Before we explore the historic transformation that created Helen’s current fairy tale image, though, here’s a quick guide to the things to do that I enjoyed.
Take a Carriage Ride to Explore
Helen, GA, appears seemingly out of nowhere on the drive up Highway 75 through Georgia.
Parking my car for the day was easy – the clip-clop of the horse drawn carriages lured me to take my first tour of town the old-fashioned way, instead of on foot, my usual preference.
From the carriage, it was easy to get a great view of the amazing buildings that lined the street. The single-most common element of Bavarian alpine architecture, the low pitched roofs with expansive overhangs to ensure snow didn’t build up over the winter, was easy to see. And of course, decorative paintings covered the exterior walls of shops to create an outdoor art gallery.
With over 100 retail and import shops along the route, the overview made planning my afternoon a lot easier.
Like the small towns I’d visited in Bavaria, the local shops offered a variety of crafts and souvenirs. I’m always drawn to item replicas from the middle ages, such as armor and swords, so I was pleased to find two “knights” guarding the Christmas and More store that I had to check out to find something special for my grandson.
My other shopping weakness is quilting, so I was thrilled to find hand-crafted quilts by local artisans at Southern Comfort Quilts.
Float or Paddle The Chattahoochee River
The Chattahoochee River wanders for more than 400 miles through many places in Florida, Georgia and Alabama, with Helen, GA, where it flows through town, being the most unique.
While I visited Helen outside tubing season, which starts in late May and runs every day until the first weekend in September, I could easily imagine myself part of the crowd floating down the river. Indeed, tubing is one of the biggest sporting attractions on this part of the Chattahoochee.
Outfitters are there to set you up with everything from a one-hour float to an all-day pass for those sweltering summer days!
And if you’d like a little more control than being swept along on the river, you can also rent canoes or kayaks to enjoy the water.
Dare Yourself: Try the Zipline and Aerial Adventure Course
Do you enjoy a thrill?
If you answered yes, then Georgia is definitely the place for your next adventure. I can guarantee you there’s nothing more thrilling than soaring on a zipline on a hot Georgia day–I sure enjoyed mine.
Cool River Adventures offers three different aerial courses with ziplining, so you can start easy and work your way to the most daring. Of course, you’ll have to take the extreme course with its 13 elements in order to fly over Chattahoochee River. You’ll have to cross two aerial bridges before you get there, though!
Once you’re done flying, try climbing. Cool River also has a 24′ climbing wall with four lanes to challenge every skill level.
Interested? Check out this Fox News video of adventures with Cool River.
Fish the Chattahoochee River
Local fisherpersons told me the best thing about the Chattahoochee River in Helen was working their way downstream catching mountain fresh rainbow trout to fry up for supper. The typical size, I was told, was around a foot, although they could get up to 18 or 20 inches.
Equipped with hip waders and fishing gear, everyone agreed there wasn’t any better way to spend a hot summer day than standing in cool water in the shade of the green overhead canopy!
Helen, Georgia, Restaurants
As you might imagine, there’s a strong focus on Bavarian dining in Helen, Georgia. Inside and out, you’ll feel like you’ve left the deep South and wandered into a village in Germany in a number of restaurants. And the menus? Well, there’s lots of great food to choose from.
I selected the Café International for a few reasons. First of all, I just loved the exterior design. Second, since the upper portion of the Chattahoochee River runs right through the whole city of Helen, I was able to eat my lunch perched right over the water!
Relaxing at the window, I sipped lemonade and watched fishermen tie flies and cast their reels until my meal arrived. I was impressed with the Scandinavian shrimp and crab salad, enjoying the unique taste of the Scandinavian marinade and baby North sea shrimp.
And if you’d really like to sample the food and culture of Bavaria, make sure to include Oktoberfest in Alpine Helen on your list of things to do! It has been held annually since 1970.
How Helen, Georgia, Became Alpine Helen
Cherokee people were the first inhabitants of the Helen, Nacoochee and Sautee Valleys. European settlers began arriving in 1813 after the Cherokee gave permission for the construction of the Unicoi Turnpike, which was a wagon road through their nation from the Savannah River headwaters to Northeast Tennessee.
The real rush of people, however, began in 1828 when gold was discovered on Dukes Creek in Nacoochee Valley, just two miles south of where Helen is situated today. After gold, the next big “rush” happened in in 1912, when the Byrd-Matthews Lumber Company built a great sawmill to the south of what is now the city’s downtown.
In 1968, town businessmen decided it was time to reinvent Helen yet again. They had one natural resource left to draw on – the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Chattahoochee National Forest.
Artist, John Kollock, who had been stationed in Bavaria, Germany, offered an idea – imagine the town had been plucked up out of Georgia and dropped down in Bavaria. The landscape was similar, just the architecture needed some work.
Drawing from memory and research, Kollock put his ideas down on paper for the local business owners and carpenters to create. They refaced buildings with bright colored murals, painted on gingerbread house-like trims, added Alpine looking old world towers, and created cobblestone alleyways.
By 1972 the makeover was complete. Business names changed to fit the theme: Hansel & Gretel Candy Kitchen; Black Forest Vacation Rentals; Elfmade Wooden Toys; Blackforest Bear Park & Reptile Village. The fairy tale town of Helen was open for exploring, not in Bavaria, but in Georgia.
Plan Your Visit to Helen, Georgia
Plan your visit at the Alpine Helen / White County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau website – http://www.helenga.org/
Make reservations for your tubing adventure or aerial adventures / zipline at – https://coolriveradventures.com/
Oktoberfest in Helen, Georgia – http://www.helenchamber.com/oktoberfest.html
I visited Helen, Georgia, as part of a press trip hosted by the Northeast Georgia Mountains Travel Association.
More Things to Do in Georgia
About the Photo
The photo in the header above was taken by Linda Aksomitis in Helen, Georgia, USA.