A stroll through Alpine Helen's downtown will prepare you for the strudel or beer that's sure to follow.
IF YOU WANT TO GET THE MOST out of your visit to Helen in Northeast Georgia, the best advice is to keep an open mind and open schedule. With its stunning mountain vistas, eclectic local eateries and diverse shops and museums, this replica Alpine village is full of adventures just waiting to be discovered.
Most visitors start their visit with a stroll through the downtown business district, which was built to resemble a picturesque Bavarian village. Walking along North Main Street is like stepping inside the pages of Hansel and Gretel. From the larger-than-life windmill in front of the Heidi Motel to the architecture reminiscent of a gingerbread house, everything has an Alpine theme.
Helen is known for its month-long Oktoberfest (this year’s celebration will take place Sept. 20–Oct. 28), but if German food and beer are your passion, you can get your fill here 365 days a year at eateries like Hofer’s of Helen—an authentic bakery and cafe where waitresses dressed in traditional Bavarian outfits serve everything from strudel to spatzle. There’s also the Old Heidelberg restaurant, which is famous for both its authentic German food and a pub with nearly four dozen international beers on the menu.
If you’re looking for more of a hands-on adventure, pay a visit to Dukes Creek Gold and Ruby Mines on Helen Highway. Owner Del Jackson says gold panning has been a part of north Georgia culture since the 1820s, when discoveries of the precious metal touched off a gold rush 20 years before the one in California.
Modern visitors to the mine can get a taste of the prospecting experience by purchasing buckets of sand taken from the mine and panning through them in search of nuggets. “You’re guaranteed to find something in every bucket,” Jackson promises, and the mine’s experts are always on hand to help you refine your technique and appraise your finds.
Hot-air balloons will grace the skies over Helen in late spring during the 2012 Atlantic Balloon Race and Festival.
Not far away, at Smithgall Woods State Park, nature lovers will strike it rich with luxurious cabins, miles of hiking and biking trails, and some of the best catch-and-release trout fishing in the country, says General Manager John Erbele. Trout Unlimited named Dukes Creek, which runs through the park, as one of the top 100 U.S. streams for anglers, and “we’ve got about 51⁄2 miles of frontage.”
Need another reason to visit Helen this spring? The 2012 Atlantic Balloon Race and Festival runs from May 31 to June 2, and the skies over the Alpine village will be filled with colorful balloons, some offering tethered rides 75 feet in the air and others offering romantic “champagne flights” over the Blue Ridge Mountains—proof positive that whatever your pleasure, you’re likely to find it (or its German cousin) in Helen.