By Shelley Akins
Summer and road trips are like autumn and pumpkin spice, they just go together. There is something about the warm, balmy weather of summertime that makes the open road all the more enticing, tempting you to a new adventure with your weekend bag in tow. If you are looking to shake up your vacation plans this summer season, or just craving to experience somewhere new, look no further than Helen, Georgia. Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains along the Chattahoochee River, and a mere few hours driving distance from major cities like Atlanta and Birmingham, this Bavarian-inspired alpine town makes for the perfect southeastern road trip. Get in touch with nature by engaging in any one of Helen’s numerous outdoor activities or shop ‘til you drop in the charming town center—this versatile, but unassuming, town truly has it all. If you are not fully convinced, here are a few more reasons why Helen should be the next destination you cross off your summer bucket list:
The town center will transport you to a faraway land.
A little-known fact is that Helen is sister cities with Füssen, Bavaria, an ancient town in Germany, and the influence of its European sibling echoes throughout the town in big ways and small. You will feel as if you stepped inside a fairytale as you traipse down the cobblestone sidewalks amid the half-timbered buildings typical of Old-World Bavarian architecture. Visit Charlemagne’s Kingdom, a HO scale model railroad that depicts modern-day Germany and is a celebration of its trains, architecture and culture. If you have a sweet tooth, Hansel & Gretel Candy Kitchen is a must. At this homemade candy store, you can sample sweet treats while watching fudge being made on marble tables. After a busy day of sightseeing, rest your head at one of Helen’s German-inspired accommodations – even the Hampton Inn looks like it belongs in an alpine village.
Outdoor activities abound.
From ziplining to waterfalls, Helen will quench the thirst of anyone yearning for adventure. One of Helen’s most popular summertime activities is what locals call “shooting the hooch,” aka cold-water tubing. This activity is a refreshing escape from the Georgia heat and appropriate for swimmers young and old. Travel down Helen’s natural lazy river, the Chattahoochee, in an oversized innertube for a wet, but relaxing, adventure. For activities that will get your blood pumping, Helen offers several scenic hiking trails (like Dukes Creek Falls and Yonah Mountain Hiking Trail) or meet a furry friend by taking a horseback ride at Chattahoochee Stables.
Dining is a cultural experience.
If bratwurst and sauerkraut is your cup of tea, Helen has you covered. Try the spaetzle at Bodensee Restaurant or a fresh-baked pretzel at Hofer’s of Helen. A trip to Helen would not be complete, though, without trying the fried cheese at Muller’s Famous Fried Cheese Café. No matter where you decide to dine, top-notch German cuisine is a guarantee.
Vineyards, wineries and breweries.
Frolic amidst grapevines with a glass of rosé in hand or enjoy a platter of cheese curds with a craft beer—Helen is the place for any wine or beer lover. Choose a winery to spend the day, sampling wines while enjoying the scenery of the Blue Ridge Mountains or experience them all with Elite Excursions and Wine Tours, a bus tour that will take you to all the best wine attractions in the area. If hops and barley are what you crave, grab a brew and see where it’s made at one of the area’s breweries, like Tantrum Brewing Company or Alpine Brew Deck.
Shelley Akins is a recent graduate of the University of North Alabama with a focus on Journalism. Find out more about her here.