Travelers to the northeast corner of Georgia and hikers along the nearby Appalachian Trail can stop off in Helen, a small town modeled on a Bavarian village in Germany. The town of Helen was an old logging settlement that recast itself in the late 1960s in a bid to attract tourists and hikers. Businesses in the town engaged the services of a local artist to reimagine the look of the town and turn it into an exciting destination. His designs created a replica of a traditional Alpine setting, and the town has looked that way ever since.
The German influences go beyond the facades of the buildings and extend to the restaurants, many of which specialize in German cuisine, and to the stores, which are reminiscent of Bavarian-style shops. The redesign of the town, which sits on the banks of the Chattahoochee River, succeeded, and today Helen features multiple hotels and inns and welcomes some 3 million visitors each year. Tourists can ramble over its cobblestone streets and shop in its 200 specialty stores.
Besides touring the town, sampling the food, and browsing the shops, visitors to Helen can choose from a wide array of outdoor adventures and sample wines from area wineries. All told, it makes for a great vacation or weekend getaway spot, especially if you're a fan of German delights such as pork schnitzel and peanut brittle.
Helen Offers A Range Of Accommodations & German Cuisine
The upscale Valhalla Resort Hotel, located at 688 Bahn Innsbruck, is a full-service property with a golf course, a range of luxury suites, concierge services, a spa, and other amenities. Rates for an overnight stay in the fall top out at about $400 per night.
There are less expensive options, including the Alpine Village Inn, located on Edelweiss Strasse, which offers modest rooms for under $100. The same is true for the Riverbend Hotel and Cabins on River Street, which features river-view rooms, cabins with fireplaces, and free breakfasts.
Many of Helen's dining options offer traditional German dishes along with American and Southern fare. Among the restaurants specializing in German cuisine is the Hofbrauhaus Restaurant, a riverfront venue offering wurst sausages with german potato salad, red cabbage, and sauerkraut, and das kaese schnitzel, which is pork schnitzel topped with swiss, cheddar, and bier cheeses.
There's also the Bodensee Restaurant, located on Munich Strasse, serving a variety of German specialties, and Muller's Famous Cafe, on Chattahoochee Strasse, which specializes in both German and Czech cuisine.
Specialty Shops Blanket Downtown Helen
Tourists can shop in an authentic and still-working grist mill when they pop into the Nora Mill Granary Grist Mill & Country Store, and for those with a sweet tooth, there's the Hansel and Gretel Candy Kitchen, offering treats of all kinds, such as various fudges and brittles.
At the Christmas Shoppe, travelers can buy keepsakes like German-made ornaments, nativities, and figurines, along with hand-carved and painted Santa figures, plus nutcrackers, snow globes, and more.
At Fred's Famous Peanuts, shoppers can choose from every peanut imaginable, along with peanut-pecan brittle, beef jerky, and homemade jellies including blueberry, rhubarb, and peach, plus hot pepper, red jalapeno, and corn cob. Preserves, butter, pickles, and relishes also are sold here.
Visitors to Helen can sample and buy a variety of locally made wine at several area wineries. One of the state's oldest wineries, the Habersham Vineyards, and Winery, offers daily wine tastings. It also sells gourmet foods and specialty wine items, and imported cheeses.
The Kaya Vineyard and Winery, in nearby Dahlonega, offers visitors a wine-tasting room situated on a mountain ridge and featuring panoramic mountain views. During warm weather months, it provides live music on its outdoor deck.
CeNita Vineyards, in neighboring Cleveland, also offers wine tastings, and visitors can play corn-hole or relax in a hammock while sampling various wines.
Outdoor Adventures Await Visitors To Helen
Helen is best known for its Bavarian-style storefronts, cobblestone streets, and unique shops, but the area also is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts.
Anna Ruby Falls, just a few miles from downtown, is a twin waterfall site where the Curtis and York creeks meet on the slopes of Tray Mountain. One fall drops 153 feet and the other 50 feet. Visitors can walk a quarter-mile trail from the parking area to the popular falls, and benches are positioned to take in the view. There is also an observation deck. A $5 entry fee applies.
Another trail, the one-mile-long Helen to Hardman Heritage Trail, follows the Chattahoochee River from the Hardman Farm State Historic Site to the town of Helen.
Nearby Smithgall Woods State Park is a fishing and hiking destination. It has 23 miles of trails through 5,600 acres of woods, meadows, and creeks.
For active visitors, Helen offers zipline destinations, including the Unicoi Zipline and Aerial Adventure Park. Located on Highway 356, the park offers family-friendly challenge courses, zipline canopy tours, and one event called An Experiential Nature Trek. There are age and weight restrictions for some of the zipline tours.