Helen is a well-rounded little lady. She boasts both peace and tranquility and hustle and bustle. If you take in both like I did, she makes the perfect hostess for a weekend getaway in the mountains of North Georgia.
While lounging, cooking and eating are always very satisfying activities, I also do like to get out a bit and take in my surroundings whenever I travel (even if it’s just an hour and a half away from Atlanta). Helen served as the perfect destination for a quick romp through society before returning to seclusion. Built to look like an alpine village (think Bavaria, Germany) and stuffed with as much kitschy, touristy stuff as possible, it is ripe with photo opps as well as unhealthy pub and festival fare such as pizza, ice cream, fudge and funnel cakes. There are also many cheesy souvenirs to be had, and a street performer or two for good measure.
The best thing to do in this ultra tiny tourist mecca, however, is rent a neon inner tube from a company like Cool River Tubing for $5 and float yourself down the river. While this is very fun, don’t expect it to be a relaxing experience. You will be surrounded by dozens of strangers throughout your float, and if you are too cheap to pay $5 extra dollars for a push stick (like me), you will need to rely on many such strangers to push or pull you off of rocks when your tube gets stuck (which it will many times).
If you’re looking for a less crowded tourist experience near Helen, Unicoi State Park is the place for you. For a $5 parking fee, you can hike several trails of varying lengths and difficulty or have a picnic at one of their many pavilions. You’ll definitely see other people in the process, but not that many. There’s also a lake beach there, which is nice for a quick dip, but not so peaceful since it’s very tiny and kids love to swim (and to scream while swimming). If you’d like to see a waterfall, you can do that too by driving about three miles down from Unicoi and paying another $2 per person. Worth it for me since I love a good waterfall!
All in all, Helen was a blissful weekend getaway destination. With mountains, rivers, lakes, streams, a break from the city heat AND several mullet sightings, who could ask for more when celebrating America? The town even launched fireworks, which I was planning to go see, but my hot tub/s‘mores coma got the best of me.