Not so long ago, Helen was a struggling logging town, one of many dotted throughout the wooded hills of the Appalachian Mountains. But, rather than let their fate wash over them, Helen, Georgia took its destiny in its own hands, and made a ballsy move that ultimately paid off; they re-branded as a Bavarian alpine town. The winding roads, small-town charm, and mountain beauty made the new theme a well-suited, if a bit offbeat, fit for Helen.
It was no small feat for Helen to undergo such a big makeover: the town passed a zoning mandate that required all buildings to be constructed in the South German style. That includes all franchise restaurants, too; the Huddle House in Helen is probably the only Huddle House that anyone would describe as “quaint”.
The town is now a certified tourist destination, with loads of Bavarian, storybook-themed family fun. There are two alpine-themed mini golf courses, the Hansel & Gretel Candy Kitchen, horse-drawn carriages around town, and more. For a quirky look at what an actual alpine village is like, check out Charlemagne’s Kingdom. It’s a German model train collection that has rail cars wind their way through Bavarian landscapes and towns. Germany also makes some world-class wines; Helen offers stellar wineries as well.
All of this exploring throughout Helen, Georgia will likely have you working up an appetite. If you’re looking to indulge in a German feast, complete with beer and polka music, check out Old Heidelberg. It even has a German pub downstairs. There’s also the more casual Cafe International, which offers Bavarian staples alongside American classics. Even the hotels in town, from the Hampton Inn to the Quality Inn, feature German-themed architecture. On the swanky side, there’s the boutique Valhalla Resort Hotel. On the offbeat side, there’s the Heidi Motel, which features a lovely windmill suite.
Helen hasn’t abandoned its Southern history, either. It blends its Appalachian heritage in with the European alpine theme. The Hardman Farm State Historic Site has a 19th-century home, a dairy barn, and a Nacoochee burial mound. Or visit the Nora Mill Granary or the Folk Pottery Museum of Northern Georgia. Unicoi State Park is also a major draw for Helen. It features 7 miles of hiking trails, swimming and canoeing in the lake, and plenty of campsites and cottages. The Unicoi Adventure Lodge offers all kinds of accommodations and some epic activities and excursions. If you check out one thing in the park, though, make it Anna Ruby Falls.
Events in Helen, Georgia
Helen offers some incredibly popular events that are well worth coming into town for. Obviously, Oktoberfest is a huge deal in Helen, and lasts from early September until late October. But it’s not just the beer and pretzels that draw in crowds; the fall foliage around Helen is famously stunning. The winding, hilly roads around the town attract people looking for scenic cruises, especially those on motorcycles. There’s also an annual Christkindlmarkt for the holidays, and hot air balloon races in the spring. Tubing down the Chattahoochee River is a great way to enjoy the summer weather as well.
But, whether you’re just looking for an exotic(ish) escape from the city, or you’re in town for a special celebration, a trip to Helen is sure to enchant.
Header image via Flickr/Jeff Gunn
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