During your trip to Helen, be sure to try all the fun summer activities that have made this Bavarian town so fun and unique.
You’ve booked a summer vacation to Helen, but what do you do when you get there? Don’t worry, Helen offers a myriad of summer activities for visitors all through the summer. Snack on Germany pretzels mid-morning, shoot the hooch in the heat of the day and enjoy a small taste of Oktoberfest on Saturday nights.
- Attend Local Summer Events
- Cool Off with Delicious Ice-Cream
- Shoot the Hooch
- Get In a Round of Golf
- See Key Landmarks on a Self-Guided Driving Tour
- Try Wine Tasting with a View
- Take Day Trips to Nearby State Parks and Historic Sites
- Get a Taste of Bavaria with German Pretzels
- Get Wet on a Hike
- Embrace the Many Outdoor Adventures
Attend Local Summer Events
Helen to the Atlantic Hot Air Balloon Race. Every year, the Annual Helen to the Atlantic Hot Air Balloon Race is set for the first weekend of June. As the South’s oldest balloon event and the United States’ only long-distance hot air balloon race, the event kicks off at 7 a.m. with a mass ascension of roughly 20 bright and colorful hot air balloons in Helen. The Helendorf River Inn is host, headquarters, sponsor and organizer to the event, which has taken place since 1974. After the initial ascension for race competitors, other balloonist will compete in local events at 7 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. each day.
Bavarian Nights of Summer. 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.
Sundays on the River. 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.
Fourth of July Fireworks. If you’re visiting Helen on Independence Day, enjoy the annual display of spectacular fireworks from downtown. The fireworks will be held at dusk (9 to 9:30 p.m.) behind the Alpine Village Shoppes and Helen Welcome Center.
Cool Off with Delicious Ice-Cream
If you’re looking for some ice cream to cool off in the summer, try one of the many delicious ice cream shops near downtown Helen.
- Try adult ice cream flavors such as Bourbon Caramel Pecan or Banana’s Foster from Das Ice Cream Cafe. Grab a flight of the good stuff or let your kids try the unique Spaghettieis dessert that is a favorite in Germany.
- Cool off after a game of miniature golf with a huge scoop of your favorite flavor from Scoop de Scoop, co-located at Alpine Mini Golf.
- Treat yourself after a day of hiking with the delicious German Chocolate ice cream from the Homemade Ice Cream shop in downtown Helen.
- If you’re wanting something extra with your ice cream, try Granny’s Famous Funnel Cake Haus to get your funnel cake with a scoop of ice cream on the side.
Shoot the Hooch
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. Starting Memorial Day weekend, tube down the Chattahoochee River via Cool River Tubing or Helen Waterpark & Tubing for $12 Monday-Friday or $16 on the weekends. 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 through September and ranges $13 to $25 per person depending on height and day of the week.
Read our article about Everything You Need to Know about Tubing in Helen.
Get In a Round of Golf
If a couple rounds of golf is essential to your perfect summer 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.
See Key Landmarks on a Self-Guided Driving Tour
If you want to see all the iconic sights around Helen, there is one easy, organized yet informative way to do that. The Sautee Nacoochee Center launched a free smartphone app called The Heart & Heritage of the Northeast Georgia Mountains that offers self-guided driving tours of the region. The app has 16 notable stopping points along the way and interesting historical information about each landmark and landscape. It also includes a carousel of images featuring the region’s landscapes, culture and history, which is read to visitors by a third-generation settler, as well as a list of local attractions, potteries and an up-to-date calendar of events.
Try Wine Tasting with a View
If relaxing as you sip from vineyard patios surrounded by the outdoor beauty of the mountains sounds like your idea of the perfect summer vacation, you’ll be amazed at just how many vineyards are near Helen. Most offer tours and tastings—or you can purchase wine by the glass or bottle to take home with you. Whether you prefer red or white wine (or even rosé or muscadine), North Georgia wineries offer an array of grape varieties for all palates.
Though there are several dozen well-reputed wineries and vineyards in North Georgia, those on the Unicoi Wine Trail are closest to Helen, including Habersham Winery, Serenity Cellars, The Cottage Vineyard, Yonah Mountain Vineyards, CeNita Vineyards and the Sylvan Valley Lodge & Winery. Apart from the Unicoi Wine Trail, there are several other wineries that are less than 25 minutes from downtown Helen, making them the perfect places to visit on your trip to this one-of-a-kind Bavarian town. See our favorite wineries to visit near Helen.
Take Day Trips to Nearby State Parks and Historic Sites
If you’re a nature lover, you’ll appreciate the fact that Helen has several state parks and historic sites less than an hour from downtown. These are ordered from closest to farthest from downtown Helen.
Hardman Farm Historic Site: 173-acre property on the southern edge of downtown. This historic site features 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.
Unicoi State Park: 1,050-acre state park just 2.5 miles north of downtown. Swim at the beach of the 53-acre Unicoi Lake or hike the 2.2 mile loop around the lake. Rent a kayak, canoe, paddleboard or pedal boat. Or zipline around the park to enjoy amazing views. While you’re at Unicoi State Park, drive through to access Anna Ruby Falls. If you’re only visiting the falls, you can skip the state park fee and just pay the $3 per person to see the falls. Luckily, kids under 16 years old are free.
Smithgall Woods State Park: 5,664-acre state park just 3.8 miles southwest of downtown. Choose from several hike options—and be prepared with water shoes if you choose Ash Creek Trail. Roam the fields of wildflowers. Let your kids splash in the creek. Enjoy a picnic and a game of catch on the large lawn. Or spend time learning about local wildlife in the educational center.
Moccasin Creek State Park: 32-acre state park located on the western shore of the 2,775-acre Lake Burton, which is 20 miles northeast of downtown. Take the short hike to Hemlock Falls and take a dip in the natural swimming hole. Or rent a kayak, canoe or stand-up paddleboard for water fun. Discover more hiking and cycling options at the park.
Vogel State Park: 233-acre state park at the base of Blood Mountain and 21 miles from downtown. Enjoy summer hiking, swimming, paddleboarding, pedalboating, aquacycling and kayaking at Lake Trahlyta at Vogel State Park. The easy 1-mile loop around the lake gives way to the scenic Trahlyta waterfall at the mid-way point. Also, enjoy two playgrounds and mini golf courses at the park. The Bear Hair Gap Trail also offers an amazing aerial view of the lake.
Tallulah Gorge State Park: 2689-acre state park located 29 miles northeast of downtown. Enjoy views of the 1,000-foot gorge that spans 2 miles in length. Hike the loop around the gorge, traversing a suspension bridge 80 feet above the water, before tackling flight after flight of steps to some amazing lookout points. Grab a gorge floor permit to access the rocky descent to Sliding Rock—totally worth it. Also, enjoy the educational displays in the interpretive center and pack a picnic for the many tables at the top of the park.
Amicalola Falls State Park: 829-acre state park situated 43 miles west of downtown. The highlight of this state park is the magnificent 729-foot waterfall that’s the highest waterfall in Georgia. Hike the 2.1 miles to the top, but be sure to wear your walking shoes as you make your way up the 604 steps to the viewing platform. The state park also offers other fun activities, including zip lining courses, 3-D archery and on weekend mornings, you can meet one of the Birds of Prey or even a reptile.
Get a Taste of Bavaria with German Pretzels
You’d be remiss to visit Helen in the summer without grabbing an famous giant German pretzel. Many German restaurants in downtown Helen offer these pretzels, including King Ludwig Biergarten, Hofer’s Bakery and Cafe, Bodensee, Hansel and Gretel Candy Kitchen, The Heidelberg, Old Bavaria Inn Restaurant, Hofbrauhaus Restaurant & Pub, Cafe International, The Troll Tavern—and more.
Grab your pretzel and enjoy it at Unicoi Hill Park off Main Street or eat it sitting by the river watching the tubers go by. Eat it plain, doused in herb butter or dunked it in mustard or beer cheese dip.
Get Wet on a Hike
Hiking near Helen is great year round, but it’s especially fun in the summer since you can cool off in the creeks, waterfalls and swimming holes on many of the hikes. If you’re looking for short hikes with water features, try this list of our favorite hikes under 2.5 miles. The Ash Creek Trail at Smithgall Woods State Park is an exciting 3.8-mile hike where you traverse Dukes Creek on foot not once, but twice. If you’re looking for a longer, more moderate hike, try Raven Cliff Falls, clocking in at 4.8 miles.
The area surrounding downtown also boasts some popular natural swimming spots that make for one of the most sought after summer activities in Helen—especially on a hot day. Try the swimming holes at High Shoals Falls, Helton Creek Falls, Hemlock Falls or Wildcat Creek Sliding Rock.
Embrace the Many Outdoor Adventures
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 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.
Related: Best Things to Do with Kids in Helen
Helen also boasts three miniature golf courses all for less than $10 to play a round of 18 holes, making putt putt one of the most classic summer activities in Helen. 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.
Go Visit Helen
As you can see, you spend a week in this Bavarian town and not have time to make it through even half of these awesome summer activities and adventures in Helen. That simply means you’ll need to come back again to visit the following summer!
What are your favorite summer activities in Helen?