Many visitors come for the beautiful mountain setting, the quaint shops or the recreation provided by the Chattahoochee River and Unicoi State Park. Those things are certainly present in Helen and its surrounding White County, but there are so many more reasons to visit. The folk art in the region is impressive and ranges from pottery to soft sculpture and gourds. There are seven wineries in the county, and a thrilling mountain coaster ride opened recently. Step back in time or savor the present in this quaint North Georgia village.
1. Visit the Hardman Farm Historic Site
A guided tour of a mansion built in 1870, a stroll around a working farm, a glimpse of a Native American Indian mound and a hiking trail beside the Chattahoochee River are all possible during a visit to the Hardman Farm Historic Site. The state of Georgia acquired the property, took a number of years to restore and preserve it, and now opens it to the public for enjoyment and educational purposes. The site is open for tours every Thursday through Monday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. but is closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas and during the month of January.
The Indian mound has a very prominent gazebo on top, making it one of the most recognizable landmarks in north Georgia. The house features original lighting and a unique telephone and cooling system.
2. Watch the grinding process at Nora Mill Granary
When you’re still doing something that has been done since 1876 and you’re doing it in the same place, that’s a pretty good sign that you’ve got a great product. Nora Mill Granary is located on Main Street in Helen beside the Chattahoochee River. The stone ground grits and bags of cornmeal produced in this spot are used in many area restaurants, but the products are also shipped to great restaurants around the country. Shrimp and grits, which is a popular dish in the South, becomes a masterpiece when the grits from Nora Mill Granary are used. Be sure to stop by to watch the grinding process and buy some to take home. It is open 7 days a week until 5:00 p.m.
3. Learn about an art form at the Folk Pottery Museum of Northeast Georgia
The Folk Pottery Museum in Sautee, Georgia, within a few miles of Helen, does a masterful job of educating the public about the forms and the history involved in folk pottery. A large portion of the museum is devoted to the work of the Meaders family, which has been acknowledged and recognized by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. The stunning work done by area potters is also on display. The face jugs are particularly interesting.
Various pieces by current potters are for sale in the gift shop. The museum is open 6 days a week from 10:00 to 5:00 and on Sundays from 1:00 to 5:00.
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4. Experience the great outdoors at Nacoochee Adventures
For a true outdoor experience, head to Nacoochee Adventures. You can spend hours on an all-terrain vehicle or ziplining, but it is also possible to stay overnight for one or more nights camping in a treehouse, a wagon or other primitive structures on the property. These are not places with a list of luxury amenities. In fact, you’ll need a flashlight to get to the outhouse after dark. You will, however, have a true experience of sleeping in a dense forest setting with all the wildlife to be found in that setting. None of the campsites have electricity or running water. If you are a thrillseeker, you will be sure to enjoy the Giant Swing and the Challenge Course while you’re on the property.
Be sure to make advance reservations for campsites.
5. Tour and taste at the Yonah Mountain Vineyard and Winery
Yonah Mountain Vineyard and Winery is a spectacular setting for weddings or for tastings. The location is at the base of Yonah Mountain, and Yonah is a Native American word meaning “sleeping bear.” Owner Bob Miller is easy to spot when he’s on the grounds or in the stunning tasting room with his white, wavy hair and vibrant personality. If you’re very lucky, he’ll even play a piece on the piano while his son joins him on the drums.
Yonah Winery produces the only 100 USD bottle of wine in Georgia, and it is the first solar-powered winery in the southeastern part of the United States. In addition to wine, Yonah also manages 27 beehives and harvested their first crop of honey in the summer of 2019. Yonah hosts such area events as the Crusher Run during Memorial Day and Crush Fest the week before Labor Day. The event space will hold 1000 guests and has phenomenal equipment for lighting and sound.
There are 28 wineries in north Georgia, seven of which are in White County, the most of any other county in Georgia. Yonah Mountain Vineyard and Winery is a particularly beautiful one to visit. Consider scheduling a cave tour and tasting to get a complete experience.
6. Spend a night or day at Unicoi State Park and Lodge
Tucked into the Chattahoochee National Forest and wrapped around Lake Unicoi, Unicoi State Park is a perfect place to watch the seasons change, hike, fish, practice paddle-boarding, try your hand at archery or shooting, whiz through the woods on a zip-line or just simply relax. Or maybe you would prefer a kayaking lesson, a fly-fishing session, a day at the man made beach or eating s'mores by a campfire.
Unicoi is a beautiful venue for corporate meetings, family reunions or weddings with a variety of overnight accommodations. Guests may choose from rooms in the lodge, from cabins of all sizes or from an assortment of barrel cabins. The lodge restaurant conveniently serves breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, and the mountain trout is a very popular item on the menu. The Smith Creek Tavern is a great place for eating while you play pool or watch televised sports events.
7. Hike the trail to Anna Ruby Falls
If you enjoy a gentle hike rather than a grueling trek, the paved trail leading to Anna Ruby Falls will be the perfect solution. The reward when you reach the end is the sight of the spectacular dual falls, coupled with the thunderous sound of that powerful water. The trail, the falls and the visitor center are maintained by the forestry service of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest. Admission to the property is 3 USD and includes on-site parking.
Bring a picnic from home to enjoy on the grounds or grab some drinks and snacks in the gift shop. You might want to plan your visit for one of their monthly Full Moon Hikes with fireside story-telling.
8. See the beautiful facility and watch a birth at Babyland General Hospital, home of the Cabbage Patch Kids
It is clean enough to be a real hospital and beautiful enough to be worthy of decorating magazines. Babyland General Hospital, home of the trademarked Cabbage Patch Kids, is in a gleaming new facility that will be a delight for kids of all ages.
Soft sculpture in the hands of creator Xavier Roberts has brought to life an art form that has world-wide appeal. You will be gently corrected if you refer to his works as “dolls.” Instead, they are “little people,” and visitors can watch the process from birth in the cabbage patch to adoption in a matter of moments. The new facility includes a collection of vintage Cabbage Patch little people whose price tags can soar into the thousands, but the newer versions are parent and grandparent-friendly in the cost category. Naturally, the little people need an assortment of accessories, so there are many temptations if you choose to visit with your children or grandchildren.
Babyland General Hospital also has a gorgeous event venue space that can be converted into a magical setting for parties of all kinds.
Babyland General is actually in Cleveland, Georgia, a short drive from Helen, but still in White County. Hours of operation are Monday through Saturday from 9:00 to 5:00 and on Sunday from 10:00 to 5:00.
9. Shop at The Gourd Place
Priscilla Wilson and Janice Lymburner will amaze you with the art they have created from gourds of all shapes and sizes. They found something they loved and turned it into a successful business. Priscilla has written a book about their journey, and it’s entitled “Gourd Girls.”
You might find gourd art in other places, but you won’t find Gourd Impressions Pottery anywhere else. Priscilla invented the creation method and received a patent for it in 2006. The tableware sets created with this technique are surefire conversation starters, and you won’t want to leave without purchasing one or more pieces to take back home.
The Gourd Place, located on Duncan Bridge Road in Sautee, Georgia, is open daily from April 1 until December 23 but only by appointment from January through March.
10. Take a thrilling ride on the Georgia Mountain Coaster
Brand new to the list of activities and attractions in Helen is the Georgia Mountain Coaster, which began providing thrill rides for visitors the last weekend of May 2019. Like a rollercoaster, it climbs to steep heights then hurtles in downward spirals at terrifying speeds. Unlike a rollercoaster, each rider is on a coaster by himself and can control the speed, at least partially. After the first ride, when you are surprised by the jerks and twists, you’ll definitely want to try again. Go ahead. You’ll get a lot of excitement for just 15 USD.
This attraction is the only alpine coaster in the state of Georgia, and it runs seven days a week.
Helen is more than a place to celebrate Oktoberfest.
Some will say that the best time to visit Helen is during the annual Oktoberfest event. After all, the whole town has a Bavarian theme. Admittedly, it is a big deal and is the longest such event in the southeastern United States. Helen’s Oktoberfest starts the second weekend in September and continues on weekends until October 1. Then, it is an every day celebration until the end of the month. Those are also the months when the fall colors are likely to reach their peak.
However, Helen has become a year-round destination with most of the attractions mentioned above open whenever you choose to visit.
Keep in mind, too, that Helen becomes a magical place when it is decorated for Christmas.
Make your plans to visit this lovely village soon.
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