Bavaria? No. Trade the Alps for the Appalachians, and you’ll find the tiny, charm-packed town of Helen, Georgia nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, along the Chattahoochee River.
Covering only 2.1 square miles and home to a mere 430 residents, this cozy re-creation of a Bavarian Alpine village lays claim to receiving the third-highest number of tourists in the state. And it’s no wonder. With its captivating cobblestone paths and a rustic German atmosphere, you’ll wonder if you’ve time-traveled to days gone by.
The town was originally founded by the Cherokee Native Americans and later became home to European homesteaders who immigrated to mine the gold and harvest the timber. In 1969, zoning was adopted to ensure that all building design would be in the German Bavarian style.
Surprisingly, this small, picturesque mountain town offers a lot of activities. Fishing, golfing, biking, kayaking and horseback riding are popular.
But arguably, the most-loved activity and the thing you must do is go tubing on the Chattahoochee River. It’s a fun time for all ages and you can rent one of the brightly-colored inner tubes from one to several hours. Be prepared, though – the water is cold, but also refreshing during Georgia’s hot summer months.
Unicoi State Park offers nature trails and lake activities, and there are hills and waterfalls all around Helen. Anna Ruby Falls has a dramatic 153-foot waterfall and is only around half a mile hike on a paved trail. There observation platforms at the end of the trail for your Instagram moment. The 200-foot waterfall at Dukes Creek Falls is also easily accessed from the Chattahoochee National Forest. There is also a platform, but this time at the base, for photographs. Raven Cliff Falls is just outside of Helen. It’s a longer 2.5-mile hike, but the spectacular scenery at the 60-foot falls makes it a worthwhile venture.
Habersham Winery is one of Georgia’s oldest wineries. They offer tours, wine tasting, and a shop with gourmet food.
Other things to do include the Nora Mill Granary for stone-ground grits (hey, it’s the south), the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway, Charlemagne’s Kingdom, Betty’s old fashioned country store, and Scarlet’s Secret.
In keeping with the Alpine theme, you can find authentic German cuisine such as wiener schnitzel (my favorite), sausage, huge freshly made pretzels, and of course lots of beer. You can also find traditional Southern comfort cooking in many of the restaurants. Don’t forget to top off with some ice cream!
Helen has some 200+ boutique shops, offering everything from candles, handicrafts, glassware, and imported cuckoo clocks. With Georgia’s favorable climate, it’s a fun afternoon strolling and browsing the quaint shops lining the downtown.
Helen becomes very crowded in late October, during its famous…you guessed it… Oktoberfest. The festival takes place during September, October, and November.
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