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The Fresh Air is Never Far Away: Helen is Georgia’s Outdoor Escape

Being indoors can be necessary, even restorative from time to time, but we need open space to be our best selves. The Blue Ridge Mountains and a storybook town getaway, Helen, Georgia, beckons city dwellers and suburbanites when they need to be somewhere else physically. . . and mentally. You can get far away in just a day trip. Try a picnic, hike, and waterside activity to regain your equilibrium. Of course, you’ll want to stay current on news and local authority guidelines on what activities are possible when you are ready. Pack your food, your family, and your kayak if you have one.

Picnic in view of the Bavarian Village:

You are only a couple of hours from home, but seeing is believing. This might as well be a village in the German Alps circa 1830. Bring your cooler and lawn chair to a gently sloped hill in Unicoi Hill Park to start your day trip. What makes this cityscape unique is the attention to detail: The uniform dark brown roofs and beige walls of multi-gabled buildings with exposed wood beams and interspersed stone towers look totally unfamiliar to Georgia.

The Chattahoochee River is familiar in name to Georgians, but you’ve never seen it like this—narrow, rocky, and peaceful near its natural headwaters. After your picnic, take a two-minute stroll over to see the river over a bridge walkway on Main Street.

Waterfalls to Wash Away Stress

You are probably craving some nature sounds–something that will put you in a meditative state. Why not throw in some exercise to hedge your bets? How about a huge waterfall that makes two steep drops into a granite crevice?

Helen is roughly 5 miles from the Chattahoochee National Forest, home to Raven Cliff Falls. Raven Cliff is among the most popular falls (of more than 10!) in the Helen area because of a double-cascade and surrounding granite outcrop. Peaceful Dodd Creek suddenly falls 60 feet and then 20 more into a granite fissure. The view is dramatic, and the hard surfaces create an amplified sound wash of sound. The 4.9-mile round trip, in-and-out hike is moderate and features two other smaller falls along the way.

Duke’s Creek Falls is a similar distance from downtown but is nestled within Smithgall Woods. A two-mile trek takes you near the site of Georgia’s gold rush, where a lucky fellow stubbed his toe on some gold in 1828. A fast-moving trout stream follows you on the trail to the falls.

As you walk these trails, appreciate the birds chirping, the oak leaves crackling beneath your feet, and the changing sounds of the streams around you. You’ll feel currents of cool air waft from the water and feel your own connection to nature as you pivot around a sharp corner or grip a smooth rock. These ancient Blue Ridge Mountains are a connection to a primordial past.

Sunset Paddle

Unicoi State Park in Helen makes a great late-afternoon wind-down because of Smith Lake, the park’s centerpiece. Smith Lake is 44 acres and is surrounded by a walking trail and campgrounds, popular for unimpeded views of Blue Ridge Forest. On your way, pick up some coffee or food to-go. On the banks of the lake, you can fish and watch the sun disappear behind the mountains or you can take a lazy paddle. The park visitor center rents canoes, kayaks, and paddle boards, but you should definitely call ahead to make sure they are available.

You may have that feeling of a vacation slipping away as the sun goes down, but this wasn’t a once-a-year vacation you pinned all your hopes on. You can come back next weekend, or any time you need it. Helen’s wilderness will be here for you with minimal expense and hassle when you need it the most.

Start planning your trip by choosing your accommodations:


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