Helen Georgia is a remote Bavarian town where you can drink beer by the letters, eat pretzels as giant as a dinner plate, and hike to waterfalls during the day. This alpine town is tucked away in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. You will feel as if you skipped time and space by being transported to a land of Biergartens, with a rich history of arts and culture that will appeal to everyone.
Where to Stay
One of the most captivating things about Helen, Georgia, is the remote mountains. The city of Helen is a small touristy town full of bustling visitors. Whether you’re looking to stay in the center of the action or the quiet of the mountains, this area has many options to satisfy everyone’s needs.
Airbnb – I chose to stay close to the city of Helen but not in the city center. I wanted the flexibility to drive into the city and to neighboring towns without too much traffic interference. Stocked with the essentials, this Airbnb had everything I needed for my three-night stay, a coffee machine, warm shower, and a very comfortable bed.
Valhalla Resort Hotel – If your idea of all the comforts of home includes a full spa, golf lessons at Innsbruck Golf Club, and 24-hour room service, look no further. With three dining options ranging from dinner at a curated chef’s table to an evening with a glass of wine at the Sky Bar, it’s easy to get lost in the magic. You will feel like you’ve entered into a fairytale as the Valhalla Resort will meet every need during your stay.
Heidi Motel & Windmill Suites – There are many hotels to choose from in the city center of Helen, Georgia. None are as striking as the Heidi Motel. It’s hard to miss the tower windmill prominently spinning in the wind as you drive into town. Located less than a block from the center of downtown Helen, there is no need to worry about finding parking at the popular restaurants and shops; everything is steps from your door.
Book the King Windmill Suite with the heart-shaped jacuzzi if you like cheesy romantic getaways as much as I do. Not only do you get to stay in the windmill, but you can look forward to soaking your feet after a long day hiking or strolling through town.
Where to Eat
When it came to eating in Helen, Georgia, I had one goal: to find the best soft-baked pretzel. I came to call this adventure my “Helen Pretzel Tour.” I chose these restaurants for their atmosphere and overall ranking on google. If you attempt to take the Helen Pretzel Tour, I suggest bringing a friend. In three days, I was able to eat four pretzels, each one seemingly larger than the last.
The Troll Tavern – Aptly named for its location under the bridge, the Troll Tavern also has relaxing views along the river and offers indoor and outdoor seating. During the day, you can enjoy a beer and pretzel on the patio as tubers float down the Chattahoochee River.
Out of the four pretzels, the Troll Tavern offers the smallest. However, orders of two can be made if you want to share with a friend. For the purpose of the Pretzel Tour, one was enough for me. The real star of the show wasn’t the pretzel itself, but the beer cheese soup served on the side. Amongst all the restaurants, the Troll Tavern wins for best pretzel pairing. The soup is creamy but also has chunks of carrots and celery that added a heartiness, making it feel like a meal, not just bread with cheese on the side.
Bodensee – I’ll get straight to the point for this restaurant. This was my least favorite pretzel. I knew it would be a rocky experience when the hostess told me the bar was a smoking area. I didn’t realize indoor smoking was still a thing (did I just step back in time to the 90s?); thankfully, no one lit a cigarette while I was there, but I did have to endure Monday Night Football on the TV and an older lady telling her life story to the bartender.
I tore off a warm wedge of my pretzel and dunked it into the cheese, which was instant disappointment. The cheese was watery and cold. The pretzel was drenched in butter with little to no salt. It was a substantial size, filling every edge of the dinner plate, but not even a cold beer could save this dish.
King Ludwig’s Biergarten – You can not beat the atmosphere of this Biergarten. Perfectly placed in the middle of town, picnic tables lined up in rows welcoming guests to sit shoulder to shoulder while enjoying the weather and drink a liter of beer. Brightly colored Bavarian shops bordering the outer edge of the Biergarten trick your mind into believing you could be in a small town outside of Munich rather than the mountains of Georgia.
As they say, third times the charm. Ludwig’s is the pretzel I’ve been searching for all weekend. Baked to the perfect golden color, the scoring of the crust reveals the pillowy dough ready to absorb the gooey cheese sauce. The cheese alone was perfect, creamy, not too sharp, and balanced well with the generous amount of salt sprinkled on top of the pretzel. Each table was stocked with packets of stone-ground mustard, something I’ve been searching for with each passing pretzel. This kept my taste buds on their toes as I switched bits between the sour mustard and the velvety cheese.
Heidelberg – The Heidelberg restaurant is probably one of the most Instagrammed places in Helen. It stands tall above the surrounding buildings like Cinderella’s castle. The bold white and blue Bavarian colors against the steeply sloped red roof make it hard to miss. If you’re lucky enough to be seated in one of the three patio seats, you will have the perfect perch to look down over King Ludwig’s Biergarten. It’s like dinner and a show watching people mingle with strangers and games of corn hole become fiercely competitive.
The Heidelberg pretzel was eerily similar to the King Ludwig pretzel. So much so that I wouldn’t be surprised if they used the same kitchen to bake them. The one thing that set the Heidelberg pretzel apart from the others was the number of dipping sauces available. The pretzel came with a cup of melted herb butter and a cup of what they called “cheese beer dip,” but after experiencing the beer cheese at the Troll Tavern, the Heidelberg’s cheese dip fell flat. The waitress asked if I needed anything else, and I asked for mustard. Imagine my delight when she brought THREE different mustards; yellow, spicy, and stone ground. My pretzel danced from flavor to flavor until there was nothing left. I couldn’t have asked for a better ending to my pretzel tour.
There are tons of hiking trails to choose from around Helen, Georgia. Many of these paths are considered casual, easy hikes, with a waterfall ready to greet you at the end.
Anne Ruby Falls – This was one of the first places I saved on google maps for hiking. Anne Ruby Falls has three trails within the park. The Lion’s Eye Trail is wheelchair accessible paved walking trail that features 150-foot twin waterfalls. Anne Ruby Falls Trail is a 0.04-mile trail guiding hikers from the Visitor Center to the observation decks at the base of the twin falls. Lastly, Smith Creek Foot Trail is a 4.6-mile hike connecting Anne Ruby Fall to Unicoi State Park.
Smithgall Woods State Park – There’s more to do in Smithgall Woods than explore the 28-miles of trails that run throughout the park. It is also known for its crystal streams, making it one of the best places to fish for trout. Visitors can also escape for a romantic getaway in one of the six cabins on the property. Whether you stay the night or stay for the day, the beauty of this area will be nothing but relaxing.
Tallulah Gorge State Park – I wrote an entire blog post about my adventure at this State Park. After a failed attempt to go to Anne Ruby Falls, I drove to the Tallulah Gorge to get my hiking fill. If you’re looking for a unique hike into the belly of the gorge, I highly recommend spending the day here.
Places To Explore
The city of Helen is full of touristy shops selling personalized keychains, homemade jams, and commemorative t-shirts with the words Helen Georgia scrolled across the front. I chose to spend my time during the day exploring the surrounding towns and returning to Helen in the evening for dinner.
Hardman Farm – Step back in time to the days of horse-drawn carriages and life without air conditioning at the Hardman Farm. The furniture and light fixtures have been maintained, giving visitors a glimpse of life in 1870. Guest can learn about the three influential families who called this home before its donation to the state of Georgia in 1999.
Creekstone Winery – After a few hours of exploring the Hardman Farm, stop by Creekstone Winery to enjoy a wine flight on the patio with serene views of the surrounding mountains. Charcuterie board meat, cheese, and crackers are available to snack on while sipping on the five wines of your choosing.
Sautee Nacoochee Arts & Heritage District – Driving south out of Helen for half a mile on Hwy 75, you will quickly find the Sautee Nacoochee Arts & Heritage District. The first place you must stop is at the Nacoochee Antiques. Even if you’re not into antiques, you have to experience the three stories packet floor-to-ceiling of knickknacks. I loved the novelty of seeing sparklingly colored glass bowls shining in the windows and old toys from generations ago.
Next door to Nacoochee Antiques is Habersham Vineyard and Winery. Habersham Winery is one of the oldest wineries in Georgia, proudly serving visitors since 1983. Stop in for a tour and tasting of their award-winning wines. A selection of perfectly paired cheese and meats are also available to create a relaxing picnic with your wine flight.
If it’s too early for wine, Jumpin Goat Coffee Roasters has a collection of beautifully smooth coffee blends to get your day started. I was shocked by the number of different flavors they offered in this tiny store. The Jumpin Goat offers whole bean or ground coffee in sample size that makes just enough for one pot of coffee. I was like a kid in a candy store, filling my arms with various coffee flavors to try while sipping a fresh cup of coconut-flavored coffee.
In last month’s Rose & Thorn post, I wrote about my love for the Old Sautee Store. Established in 1872, this general store still provides farm-fresh cheese, apparel, and souvenirs for all who stop in. Next door in a small cabin made to look like a hobbit house, visitors can enjoy freshly prepared sandwiches and snacks for lunch. This tiny intersection is dotted with many shops and restaurants and could quickly be passed by if you blink. If there is one place you must visit outside of Helen, I highly encourage spending time in this area of Sautee.
Water Activities – If you plan to visit during the Summer months, visitors can spend the day cooling off at the Helen Water Park or tubing down the Chattahoochee River.
Popular Events During the Year
Oktoberfest – Pack your lederhosen and dirndls! Helen Georgia is one of the best places to celebrate Oktoberfest. September thru November, this alpine town comes to life with parades, live music, traditional German food, and beer (lots of beer).
Wine Fest – Habersham Winery’s annual wine fest features twenty wineries from the region. Raise a glass to the over sixty wines available to sample during the event. Celebrated in May, the Habersham event site has all the information on tickets and event dates for the next wine fest.
Helen to the Atlantic Balloon Race Festival – The sky glows with hot air balloons racing across the horizon every summer. The starting line for this annual event features over twenty balloons floating towards the finish line at I-95.
So have I convinced you to make your next vacation in Helen, Georgia? This alpine town has so much to offer throughout the year. I hope you consider stopping by to witness the magic for yourself on your next road trip or weekend vacation.