Change up your summer vacation routine from the beach to the charming mountain town of Helen, Georgia. There is plenty of fun seasonal activities for kids and adults alike to do during the summer months.
Though many people associate summer vacation with the beach, it’s time to think outside the box and see attractions in other areas of the country. Helen, Georgia, is a charming mountain town surrounded by forests, state parks, lakes, rivers and historic sites. And the clencher is that this German town is less than two hours from the Atlanta and Greenville, S.C., airports.
Besides endless outdoor activities surrounded by beautiful nature, Helen also offers an abundance of entertainment options for both kids and adults alike. From scenic wine tastings at local vineyards to watersliding at the waterpark downtown, Helen has much to offers its summer guests.
Discover 6 reasons why you should book your next summer vacation in Helen.
1. Hot Enough for Water Activities
Despite the mountain elevation, Helen is plenty warm for water activities during summer months. Temperatures average in the high 80s in the the summer, with heat indexes in the 90s. Tube down the Chattahoochee River via Cool River Tubing or Helen Waterpark & Tubing for only $10 Monday-Friday. For $5, you can upgrade your tubing experience at Cool River Tubing by purchasing a waterslide pass to use halfway down the river. The Helen Waterpark is open May through September and ranges $15 to $30 per person depending on height and day of the week.
If you’re a nature lover, you’ll enjoy the water activities at nearby Unicoi State Park. Swim at the beach of the 53-acre Unicoi Lake. Rent a kayak, canoe, paddleboard or pedal boat.
The area surrounding Helen also boasts some popular natural swimming spots. Try the swimming holes at High Shoals Falls, Helton Creek Falls, Hemlock Falls or Wildcat Creek Sliding Rock.
Related: The Best Rainy Day Activities in Helen
2. Surrounded by Outdoor Activities
Nestled in the North Georgia mountains, Helen is an outdoor lover’s paradise. Visit one of the many waterfalls near Helen or try one of these 19 hiking trails near the Bavarian town.
You can also fish at one of the nearby state parks, including Unicoi, Vogel and Moccasin Creek. Or try your hand at fly fishing for trout on the Soque River or take fly fishing lessons offered by Unicoi State Park.
From March to September, spend half a day paddling down the Chattahoochee River with Wildwood Outfitters. Options range from a leisurely trip to a whitewater adventure.
If you’re into mountain biking, try the courses at Yonah Preserve Trails, Smithgall Woods State Park or Unicoi State Park.
Unicoi State Park also offers archery and an air gun range for visitors. Try the one of the five static archery lanes, the 3-D archery range (with 3-D targets) or one of the 10 air gun lanes.
And if a couple rounds of golf is essential to your perfect vacation, you’re in luck. Innsbruck Golf at Valhalla Resort is within a mile of downtown Helen and offers spectacular views. Achasta Golf Course in nearby Dahlonega is another popular scenic course that is only a 30 minute drive from Helen.
3. Rich in History and Museums
If your idea of a great summer vacation includes weaving in aspects of local history, Helen is a great place to visit. Just a 5 minute drive east of downtown Helen, stop by the Sautee Nachoochee Center to learn about the iconic Indian mound, as well as the history of how Helen became an Alpine town.
Related: Love Helen? Experience Local History, Art and More at the Sautee Nacoochee Center
While you’re there, stop by the adjacent Folk Pottery Museum of Northeast Georgia to enjoy a mix of history and art. Enjoy an educational film about how pottery was made before modern technology by perusing the fascinating exhibits that focus on generations of family potters.
The Sautee Nacoochee Center also offers free Discovery Tours every Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. in the Folk Pottery Museum, where tour guides conduct a 45-minute tour of the museum. The informal “front porch” style discussion highlights the unique talents of artists from the Appalachian Foothills of Georgia while focusing on the museum’s current exhibit. After the discussion, the tour becomes self-guided and moves to the Art Gallery Shops in the Sautee Nacoochee Cultural Center to view a wide array of original, one-of-a-kind art by more than 200 local artists.
If you love learning about the Gone with the Wind era, Scarlett’s Secret is a short three mile drive east of downtown Helen. Located in a large plantation style home in the Nacoochee Valley, the museum is furnished in the period of Gone With the Wind and contains many items of memorabilia related to the movie and the Civil War. While visiting Scarlet’s Secret, plan to stay for homemade tea and desserts. Reservations and selections may be made in advance by phone.
The Helen Arts & Heritage Center also boasts a newly renovated history museum, along with an art gallery for local artists with all sorts of options such as art work, pottery, glass art and handcrafted jewelry. Art exhibits are open to the public and completely free to attend, but classes require an additional fee. Class and workshop options include painting, leather crafting, drawing, pottery and watercolor painting.
Preserved as a state historic site, Hardman Farm is a 173-acre property featuring a main house built in the 1870s and a dairy barn that was operational from 1910 until the mid-1920s. Take a guided tour of the property to learn how milk was processed and transported during this time period, as well as get a look into the house and former horse barn. Check out a calendar of special events at the farm, including Farm Animal Fun Days, movie nights, book signings, farm to table dinners, organized guided hikes, kids’ camps, celebrations and more.
If you want to learn more about local gold rush history, stop by Outpost Gold & Gems in downtown Helen or Dukes Creek Gold & Ruby Mine just outside Helen in Sautee. Both shops have covered pavilions for mining and are open year round rain or shine.
The Gourd Place is only a 10-minute drive from downtown Helen, but you’ll be amazed at the many things that can be made out of gourds. Entrance to the Gourd Museum is free and you can explore how musical instruments, pottery and even a cash register was made from gourds. The museum also displays gourds from 23 countries as well as one of the largest gourds ever grown.
4. Plenty of Amusement and Adventure Options
With its mountainous terrain, Helen is the perfect location for adventurous ziplining courses. Try the zipline course at Unicoi State Park, which flies over the scenic Unicoi Lake. Or drive 15 minutes east of downtown Helen to explore Sunburst Adventures, where you can zipline, ride horses, rent ATVs or kayak. Nachoochee Adventures just south of downtown Helen offers a 1/2 mile Big Zip with spectacular views of Mount Yonah and the Sautee Indian Mound, as well as a ropes obstacle course.
Located in downtown Helen, the nearly 1-mile Georgia Mountain Coaster is another fun entertainment option for kids and adults alike. The coaster slowly winds its way above downtown before zooming back to South Main Street. To ride solo in a coaster car, kids must be 54 inches. Otherwise, they can ride with a driver who is at least 16 years old.
If a roller coaster is too intimidating, try your hand at slot car racing at Alpine Speedway on the largest 1/32 course in the US. Alpine Fun Factory is also a great option for go karts, laser tag, arcade games and a giant bounce zone to keep your group of kids or adults entertained for hours.
If your kids love animals, nearby North Georgia Wildlife Park & Zoo is fun place to stop on your vacation. From drive-through safaris to behind-the-scenes tours to traditional petting zoos, this wildlife park has it all.
Helen also boasts three miniature golf courses all for less than $10 to play a round of 18 holes. Bavarian Mountain Miniature Golf and Arcade has a course atop an overlook of downtown Helen, making it the most scenic course. The Pirate’s Cove mini golf course is located near the Oktoberfest Hall and is wheelchair- and stroller-accessible. Alpine Mini Golf and Scoop de Scoop Ice Cream Parlor is located at the far south end of downtown Helen.
5. A Variety of Adult Activities
For some adult fun, Helen offers two well-rated escape rooms: MindEscapes Escape Rooms and The Lost Room Escape Adventures. Many visitors to Helen find themselves going back a second time during their trip because they love the fun, challenge and adventure.
If relaxing on vacation is your idea of a good time, book a visit with Solasta Spa, located within the Valhalla Resort just north of downtown Helen. From massages to facials to nails, you can pamper yourself here.
Helen also offers an endless flow of adult beverage options. Get your fill of local wines and beautiful scenic vineyards during your summer vacation in Helen by visiting the wineries on the Unicoi Wine Trail: Habersham Winery, Serenity Cellars, The Cottage Vineyard, Yonah Mountain Vineyards, CeNita Vineyards and the Sylvan Valley Lodge & Winery. Or stay nearby by visiting one of the many tasting rooms near downtown Helen.
Related: Where to Find the Best Wineries Near Helen
If beer is your preferred drink, try Tantrum Brewery just 6 miles south of downtown Helen or stop by one of the many restaurants and bars in downtown that offer quite the selection of German beer.
Just half a mile south of downtown Helen, you’ll find the historic Nacoochee Village, which offers a mix of food, beverages, retail stores and businesses. If you love trying new wines, you can get wine 5 tastings at Habersham Winery for only $10.
To get your caffeine fix, try the JumpinGoat Coffee shop, which also has a tasting location in nearby Cleveland. Cups are under $5 and you can catch live music on selected days/times. Check the Facebook page for details.
Stroll through the Nachoochee Village Antique Mall to see 50 antique dealers in 7,000 sq. ft. Or stop by the Nora Mill Granary and Country Store to witness an operational gristmill alongside the Chattahoochee River. Be sure to visit the country store to try a sample of the mill and store products, as well as snag some local honey. And step out behind the store to witness the Chattahoochee River flowing.
If you’re looking to add some romance to your weekend, book a horse-drawn carriage ride via Alpine Carriage Company. Riders can be picked up from two company locations or directly from your hotel. You can also get a history tour while you’re riding one of the many varieties of buggies, including the option of a Cinderella buggy that accommodates 20 people.
6. Experience the Flair of Germany
When you drive into downtown Helen, you’ll first notice the German architecture. In 1969, the community turned the small struggling logging town into a replica of a Bavarian alpine village in Germany to draw tourists. Coming into town, you’ll be greeted by white and brown buildings topped with red roofs and cobblestone walkways. And this architecture is consistent throughout the hotels, restaurants and businesses in downtown Helen.
One of the best perks of taking a summer vacation in Helen is getting a taste of Germany without the jetlag. If you’ve booked a short stay, you can taste the best German food Helen has to offer all in one afternoon with Helen & Back Food Tours. Be sure to wear your walking shoes as you fill your mind with Helen history and your belly with German food. The tour stops at 5-6 of Helen’s best restaurants, including popular favorites and hidden gems.
If you have ample time on your hands, leisurely experience the authentic Bavarian flavors such wurst, schnitzel, strudel, pretzels, sauerkraut and beer by visiting different German restaurants each day of your vacation.
Mid-June through mid-August, visitors can enjoy attending Bavarian Nights of Summer in the Festhalle for free every Saturday night from 7 to 11 p.m. An oomph band featuring Bavarian music plays crowd pleasers with German favorites like “Roll Out the Barrel,” as well as some familiar American tunes. Many attendees join in the Bavarian fun by dancing the polka and ordering wurst or cheese platters along with beer and wine. Bavarian Nights of Summer is a taste of Oktoberfest on much a smaller scale.
After a night at the Festhalle, join other outdoor lovers for the free Sundays on the River, also running mid-June through mid-August. Favorite bands from Bavarian Nights of Summer will play live from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Füssen Biergarten, which is situated alongside the beautiful Chattahoochee River. This event is reminiscent of Sunday afternoons in the great biergartens along the Rhine River in Germany. From the comfort of the shade, enjoy beer, wine and German food while relaxing with friends or dancing to music along the river.
Go Visit Helen
As you can see, you enjoy a full-week summer vacation in Helen, Georgia, and not have time to make it through even half of the restaurants, museums, activities and adventures. That simply means you’ll need to come back again to visit the following summer!