It’s time for a change of scenery.
This deep into the summer, you’re undoubtedly eyeing your next escape from Atlanta. Considering that you have probably tried to fight the heat this summer by visiting Savannah and/or one of the many great beach cities in the Southeast, it’s time for a drastically different change in scenery. Luckily for us Atlantans, there are countless travel destinations around Georgia, and most—if not all—are accessible by car. One of those must-visit destinations is Helen, a mountain town in northeast Georgia that attracts families, beer enthusiasts, and lovebirds all-year round. From it basically being a mini-Germany hiding at the top of Georgia to its plethora of fun water attractions, this unique, Bavarian-style town definitely proves that you don’t have to vacay at the beach in order to have a good time during the summer. Yet, if you still need a little bit more convincing, we understand. Here are over 50 compelling reasons you should make that drive to Helen, Georgia.
Courtesy of The Heidelberg German Restaurant, Bar & Music Hall – Helen, GA
Taste German cuisine without leaving Georgia
One of the most fascinating aspects about Helen is that it’s a picturesque replica of a Bavarian Alpine village in Germany. Towards the end of the 20th century, Helen was redesigned to bring some classic German flair to North Georgia, and in addition to its quaint visual aesthetic, the European influence is also present in the mountain town’s eateries. In Helen, there are several restaurants where you can go to enjoy an authentic German dining experience, including The Heidelberg German Restaurant, Pub & Music Hall, The Troll Tavern & Restaurant, Bodensee, Hofer’s Bakery and Cafe, Hofbrauhaus Restaurant & Pub, Cafe International, and Village Crepe Haus. Plus, there are still several great spots that serve Southern staples and American classics for the not so adventurous travelers, including Cowboys & Angels, Paul’s Steakhouse, Bigg Daddys Restaurant & Tavern, Nacoochee Village Tavern & Pizzeria, and Betty’s Country Store.
Courtesy of Tallulah Gorge State Park Page
Get some fresh air while visiting nature sites and historical landmarks
In addition to the great food options in Helen, the area is riddled with gorgeous nature trails and historical landmarks for you to explore during your visit. The one-mile trail Helen to Hardman Heritage Trail is an ADA accessible scenic route that connects the Hardman Farm State Historic Site to Alpine Helen, and Smithgall Woods State Park and Raven Cliffs Trailhead are two other peaceful hiking locations that are close to Helen. History buffs can enjoy quick trips to both the Sautee Nacoochee Indian Mound and the Stovall Mill Covered Bridge, and for those who don’t mind driving a bit longer for some mind-blowing nature sites, both Brasstown Bald—aka the highest point in Georgia—and Tallulah Gorge State Park are within 30 miles of Helen. However, if all else fails and you find yourself with not enough time to check out all of the wondrous outdoor areas in and around Helen, visiting Anna Ruby Falls is a must. Whether you take the novice-friendly 0.4-mile trail or the challenging 4.6-mile hike to the base of the waterfalls, you’ll be absolutely blown away by the beautiful twin falls.
Courtesy of Bear Creek Lodge and Cabins Helen GA
Unwind in a cabin
During the summer, you probably imagine your dream vacation as a getaway at a beachside resort or lakefront villa, but spending time in the mountains can be just as refreshing, especially with the vast assortment of cabins in Helen. By using cabin rental platforms like Cabin Rentals of Helen, Georgia Mountain Rentals, and Pinnacle Cabin Rentals, visitors can find the perfect cabin for their trip to the Appalachian Mountains, but honestly, you can’t go wrong with booking one with Bear Creek Lodge and Cabins. From cozy treehouse cabins that sleep five people to riverside cabins that are especially designed for those who love to fish, Bear Creek Lodge and Cabins has an excellent variety of cabins available. And similar to other great travel destinations, the Airbnbs in the area are absolutely stunning as well, so whether you’re looking for a romantic cabin about six miles outside of Helen or a Bavarian-style condo that’s walking distance from Downtown Helen, you’ll have even more great lodging options to choose from.
Courtesy of Screaming Eagle Aerial Adventures At Amicalola Falls State Park and Lodge
Cool off with high-altitude attractions
So far, we’ve covered all of the relaxing and peaceful aspects about Helen that make it such a great nearby town to visit this summer, but there are plenty of exciting and blood-rushing activities to take part in as well. Thrill-seekers who often spend their summers at Six Flags will be surprised that Helen has a rollercoaster of its own—the tiny, yet electrifying, self-controlled Georgia Mountain Coaster. You can also beat the heat by getting wet at the Helen Tubing & Waterpark or by shooting down the Chattahoochee with Cool River Tubing, and if you’re a really great swimmer who doesn’t mind driving an hour or so for an exceptionally thrilling experience, Wildwater Rafting offers various white water rafting trips down the Chattooga River. For those who are looking to have a blast without getting wet, you can go ziplining at Nacoochee Adventures or the Unicoi Zipline & Aerial Adventure Park, and the Alpine Fun Factory has everything else you could possibly think of, from indoor go-karts and laser tag to an arcade and a skating rink.
Experience Downtown Helen’s Bavarian charm for yourself
As previously mentioned, part of what makes Helen one of Georgia’s most popular tourist locations is its captivating Alpine aesthetic, so when you’re not zipping through the sky or tubing down the Chattahoochee River, make it a point to explore the downtown Helen area. Museum attractions and activities like Alpine Mini Golf, Outpost Gold & Gem Mining Co., Charlemagne’s Kingdom, Helen Arts & Heritage Center offer fun for visitors of all ages, and there are a lot of shops to check out ass well, including The Glassblowing Shop, the Hansel & Gretel Candy Kitchen, and the Nacoochee Village Antique Mall.
Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art. | Courtesy of Explore Georgia
Explore nearby North Georgia towns
One of the benefits of visiting Helen is that you’ll be closer than ever to numerous natural landmarks and must-visit towns in northeast Georgia. Thus, if you’ll be staying in Helen for a while and don’t mind hitting the road for 30- to 45-minute stretches, there is plenty to explore in the nearby area. About 21 miles north, there’s Hiawassee—which boasts the waterfall-riddled High Shoals Falls, the Hiawassee Antique Mall, and the Hightower Creek Vineyards. You can also head closer to the Georgia-South Carolina border to see the Toccoa Falls—the highest single-drop waterfall east of the Mississippi—in person. Helen is also within 30 miles of both Dahlonega and Blairsville, so you can either head southwest for your fill of wineries or head northwest for some peaceful outdoor recreation.
Courtesy of Yonah Mountain Vineyards
Hit up a bunch of breweries and wineries
If you’re looking to have an even more spirited trip to Helen, you have to take advantage of the bevy of wineries, breweries, vineyards, and bars. For starters, whether you stay there or not, having a drink atop the Valhalla Resort Hotel Sky Bar is damn-near an essential Helen experience. Then there’s the wineries. Sweet Acre Farms Winery Tasting Room is a great family-owned winery in Helen, and for an even more extensive wine-tasting experience, take a trip on the Unicoi Wine Trail. The trail is essentially a Northeast Georgia wine crawl that features six locally owned vineyards and wineries, including Yonah Mountain Vineyards, Habersham Winery, Serenity Cellars, The Cottage Vineyard, Sylvan Valley Lodge & Winery, and CeNita Vineyards & Winery. And of course, if you’re simply looking for some good local brews, Alpine Brew Deck and Tantrum Brewing Company are two must-visit destinations for beer enthusiasts.
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Joshua Robinson is an Atlanta-based entertainment critic and lifestyle writer for Thrillist. Follow him on Instagram at @roshrisky.