Helen, Georgia is one of the state’s hidden treasures, veiled about an hour and a half’s drive away from downtown Atlanta, up near the Blue Ridge Mountains where cell coverage gets spotty and the radio staticky.
The interstate, soon reduced to a single lane road, will take you past produce stands and farms selling boiled peanuts, and you’ll look out the window to watch the gas prices steadily drop and the scenery slowly turn more and more green.
On a Sunday afternoon, my family drove up towards North Georgia’s White County, hardee har har, to Helen, the Bavarian tourist town.
Though there are less than 500 residents living within its boundary, this city is the third most visited in the state, and for good reason. In the late 1960’s, it swelled as a tourist destination for anyone passing through, including motorcyclists, though to this day it sits just over 2 square miles wide.
The area offers many wineries and bars, bed & breakfasts, private cabins and more, making it well-suited for couples and people of drinking age, though I’m sure the candy kitchens, small shops and horse drawn carriages could easily entertain children.
What began as a Cherokee settlement in the 19th century was soon overtaken by European settlers. Miners were attracted to Dukes Creek, which was a part of the Great Georgia Gold Rush belt. The land was also profitable for sawmills and lumber companies like Matthews Lumber Company to take over.
These exports, of course, made their way all over the country by the Gainesville and Northwestern railroad, which ran through the area. This crucial stop was so significant that the town was even named after the railroad surveyor’s daughter, Helen.
Towards the mid 1900’s, however, as exports began to die out, many settlers started to move away. As the area dwindled in size and popularity, a group of citizens gathered in the late 1960’s to reconstruct Helen as a Bavarian tourist village celebrating the rich heritage of the settlers.
For more historical information, you can visit the official Helen, GA website!
Mini Golf & Ice Cream
My mom, dad and I played an intense 18-hole game at Helen Alpine Mini Golf.
The course was b-e-a-utiful, comprising various manmade landscapes, lined with flowers and trees. A tiny stream ran right through the middle of the course, a bright red bridge beckoned you to cross it, and shaded gazebos and benches tempted you at every hole. This place is perfect for couples and families looking for a friendly game of mini golf.Each game costs about $8 a person, and if you play another game that same day, you get it half off. If you happen to make a tricky hole-in-one on the 8th course, you win a free game.
Afterwards, we stopped in for ice cream at the adjacent parlor, Scoop De Scoop. I thoroughly enjoyed a cone of Moose Tracks ice cream for 10% off, which we got as a result of playing mini golf.
Helen’s Main Street
We walked past lots of gift shops, restaurants and bars.
I stopped in a store and bought a bar of lavender-rosemary infused goat’s milk soap from Zum Bar, created with 100% essential oils. This unique soap helps balance your skin’s pH level, moisturizing it without stripping it of natural oils your body produces. It smells great, lathers well and leaves my skin very soft.
Their website describes this product as: “mellow yet energetic, soft yet camphoric.”
Within walking distance nearby were a few other unique places to visit. The Amish Red Barn sells many Amish crafts and furniture and the Babyland General Hospital “births Cabbage Patch Kids” (the experience is outlined in this Vice article).
You can visit the Folk Pottery Museum or the Glass Mountain Gallery to see the area’s historical culture represented in art, as well as engage in typical tourist activities such as ziplining, horseback riding, go-karting or gold-panning.
And finally, if you visit during September through November, you’re in for a treat, because Helen’s Festhalle hosts the nation’s longest running Oktoberfest, which is generally $8-$10 but free on Sundays! You can listen to German-style bands, dance to polka and drink until you drop, if you so wish.
Finally, we stopped in to eat at The Troll Tavern.
Mini review: Troll Tavern, Helen GA
The Troll Tavern, located right “on the river” and “under the bridge”, was very busy that Sunday evening. It was nearly full, populated with all sorts of crowds. After a 15 minute wait, we sat down at a table riverside watching people “shoot the Hooch”.
Read the full review on Cat the Critic!