Helen, Georgia is only 90 minutes north of the city, and offers a world of fun opportunities for families. Most people are familiar with the Alpine Adventures offered in this mountain town, but there is sooo much more. Outdoor excursions and historical walks back in time can fill an itinerary for a week or more!
I’m cheating a little by beginning our Helen adventures just outside Alpine Helen, in the sister city of Sautee Nacoochee. I’ve been to Helen a number of times, but only recently did I stray down a side street to learn about this little nearby town. I fell in love with it immediately! The boys enjoyed dancing to the old-fashioned music box at the Old Sautee Store. I can’t stop thinking about the “adult” grilled cheese I had at the Old Sautee Market – farmer’s cheese, bacon and tomato, with black bean soup. Hmmm. And art lovers will enjoy a stop at the Sautee Nacoochee Center.
There are two Georgia State Parks in the small town of Helen…we’ll cover both of them this week. The first one want to introduce you to is Smithgall Woods State Park. We’ve visited about half of the state’s lovely parks, but this is my favorite one by far. I love the creek running through, the towering trees that change the temperature by a good 10 degrees with their full canopies, and the unique cottages from which you can explore. The cottages allow easy access to Dukes Creek Falls (or you can drive only a few miles to the trailhead.) Hiking, trout fishing, geo-cahing, ranger programs…there is so much to do!
Ok – Let’s travel into the actual town of Alpine Helen today. Four can’t-miss attractions if you have kids include Charlemagne’s Kingdom, Alpine Mini Golf and Scoop de Scoop Ice Cream Parlor (they are connected,) and Alpine Carriage Company.
The boys and I enjoyed seeing the model train at Charlemagne’s Kingdom, then we hopped over to the city park to play on the swings and slides for a while. After lunch we played a little mini golf and then finished that up with an ice cream cone. Finally, after dinner, we rode the horse and carriage around the Bavarian town, which was truly a special treat for all of us. They loved feeding the horse a carrot when the ride was over!
“Where should we stay in Helen, Georgia?” Great question! Unicoi State Park and Lodge is just right outside of Helen…only a few moments drive. They have traditional cottages and “barrel” cabins which are fun for the kids. There is also a Lodge with restaurants and such. Some of the Lodge rooms even have a loft where the kids can hide out or sleep! Only about five more minutes away is one of my favorite places, the cottages inside Smithgall Woods State Park. They are a little more pricey, but they are large and spacious, and can accommodate multiple families if you want to share the cost. I highly recommend the Creekside Cottage. Finally, if you are looking for a more traditional hotel that offers walking-access to Alpine Helen restaurants and attractions, try Hampton Inn. The room is large, too! We loved the creek out back, as well.
Earlier this week we discussed Smithgall Woods State Park, but there is a second state park in Helen with outdoor activities galore: Unicoi State Park. There is hiking, biking, walking, fishing, boating, canoeing, swimming, and more! And right outside the park is the USFS-run Anna Ruby Falls, which is a gorgeous falls with a very easy hike. After you leave the park and head back into Helen, stop at Fred’s Famous Peanuts for a snack. The kids will love the stuffed live-size people.
“OK – we’re in Helen. Now where should we eat?” At the risk of repeating myself (see above,) GET TO SAUTEE MARKET. My mouth is drooling just thinking about it. It’s great for the kids, too, with an outside dining area complete with shade, bubbles, and a place to run around. Other options include some great German Fare at Bodensee, delicious sandwiches and mac-n-cheese at Hofer’s Bakery (ooo – and pick up a donut, too!) or dinner on the patio overlooking the water at Troll Tavern. All along Main Street are candy stores, ice cream shops, and more. Also, try the coffee at Hot & Sweet….ask for the Full Immersion Brewing method. Wowzers!
It’s Sunday, and we’re not done exploring! There is so much more to see. We didn’t have time to cover Babyland General Hospital, Nora’s Mill Granary, or my favorite hike of all time (so far) Whitley Gap Trail.
If you’re looking for a list of my reviews of Helen, you can find them here. Also, be sure to hit the Ga State Parks page on my site for all the links to Parks and Cottage reviews throughout the year.