Camping is supposed to be simple: lazing about quietly in nature, cooking over an open fire, and sleeping almost under the stars and almost on the ground. What stands in the way of the stress-melting fantasy for you? Is it the stress of travelling to a remote location after hours in the car? Is it the hassle of permits and backroads of the far-away park? Or is it the gear? Beginners never think they have the right things, but in Helen, there are plenty of campsites where less is better. Let’s talk about some tent camping necessities and places to cultivate your love for spending evenings in nature.
Essentials, Brief Notes
Bug spray: plan for mosquitoes, all the time
Sunscreen: a sunburn can ruin your good time
Extra shoes and socks: if you soak a pair of shoes, they may take a day to dry
Tent, waterproof: any tent will work, but make sure it is waterproof; not that you’ll be planning to camp in the rain, but showers and dew can soak you unexpectedly
Sleeping bag/pad: some may be fine with a bag, while others cannot sleep on hard ground
Reusable water bottles: the campsites we recommend have a water source, but pre-fill some extra bottles
Pillows: no special pillows required
First aid kit: you won’t be far from civilization, but emergencies can escalate instantly
Toilet paper/shovel: obviously, you should familiarize yourself with proper burial techniques if nature calls whilst you are on a nature trail.
Other toiletry essentials (soap, a towel, etc.): if you are staying only one night, forget the trouble of a real shower; for two-nighters, use your own threshold for dirtiness
Matches: for starting a cooking fire
Flashlight: for when the cooking fire goes out unexpectedly
Cooler/food: no game trapping at these camp sites, bring plenty of food to have square meals
Cast iron skillet/utensil: you can throw your skillet over hot coals you scrape out from the fire to cook just about anything
Bear canister for food: this is still wilderness, even if the parking lot is close
Trash bags: leave no trace; and keep reminding yourself to keep it clean
What can you not live without? There is no need to guilt-trip yourself about packing something critical to your sanity. Maybe you need a bluetooth speaker, hammock, laptop, gas stove, fishing gear. Take what you need, just don’t start stockpiling contingency items. Take pride in leaving things at home.
Where to Go to Get Your Camp On
Three miles from Helen is Unicoi State Park, nestled in a valley and wrapped around a 53-acre lake. Because the campsite has water spigots, a comfort station with showers and bathrooms, this is a perfect way to get acquainted with minimalist tent camping. You will find 10 walk-in sites at Hickory Hollow. The sites even have fire tables. Another reason Unicoi tops the list for easy campsites is the activities list: paddleboarding, fishing, ziplining, canoeing, hiking, biking, all at the park. Great for families, single campers, and easy access to charming downtown Helen (you can even walk a trail there!).
While Unicoi may feel like a bit of a camping community, Andrews Cove takes you more into the wilderness. Andrews Cove is just 15 minutes from Helen into the Chattahoochee National Forest. You can choose from 10 first-come, first-serve primitive campsites at the head of a two-mile trail. The Andrews Cove Trail is a quiet old logging route that runs along Andrews Creek. Being so close to the babbling water and never too far from a store is a great combination. The price for getting out a bit farther is always meager amenities: the campsites at Andrew’s Cove share one hand-pump water source and a set of chemical flush toilets. When you wake up to a quiet mountain hike and have breakfast over an open fire, amenities will be farthest from your mind.
Raven Cliff Falls
Some of the most dramatic waterfalls in North Georgia and free campsites along the trail? Yes, please! Raven Cliff Falls is a popular destination because of a triple-drop water fall of foamy white whoosh sound—and it’s only 6 miles from Helen. The trail is around five miles once you’ve gone in and come back out, but the elevation change is negligible (i.e. easy-to-moderate). There are also other Insta-worthy waterfalls along the way as you follow Dodd Creek.
While there are campsites very near the gravel lot, if you can hike in with your gear ¼ to ½ a mile, you will be rewarded with creekside spots with more privacy (do this). This is one of the best reasons for packing light: most awe-inspiring spots are a few paces away. Could you deal with a few misty mornings of hiking through rocky waterfalls underneath the Blue Ridge canopy?
Tent camping is a great way to strip away excess anxiety from modern life. The less you can take, the better. After these three destinations, you might want even more space to yourself, and with Helen as a base, you have plenty of options for wonderful wilderness.