The Bavarian-style village of Helen and nearby towns offer tons of group-friendly options
Helen, Georgia and surrounding White County have a rich history beginning with a Cherokee presence before the 1800s and continuing through today as Georgia’s third-most-visited destination. Mining, timber, railroads and a unique vision for a Bavarian community have all made significant contributions to the area.
Let’s begin with what put Helen on the map. In the late 1960s business leaders needed to stimulate the town. A local artist offered sketches of what the town would look like as an Alpine village. The community came together and began building. Today, in the heart of Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, you’ll discover a charming Bavarian village with more than a hint of Germany. In addition to the architecture, German restaurants and one of our country’s most outstanding Oktoberfest celebrations add to the cultural fabric. Helen Festhall on Edelweiss Strasse hosts the 48th Annual Oktoberfest from the second week of September through October 2018.
One constant in the area is nature’s beauty, and there are a few options that should not be missed. Begin any Helen tour with a visit to Anna Ruby Falls and the Visitor Center in the Chattahoochee National Forest. Dust off those new walking shoes for the short walk on a paved footpath to the falls. The walk is considered easy to moderate, and benches are located along the way. If you’re feeling motivated, there’s a 4.6-mile hike from the base of Anna Ruby Falls to adjoining Unicol State Park.
Adventures for ambitious groups at Unicol State Park include zip lining, GPS scavenger hunt, paddle boarding and fly fishing. Breakfast, lunch or dinner at the Lodge is a treat. A buffet filled with seasonal favorites and an a la carte menu are available. The Lodge staff is group-experienced and delighted to provide a specialty menu.
One of the calmest activities in Helen is tubing. Relax, sit back and enjoy a trip down the scenic Chattahoochee River. Cool River Tubing provides shuttle service, tubes and U.S. Coast Guard-approved life preservers. Choose between two different length rides and float back to their headquarters through Helen.
In nearby Cleveland, Wildwood Outfitters provides rafts, canoes and kayaks for groups and family gatherings. Each of four sections of the Chattahoochee River offers different challenges, from rapids to flat water. If you’re more comfortable on land, Woody’s Mountain Bikes treats you to a pedaling adventure. Bike, helmet and shuttle are included on each of Woody’s three rides.
If your group wants to be outside but is not quite ready for so much adventure, consider Gibbs Gardens in Ball Ground. Set in a hardwood forest, the 220 acres of artistically landscaped gardens feature 16 venues. You’ll be challenged to name a favorite.
Alpine Helen-White County is a cornucopia of experiences for visiting groups. The arts are alive and that’s quite obvious at the Folk Pottery Museum of Northeast Georgia in Sautee. The historical importance of this art form, how it evolved and the skills required in the labor-intensive process are on display. One of just a few museums dedicated to pottery, the exhibits trace 200 years of history. Even the building itself is art, having received an Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects, Georgia Chapter in 2008. The museum is part of the Sautee Nacoochee Center, whose galleries feature the works of local artists and rotating exhibits throughout the year, a local history museum, monthly concerts and story performances. Pottery items are available in the gift shop, or you can visit two dozen potters and shops in the area.
There are even more art options to fill your itinerary. The Helen Arts & Heritage Center offers a series of galleries and classes. Show your creativity in oil, acrylic, watercolor, pottery, collage, jewelry or scarf making. At Glass Mountain Gallery your group can see an artist create stunning vases and bowls. Items are available for purchase at these galleries. Those still looking to satisfy their art-shopping experience should also consider a visit to The Willows Pottery and The Gourd Place.
Habersham Winery seems to reflect how the area has grown and strengthened over the years. More than 30 years ago the winery owner’s vision of growing grapes and producing wine was predicted to be a failure. Today, the winery is one of Georgia’s best from vineyard to shelf. The winemaking process can be viewed from the tasting room. A gift shop sells gourmet foods and wine specialty items.
Hopefully, you packed for another day’s experience because there’s still area history to discover. At Hardman Farm State Historical Site, sitting on 173 acres of farmland, an 1870 Italianate house lies across from a favorite North Georgia landmark, a gazebo atop an Indian mound. Guided house tours feature the 19th century parlor and explain the original lighting, climate control method and telephone system. The tour includes the large barn, which was the centerpiece of the dairy operation, and a springhouse.
A favorite attraction in White County is the Nora Mill Granary & Country Store. The millstones are more than 140 years old and still grind grain. Old- time staples, including grits, cornmeal biscuit mix, flours and muffin mixes, are available for purchase. Two things are left to do at this stop. Sample some “Georgia Ice Cream” (we’ll let them explain) and visit Nora Mill Next Door for thousands of items from Lodge cast-iron cookware to old-fashioned candles.
The area certainly abounds with shopping opportunities, but if you’re looking for that perfect little-girl gift, there’s one more stop to make. Whether you’re shopping or just watching, you’ll be amazed at Cleveland’s BabyLand General Hospital, home of the world-famous Cabbage Patch Kids and Little People®. Admission is free and includes a display of the earliest soft sculptures dating back to 1977. See live deliveries from the Magic Crystal Tree and step into the nurseries filled with babies, no two alike. Then relax in a rocking chair on the front porch and enjoy views of North Georgia’s mountains.
Standing ready to help you with accommodations and dining options, along with an itinerary to fit any group’s interest, is the Alpine Helen/White County Visitors Bureau, 800-858-8027; helenga.org.