instructions about the Horse Trough Falls hike and on getting there. The falls are over 100 ft and can be seen from the small viewing platform at the end of the trail. The hike to the top of the falls is strenuous and best suited for fit hikers; the last section of the trail is especially steep and narrow. The Horse Trough Falls look great after a rainstorm.
Other hikes and outdoor things to do near Helen ga
Yonah Mountain Hiking Trail
Yonah Mountain hiking trail is an excellent trail that goes to the top of the mountain and offers sweeping views across of the area. The 4 miles round trip trail is steep and challenging on the way up while climbing down is easy. There is an elevation change of 2000 feet over two miles. The trail ends at the mountain summit and many overlooks can be accessed from the trail endpoint. It’s a 4 hrs hike at a leisurely pace. You will encounter fellow hikers and wilderness campers on the trail.
Stovall Mill Covered Bridge
Stovall Mill Covered Bridge is a historical gem in the North Georgia area. The bridge was built in the 1890s by a Fred Dover, a Georgia local and is still structurally sound. At one time Georgia had 200 covered bridges out which only 20 remain. Stovall Mill covered bridge is probably the shortest of them all at 33 feet length. Look for the historic marker by the bridge that describes its history. The bridge has been also immortalized in the movie ‘I’d Climb the Highest Mountain’. The unique wooden structure is very photogenic however the bridge has been unfortunately vandalized in recent times and is covered with graffiti from the inside. Even in its current state, it makes a nice stop, is one of the popular things to see in Helen ga and is worth the pleasant drive from Helen. We loved watching the clear creek that flows under the bridge.
Smithgall Woods State Park and Conservation Area
Smithgall Woods Conservation Area has many things to do for outdoor lovers. GPS directions often mislead visitors and take them to a closed entrance but it has directions rerouting visitors to the main entrance. The easiest way to find them is to look at the map of the park and talk to a ranger. The area has several hiking trails, an old gold mine shaft, and the Watson Mill covered bridge, the longest covered bridge in Georgia. Visitors cannot drive the covered bridge but can hike it. You can look down into the gold mine shaft and there is an interactive exhibit explaining the history of the mine. The hiking trails are spectacular in fall. There are also many waterfalls, nature programs, fishing, and wetlands. They also have beautiful cabins available for rent. You can easily spend half a day in the area.
Visit the Romeo and Juliet Indian Mound Tragedy Site
The Romeo and Juliet Indian Mound Tragedy Site is located across the Georgia State Historic Site of the Hardman Farm on Highway 17. The mound is on private land and hence cannot be directly accessed but is viewable from the road. It is a large impressive mound with a gazebo on the top and a nearby road marker explaining the cultural history of the Native Indian tribes that lived in the area. The easiest way to see the mound is while driving from Ruby Falls to Helen or on the way to Stovall Bridge. The book ‘Valley where they danced’ explains the history and importance of this archeological discovery. The Sautee Nacoochee Arts Museum, located less than a mile away, has much more detailed information about the mound.
Mountain bike the Unicoi Gap
Visitors can rent mountain bikes in Helen from Woody’s Mountain Bikes and go on the self-guided Unicoi Gap Ride. This trail is strenuous, for experienced bikers and you need to be in physically good condition to complete the ride. The route goes up and down the hills for 15 miles. Woody’s provides great bikes, maps, detailed directions and shuttle drop-off to the beginning of the route. After crossing a highway at the drop-off point, the route begins at the Forest Service Road. You can also do the Horse Trough Falls detour which adds a mile to the ride. The last couple of miles are really scenic and worth all the exercise. The entire ride takes about 3.5 to 5 hrs at a leisurely pace. We recommend carrying a gallon of water per person, especially in the summer.
Go fishing in Helen with the Unicoi Outfitters
Helen has some great fishing opportunities. You can go on a half day to full day fully guided trip with Unicoi outfitters and catch lots of large trout while indulging in fishing in Helen ga. The guides teach fly fishing in North Georgia mountains waters; they also supply required fishing gear for the excursion.
Zipline the Blue Ridge Mountains of Northern Georgia
Helen has excellent zip lining facilities and zipping through the beautiful forests of the Blue Ridge Mountains is one of the most fun things to do around Helen.
This company has excellent zip lines and friendly guides. Their course is excellent for beginners and has awesome views of the forest. The staff really ensures that everyone has a thorough safety briefing and then up the mountain, we went to start the course. The first zip is short but they get subsequently longer with the option of the Intimidator Zip at the end of the course. The course is a blast and among insanely fun activities to do in Helen ga.
Unicoi Zip Line and Aerial Adventure Park
This company is located inside Unicoi State Park Lodge and is the official zip line course inside the Unicoi State Park. They have several courses; the Level 2 is most amazing with multiple water crossings and an almost half-mile zip that takes you over the Unicoi Lake at a very fast speed. The guides are friendly and explain all the instructions very well.
Cool River Adventures
Along with water sports, this company also has a combined ropes course and zip line. While we haven’t personally done this course, we hear that it’s a lot of fun for families with younger kids (8+ years). Guides are patient with the kids and teach the safety instructions well. There are 2 options big adventure and small adventure and both are good for the age groups.
Tube the Chattahoochee River in Helen ga
One of the outdoor highlights of Helen is the river tubing activity. During the season it is difficult to miss the many shuttles carrying guest and tubes down the Main Street of Helen. The river tubing is lots of fun and one of the best things to do in Helen ga. The river is a foot or so deep and about 15 feet wide; perfect for tubing.
Cool River Tubing
Cool River Tubing (the company with green tubes) has everything you need to make floating down the shallow Chattahoochee River a fun activity. This is a great activity for families and children love getting wet and floating down the river in a tube. The gentle current pushes the tubes down. We recommend renting the push stick when you rent the float. It helps you when the tube gets stuck or refuses to move with the current. The cost is cheap for all day fun. Oh and wear swimsuits and water shoes because you are going to get soaked!
Helen Tubing and Water Park
Helen Tubing and Water Park (one with the pink tubes) is the other river tubing company in Helen. Also featuring inexpensive costs, good tubes, and shuttles to the tubing beginning spot this is a great option for people of all ages. Helen Tubing is slightly cheaper; they also have the push stick option available which we highly recommend because the tube does get stuck on the rocks. We also felt that their ride is slightly longer.
Go camping in Helen ga
Helen ga has many camping opportunities. Proximity to the mountains, gently flowing Chattahoochee river and dense forests make camping in Helen ga a fun activity for all ages. We have camped at Unicoi State Park, to see other campgrounds in Northern Georgia check here.
Camp at the Unicoi State Park
Unicoi State Park is Helen and northern Georgia’s gem. This is a big, clean park with excellent facilities and lots of things to do. Camping at the park is incredibly fun; the campsites are nestled among the trees and have fire pits and decks with picnic area. You can participate in many daily activities including kayaking and canoeing on the Unicoi Lake, zip lining through the park (see above), and hike the many trails. The park is spectacular in fall. If camping is not for you then you can stay in the Unicoi State Park Lodge with its beautiful rooms and cabins in the park. It is also close to the Anna Ruby Falls.
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I’m Ketki Sharangpani, an Indian living in the United States. I'm a Travel Writer / Blogger & Photographer.
I travel to see striking buildings, people and cultures, and experience profound sunrises, shadows, and rituals.