Table of Contents
- How Helen Became a Bavaria-Inspired Town
- Things to Do in Helen
- Tube Down the Chattahoochee River
- Visit Hansel and Gretel’s Candy Kitchen (And Buy Chocolate, Of Course!)
- Take a Stroll Through Helen
- Tips for Climbing Mt. Yonah
- See Anna Ruby Falls
- White Water Rafting
- Brasstown Bald
- Can't-Miss Restaurants in Helen
- Hofer’s Bakery and Café
- North Georgia BBQ
- Big Daddy’s Restaurant and Tavern
- You’ve Got to See It for Yourself
Helen, Georgia: Best Things To Do In This Bavaria-Inspired Town, contributed by Jennifer, who blogs at Roads We Wander, is the eleventh small town exposé in the series Small Town Explorer. You can find Jennifer’s bio and social media links at the end of this post.
The villages and towns we visit in our travels are often the hidden gems of a country or region. In this series readers are introduced to small centers around the globe, from travel bloggers who have experienced the location firsthand; featuring their uniqueness, their history, what to see and do, and often where to stay and where to dine.
How Helen Became a Bavaria-Inspired Town
Helen is a small town in the northern mountains of Georgia. While Helen was founded in the early 1900s, the surrounding area has a rich history that goes back much farther.
Shortly after Native Americans were moved out of the area, a Gold Rush brought many people to the mountains of North Georgia in the early 1800s, settling a short distance away from what would eventually become Helen.
After the Gold Rush, men in search of good timber scoured the area and found exactly what they were looking for. After a sawmill and railroad had been built, the small town of Helen was founded.
Eventually, the Sawmill closed, and the small town was left with little identity or draw, forcing one of the townsmen to think outside the box. He knew that something needed to be done to fix up the town. He contacted a nearby artist, who had recently spent a lot of time in Germany, for a consultation. The artist drew some sketches of buildings with details inspired by Bavaria. The townspeople loved the idea and soon every shop was renovated.
Today, Helen attracts many visitors with its German charm. With an aesthetic that you can usually only find in Bavaria, Helen will make you feel as though you’ve traveled abroad without ever leaving the US.
Things to Do in Helen
While Helen might be a small town, it’s packed full of fun activities. Having been to Helen three times, I can honestly say that you can’t do everything in one trip! Since it’s in the mountains, Helen is located near many sensational hikes. Book your rental car in advance online.
It’s the perfect destination for people who love being outside. While there are some camping opportunities, most of the hikes can be performed in less than a day.
Tube Down the Chattahoochee River
I recommend wearing water shoes to protect your feet and give you more traction. Even if you don’t plan on standing up, you’ll discover that you need to in order to exit the river, which can be difficult if the current is strong.
Tubing down the Chattahoochee only costs $8 per person, making it a fun, affordable morning/afternoon activity.
Visit Hansel and Gretel’s Candy Kitchen (And Buy Chocolate, Of Course!)
This is my favorite candy shop in Helen, so I wish I could say that there is something remarkable about it, but there isn’t. It’s a simple candy shop on the inside and out. It’s honestly like any other candy store you’ve ever seen.
However, there is one detail that sets it apart. Although you can’t see this detail, you can taste it! (That’s way better, right?!) They make the chocolate treats down the street at their factory store! Nope. They’re not shipped in from who-knows-where!
In addition to enjoying the candy shop, you can take a free tour of the factory store, if you’re interested in learning more about how Hansel and Gretel’s Candy Kitchen makes its sweet treats.
Take a Stroll Through Helen
Since Helen is a small town, it doesn’t take long to walk from one end to the other. If you walked straight through downtown, it would probably take you 15-20 minutes at the most.
However, there are plenty of amazing shops downtown (such as Hansel and Gretel’s Candy Kitchen) that you can explore. In addition to shops, there are also plenty of restaurants (which we’ll talk about later) and bars you can enjoy.
You can grab a drink at King Ludwig Biergarten or The Troll Tavern and Restaurant. The latter has a nice view of the Chattahoochee, so you’ll be able to watch all the tubers flow by if you choose to sit outside, but the former is a Biergarten, which makes it a tough choice. Perhaps you should try both? You can easily turn a quick walk through downtown into a lovely afternoon activity.
Don’t forget to be on the lookout for great photo ops. With the beautiful architecture, you’ll discover plenty of stunning backdrops.
Mt. Yonah is a great mountain to hike! With only a few tricky spots, it’s perfect for everyone, even beginners. The trail is only 4.2 miles in total (there and back), but since it’s rather steep at some points you might find it takes you a little longer than you’d expect. Do wear good hiking boots or sandals. Unlike other hikes in the area, this one definitely comes with the most sense of accomplishment and the best view. Plus, you get to brag that you climbed a mountain. You know. No big deal.
Tips for Climbing Mt. Yonah
My biggest regret was not bringing any protein-filled snacks. I was starving by the end of the hike. I highly recommend that you bring some protein bars and plenty of water. You’ll want to dress in layers, especially if you’re hiking in the fall or spring. It might be pretty warm at the start of the trek, but at the top, you’ll likely find that it’s significantly colder.
See Anna Ruby Falls
Anna Ruby Falls is likely one of the most popular waterfalls in the area. You do have to pay to visit it, but it’s only $3 per person. Hiking to see Anna Ruby Falls doesn’t feel as rugged as climbing Mount Yonah since some of the path is a wooden deck. However, the wooden decks are a nice feature because they allow you to get closer to the falls. This hike is popular, so make sure you’re prepared for a crowd.
White Water Rafting
White Water Rafting is an exhilarating experience that everyone should try once. While this is a lot pricier than most of the other activities I’ve mentioned thus far, it’s absolutely worth it!
If you go rafting with Southeastern Expeditions, you can start with a beginner route, which is plenty exciting for most, and spend 6 hours on the river! Yep. 6 hours. This would be your main activity for the day. Afterwards, you’ll be exhausted. So, make sure you plan a lazy afternoon/evening.
You’ll love White Water Rafting as long as you would
- Enjoy taking a swim
- Like following directions
- And find helmet hair weirdly appealing
It’s a fun, exhilarating, adrenaline-pumping ride that is unlike anything else you’ve ever done.
Brasstown Bald is the highest peak in Georgia. At 4,783 feet in the air, you’ll be able to see four different states from the viewing deck. Fortunately, you don’t have to hike the entire 4,783 feet to get to the observation deck. Instead, you can drive quite a bit of the way up. However, there is a .5 mile walk with an incredibly steep incline to the observation deck. Sure, you could take the tram, but what’s the fun in that?
If you’re interested in learning about the wildlife, there’s also a visitor’s center near the viewing deck that you can browse for free.
Can’t-Miss Restaurants in Helen
Bodensee offers traditional German cuisine, which means you can order sausage, potatoes, and sauerkraut. Additionally, you will find pork chops, liver, and beef rolls on the menu. While this restaurant is a little pricey, it’s one of the best dinners you’ll have in Helen.
Hofer’s Bakery and Café
You must visit Hofer’s for breakfast, lunch, or maybe both! Hofer’s is another restaurant that serves some traditional German food. But, their breakfast menu isn’t quite as exotic as Bodensee’s dinner menu. So, if you feel like just having an omelet, you can! Feeling a bit more adventurous? Try their German Potato Pancakes or their Apfelküchle (pan-fried, battered apples).
Even if you don’t have time to sit down for breakfast, they have a bakery where you can purchase mouth-watering German pastries.
North Georgia BBQ
If you’re looking for something a little less German, you should stop by North Georgia BBQ. Don’t worry about digging in and getting a little messy; you’ll be eating outside on a patio, so anything goes! This joint has some seriously good BBQ. But, don’t take my word for it. Go taste it for yourself!
Big Daddy’s Restaurant and Tavern
Sometimes you just want a good ol’ hamburger and fries after a long day of hiking. Big Daddy’s Restaurant and Tavern offers delicious American food, including some seriously amazing burgers and fries. It’s the perfect spot to kick back, relax, eat some good food, and drink a cold pint after a long day of hiking. With inside or outside seating available, Big Daddy’s is perfect for all weather and every mood.
You’ve Got to See It for Yourself
By now, I’m sure you understand why you must add Helen to your bucket list Helen’s unique identity makes for a refreshing vacation destination in any season! I’ve visited in the summer, spring, and winter and had a great time no matter the season!
With a variety of things to do, Helen is perfect for everyone who loves spending time outdoors, eating good food, and enjoying Bavarian-inspired architecture.
Related: Looking for another small, southern town? Learn more about visiting St. Augustine, FL now.
Author Bio – Jennifer created Roads We Wander because of her passion for budget travel. She believes that everyone can achieve their travel dreams with hard work, dedication, and a little bit of help. Through her blog, she helps budget travelers plan epic vacations that don’t break the bank or their spirit. Follow her on Pinterest for amazing budget travel inspiration.
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