With its rolling hills and storybook-style Bavarian architecture, Helen is a must-see destination for visitors to northern Georgia. This charming village has something for every traveler, whether you’re interested in fly fishing a mountain stream or indulging in an afternoon of wine tasting. The picturesque Chattahoochee River flows just steps from Helen vacation rentals, creating year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure. As you choose activities for your trip, check out these top local attractions.
1. Go Fishing at Unicoi State Park
Experience pristine waterways tucked among the densely forested Georgia mountains with a fishing trip to Unicoi Lake State Park. Start at Smith Lake, where multiple docks make it easy to cast for bass, catfish, and bluegill. If you’re looking for more of a challenge, walk into the backcountry along Smith Creek to fish for rainbow trout and brook trout. Get an introduction to the art of fly fishing with guided trips from the Unicoi Adventure Lodge, which sits within the park. Each trip includes instruction and insider insight into the best local fishing spots.
2. Paddle Board or Kayak on Smith Lake
While you’re visiting Unicoi State Park, find your vacation Zen with a paddle around Smith Lake. With its calm, cool waters, this beautiful lake is a great option for beginners and kids. Rent boats or paddle boards from the park’s concession area, and launch from near the beach. For the best views of the lake and mountain peaks, paddle down to the south end; if you want to escape the summer crowds, paddle along the quiet western shores. Smith Lake is a spectacular paddling destination in the fall, when the trees along the shore shine with golden and orange leaves.
3. Go Mountain Biking
Get your adrenaline fix with a thrilling mountain bike ride through Helen’s mountains. Pedal down twisting slopes and past mountain streams on the Unicoi-Helen trail, which connects downtown to Unicoi State Park. If you leave your gear at home, book an adventure with Woody’s Mountain Bikes; try the family-friendly Gold Mine Ride, which takes you past historic mines, a waterfall, and a postcard-perfect covered bridge.
4. Experience Georgia Wine Culture
Taste locally produced vintages at Habersham Winery and Vineyards, one of the oldest and largest wineries in the northern Georgia wine region. Book a wine tasting to experience house specialties such as the Scarlett red blend or the fruity Cherokee Rose. If you’re visiting Helen with a group, reserve a tour of the winery for a behind-the-scenes peek at wine-making and a chat with a local vintner.
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5. Visit a Water Park
Cool off on a hot Georgia summer day with a trip to the Helen Water Park. With four twisting water slides that stand more than 50 feet tall, the park makes a great spot for a family outing. For a relaxing afternoon, float along the lazy river, or take your little ones to the Kiddie Mushroom splash area. The water park also features a rock wall and a snack bar.
6. Go Tubing on the Chattahoochee River
Join locals and visitors in a Helen rite of passage: tubing down the Chattahoochee River. Rent tubes from Cool River Tubing, and hop on the company’s legendary blue-and-white buses to shuttle up to the launch site. As you float, stop to swim in a deeper hole or try out the small rapids. When you reach the Chattahoochee Outpost, employees are always on hand to help you out of the water. The company offers tubes with bottoms for smaller children; try the all-day pass for multiple trips down the river.
7. Hike Anna Ruby Falls
Enjoy the serenity of twin mountain waterfalls at the Anna Ruby Falls Recreation Area. From the visitors’ center, take the paved trail for 1/2 mile through the forest to reach the overlook point; the path is easy to manage with a stroller or little ones. For a more strenuous hike, head out on the Smith Creek Trail from the base of the falls. If you’re planning a longer walk, be sure to stop at Betty’s Country Store in Helen on your way to the park to stock up on water and trail snacks.
8. Visit the Helen Arts and Heritage Center
Discover Helen’s storied past at the Helen Arts and Heritage Center History Museum. Here, a series of well-curated exhibits explain the history of the region, from the first Native American inhabitants, who engaged in sophisticated farming and building methods, to the gold miners of the 1800s. A collection of historic photos provides a glimpse at early cabins, 1920s-era sawmills, and the renovation of local buildings to their current alpine style. When you’re done, head across the street to Muller’s Famous Fried Cheese Cafe for an adventure in fried cheese and a selection of German and Czech food to discover.
9. Take a Mountain Trail Ride
Explore the mountains on horseback with Chattahoochee Stables. As your horse strolls through valleys, up hillside trails, and along the Chattahoochee River, you can get an up-close look at the local scenery. In the summer, get a once-in-a-lifetime experience as you ride directly into the water to cool off. Rides are suitable for people of all ages; if you’re traveling with a large group, it’s a good idea to make a reservation in advance.
10. Check Out the Hardman Farm Historic Site
Tour a 19th-century farmhouse at the Hardman Farm Historic Site. Built in 1870, the home still retains many of its original furnishings and light fixtures. Afterward, head out to explore the historic barn and the gazebo-topped Nacoochee Mound, which is a reconstruction of an ancient Native American burial site that once stood on the site. To top off the trip, visit Duke’s Creek Gold and Ruby Mine and go panning for your very own treasure to bring back to your vacation rental.
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