Is your family looking for a change of scenery that can be reached on less than a tank of gas? Would you like to feel like you’ve escaped to another corner of the world during that trip? Helen, Georgia is the perfect place! Kidding Around Contributor, Melanie shares this quaint mountain town in northern Georgia, a fun place to visit no matter what time of year you decide to visit.
Whether you want to go tubing in the summer, celebrate German heritage in the fall during Oktoberfest or participate in any of the other numerous activities Helen has to offer, we have the information to help you plan your trip.
Bavaria, in the middle of the Georgia mountains, makes sense right? It did to a hand full of local businessmen in 1968, who were trying to figure out how to revitalize this small mountain town and capture some income from the travelers headed north to Tennessee. The idea was well received by the town and now some 49 years later, it’s Georgia’s third most visited city. With all the things to do in this small town, it’s no wonder why people keep coming back.
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Things to do in Helen, GA
Oktoberfest In Helen
One of the two biggest attractions in Helen is their annual Oktoberfest. This traditional German festival is one of the longest in the country, lasting almost two months. The festival includes a parade, contemporary Barvarian music, food, and of course a Biergarten. The festivities run Thursday through Sunday during the month of September, and daily during the month of October.
Due to COVID-19, the huge 50th Anniversary celebration that was to occur in 2020 has been postponed until next year. The town of Helen will still celebrate Oktoberfest with some outdoor events.
Admission is $8 per person Monday – Friday, $10 on Saturdays, and Free on Sundays. This is just to access the festivities, all food and beverages are extra.(2019)
Tubing The Chattahoochee
One of the other things that draw people to this mountain town Memorial Day through Labor Day is tubing. If you’ve never been, I highly recommend it. It’s what first introduced me to Helen, and what keeps me returning again and again. While there is no shortage of locations to tube in the states surrounding Greenville, tubing in Helen is my favorite.
Both companies that service the Chattahoochee River in Helen offer a shuttle service and similar tubing adventures. However having now used both companies I can share with you the differences, so you can choose the best for your family.
Helen Water Park & Tubing
Helen Tubing is known for its bright pink tubes that can be seen floating down the river. With a fee of $5 per person, it is the least expensive of the companies. One of the other differences in the age limit, with Helen Tubing there isn’t one, which is good for families with toddlers. Our two year old was dubbed “The outdoor adventure baby” on this trip; she did surprisingly well being contained in an inner tube for several hours. Small children also have the option of tubing in the lap of an adult, should you prefer that.
I recommend familiarizing yourself with the river, if possible, before tubing it with a small child. If you chose this outfitter for your day on the river, I suggest coming as prepared as possible. The changing room & restroom area is small and during peak times, you could wind up wasting tubing time trying to get ready. There are no lockers available but they will hold your keys for free. The length of the trip is 2.5 hours, however, this really depends on the way the water is acting that particular day. For an additional fee, you can add access to a waterpark that has slides and a lazy river.
Cool River Tubing
Cool River Tubing seems to be the most popular of the tubing companies. It’s lime green and blue tubes are seen all over the river. The fee of $8 covers your tubing trip whether you choose the long 2.5-hour trip or the shorter 1.5-hour trip. Until this past trip, Cool River Tubing was the company we’ve have used. Because of their age requirement, we had to use another company on this trip.
The “Chattahoochie Outpost” is where you purchase your tubing bracelets and has just about everything you could possibly need for a tubing trip. This area includes changing rooms, showers, lockers, an ice cream shop, and a large selection of souvenirs. They will also hold your keys for you. The other nice service they offer is, at the point in the river where you need to exit, they have several workers helping you out of the water. This is especially helpful when you have children with you. For an additional fee, you can also exit the river around halfway down and visit the waterslide area they own. Upon your return to the outpost, make sure to stop in the gift shop and check out the photo they took of you on the river. These make a handy keepsake!
Regardless of the outfitter you chose, there are several things to remember while tubing in Helen.
*Alcohol is strictly prohibited on the river within the Helen City limits. Coolers are not allowed on the river either and each tuber is allowed up to a 32 oz water bottle. The local PD does patrol and enforce the rules and a violation will mean a steep fine.
*Push Sticks are a must. They will help you steer away from the shore and dislodge from being stuck behind rocks. Buy one onsite or make one from a 1×1 piece of wood at home.
*Call the morning you plan on going, before heading out. If rain has made the river swell, this can drastically affect the way tubers are allowed on it that day. The river may be off-limits until conditions change or age limits could be imposed that might exclude your children.
*You will notice flip flops floating down the river orphaned. I lost a pair that way. Water shoes can be purchased at the Cool River Outpost for just $10, or grab a pair locally. Either way, I highly recommend them, because walking back to the car barefoot is embarrassing.
*Straps are offered to keep two tubes together. It is recommended that no more than two be attached.
*A zip lock bag will not protect your smartphone from being damaged should you or it fall into the water. A waterproof phone case is well worth the less than $10 investment to keep your device safe.
*Children under twelve are required to wear a coast guard approved life vest at all times, adults are not required to. Both companies supply these for anyone wanting to use one.
Other things to do in Helen, GA
Helen also celebrates several other annual events including, Fasching which is the Barvarian version of Mardi Gras, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve. Check out their complete event calendar.
As you drive into Helen, you will drive by a field of cows with a gazebo perched on top of a grassy mound. It’s hard to miss! For years we wondered what that was. It is The Sautee Nacoochee Indian Mound & is part of a state park named Hardman Farm. The park covers 173 acres and includes the Indian burial mound, a dairy farm, and the historical mansion that was last owned by a former Georgia governor, for whom the park is named for. If you’ve ever wondered who Anna Ruby was, the namesake of a popular local waterfall, you’ll have the chance to see the place she called home as well. The park is open from March through December and admittance starts at $6. An event calendar and more can be found online for Hardman Farm.
Unicoi state park is just minutes from Helen and offers a varied selection of lodging options including cabins, campsites, and a lodge. There are so many activities offered at the park, you’d almost think you were at a resort! Almost any type of outdoor activity you might be interested in is offered including zip-lining, kayaking, mountain biking, archery, paddle boarding, fly fishing, hiking, and a GPS scavenger hunt. They also have Go Pro Hero Cameras for rent so you can capture your adventures to keep as a souvenir. Check the website for discounted adventure packages that include accommodations here.
Parking at the tubing companies is only allowed while you are tubing. If you venture into the heart of Helen and need to move your car, the best option is the city-owned lot on the corner of Chattahoochee and Edelweiss. The fee is just $2 for the entire day, and the revenue generated goes back into the development and maintenance of the parks. This is less than half the rate the privately-owned lots will charge.
Eating and sleeping in Helen, GA
There are a lot of dining options in Helen. They are also mostly priced as you would expect in a tourist destination. Unlike a lot of tourist destinations though, we’ve found the food at all the places we’ve been to consistently good. My family likes to pack a picnic lunch to eat before or after tubing and then enjoy dinner at one of the restaurants on the river. Riverside Park is located just up from the Cool River outpost. It has a playground, picnic shelter, and restrooms. It’s the perfect place to enjoy lunch and watch other tubers float down the river.
An exciting addition to the area is an Alpine Coaster that is scheduled to open this year. There really are so many things to explore here that you could keep coming back often, and still have new and exciting things to explore like waterfalls, vineyards & hiking trails.
The convenient distance of Helen from the upstate means a day of fun can be had without requiring an overnight stay. It’s also far enough away that you wouldn’t have to feel silly about staying the night. If you choose to spend the night in Helen, you’ll have plenty of options. There are several chain hotels, as well as locally owned hotels, cottages, and campsites.
What are you excited about doing on your trip to this picturesque town in the Georgia Mountains?