What used to be a struggling logging town back in the late 60s, Helen, GA has since been revamped to simulate an alpine village in order to promote tourism. It's not quite like what you would find in Germany, but the town has a unique look that captivates many visitors. You'll find over 200 specialty and import shops lining the main strip offering everything from cuckoo clocks to homemade candies. Dining options are also plentiful and range from German-fare to southern food. This quaint little town is far from fancy, but it offers a great deal of excitement with lots of entertainment and outdoor activities to keep you occupied. While there is much to see and do when you are there, it can be experienced in a day if your time is limited.
WHEN TO GO
Located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Helen, GA is only a 1.5-hour drive from Atlanta, GA. The best, and busiest, time to visit is during their annual Oktoberfest event that runs from the end of September to the beginning of November. (Apparently, it's the longest running Oktoberfest celebration in the south.) If you time it just right, and venture to the town in late October, you can witness the fall leaves at their peak. Keep in mind, though, that the place will be packed with other tourists who are also hoping to catch a glimpse of the beautiful scenery, too.
WHERE TO SLEEP
When Cody and I began staying in Helen, back in 2008, we opted to camp out at the nearby Unicoi State Park to keep our costs low. If you want a campsite, though, it's best to reserve early because they are often booked solid during this time of the year. If camping isn't your thing, you also have the option of staying in their lodge, which is a lot like a hotel. While not walking distance to town, it only requires a 5-minute drive to reach the center of the city, so it's pretty conveniently located.
In the last two years, since we began inviting friends, our alternative to staying in the state park was to rent a cabin in Helen, GA. When you have a larger group of people, it makes more sense and is a whole lot more cost effective when compared to local hotels. We've had wonderful luck using Homeaway.com to find suitable accommodations that fit our needs and price range. This year, we stayed in a 3 bedroom 2 bathroom cabin, complete with a hot tub, & game room with a ½ basketball court for $540 for the weekend. Not too bad when it's split among 7 people! Compared to hotels, cabins are ideal because it's nice to have a home base where you can prepare meals, and have a place to continue the evening once the town has shut down.
WHERE TO EAT
There are a ton of options to choose from when looking for a place to refuel. The problem, though, is finding a place with good food. One of my new favorite places to eat in Helen is Cafe International. It has outdoor seating, and is right along the Chattahoochee River. I recommend the Rueben Sandwich, which I spent an entire year craving since our last visit. The flavor is amazing, it's easily one of the best Rueben's I've ever eaten.
One place that I will tell you to pass on is the Troll Tavern. I don't usually include the places I don't like in my blog posts, because I like to keep things on a positive note, but this place is truly disappointing. Yes, we've eaten there for the past 4 years, but we didn't know any better. Our entire table left dissatisfied with our meals this time around. If it weren't for our capable waiter, this place would have no redeeming qualities to speak of.
Another notable eatery includes Jordano's, which offers pizza, mostly. What's nice about this place is that it's along the river. Our pizza was ok, nothing spectacular. If you're not looking for German-fare, this would be a good spot to go. For a quick bite, Alpine Hot Dog would be a safe bet. They have a decent selection of moderately priced options to choose from, like a Grilled Bratwurst or Gyro Wrap. It's fast because you can order right from the sidewalk through their take-out window, and eat on the go. Our food was ready in no time!
THINGS TO DO
What's left to cover when it comes to Oktoberfest in Helen, Ga? Oh, yeah, DRINKING! While there are many things to do in Helen, GA, it seems like one of the most beloved past times there is drinking. One of the best places to do that is at Festhalle! Festhalle is operated by Helen's chamber of commerce, and it's one of the biggest and most festive venues around town to hang out and have a good time.
Depending on when you go, the place can be cluttered with wall-to-wall people. However, there are rows and rows of cafeteria-style tables to take a seat at. Lines for food and beer can often be long, and the dance floor can be just as scattered, but it's the atmosphere in this place that's the real draw. It's always lively and full of people having fun. I doubt that you can escape the lure of doing the chicken dance no matter how silly you look doing it.
Now, if you don't have a hangover from partying too hard the night before, I highly recommend taking the time to explore the nearby Unicoi State Park where you can take an easy hike up a concrete path to Anna Ruby Falls, a 150ft double waterfall. There's also a nice hike that meanders around the lake if you're looking for a leisurely stroll to take in the surrounding scenery. Other outdoor activities are plentiful in this area as well, so don't miss out on those!
If you'd like to find out more about Helen, GA, here is a link to the website.
Every October, I look forward to spending a fun-filled weekend in Helen, GA. While this town isn't for everyone, it does have some charming qualities that I enjoy even though it can sometimes be overran with other tourists. With nearly two million visitors a year, it's an extremely popular place. In fact, it might be THE place to be for Oktoberfest! All I know is, that's where you'll find me celebrating :D
What do you think about the look of Helen, GA? Is it a place that you'd like to go?
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