As a child growing up in the Atlanta suburbs, our family loved going to the North Georgia mountains every fall to see the vibrant fall colors and tour the small mountain communities. One of my favorites has always been Helen, Ga. Reinvented as an Alpine village in 1969, Helen now ranks as one of the state’s most visited cities. Recently, I had the opportunity to return with my family and see Helen through the eyes of my children. Here’s what we enjoyed most:
Anna Ruby Falls
Given the location, there are lots of great outdoor activities, and one of the best is going to see Anna Ruby Falls. To see the falls, visitors take a peaceful, enjoyable walk where you can take in nature. There also are some informative signs along the way that feature tidbits on the trees, plants and ecology of the area. Once you reach the top of the path, there are two observation decks where you can see the falls. From the parking lot, it’s a .4-mile walk up a paved path to the falls, which sounds short and easy but it can be quite steep in places. The path is wheelchair and stroller accessible, provided they can make it up the steep hills. However, decks up top are not wheelchair or stroller accessible, although you can view the falls without being on the decks. To get to Anna Ruby Falls, visitors should enter through Unicoi State Park and follow the signs to the falls in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest. If exploring Unicoi State Park, expect to pay a fee of $5 per car. If you also continue on to the falls, expect to pay $3 per person age 16 and older to enter the national forest area. However, if you forego the state park and just go to the falls, you won’t be charged the $5 fee.
Cool River Tubing Company
Every year, my husband’s family has a reunion where we float down a private creek, an activity the entire family loves. Therefore, it was no surprise that we all looked forward to floating down the Chattahoochee River through downtown Helen. It’s an easy, relaxing float, with some “rapids” but nothing too quick. In fact, throughout the entire float, the river was quite shallow so we never worried about it being too deep. Of
course, the water level does fluctuate, but I’ve never seen it very deep. At Cool River Tubing Company, it costs just $5 per person for either the short (about one hour) or long trip (about two hours). Life jackets are
provided (required) for kids 13 and younger. The outfitter also provides straps to connect tubes so you don’t have to worry about your party getting separated. My husband and I loved this because we didn’t have to
worry about our kids drifting aw ay from us. If you choose, the center also sells “push” sticks for $5 for those moments when you get stuck. Although we got stuck a few times, we had no problems working loose
and floating on without the aid of a stick.
Downtown Helen offers many shops offering everything from carved candles and Oktoberfest hats to homemade candy and Christmas ornaments – and so much more. It’s a lot of fun poking in and out of
each one, seeing what it has to offer. One of my favorite childhood memories was visiting the candle shop and watching a candle come to life as it was dipped in colored wax and carved into a design. I couldn’t wait to share this experience with my own children, and I was thrilled when they enjoyed it as much as I did. Our other favorite stop? The candy shops. We stocked up on quite a bit of homemade fudge at Brookstown Fudge. We also brought home plenty of homemade candy from the Hansel and Gretel Candy Kitchen.
We visited two other attractions in and around Helen, each one perfectly suited to my kids. The first, Charlemagne’s Kingdom, is a really cool Alpine model railroad museum. Essentially, it features HO scale German model railroads crisscrossing a 50-foot exhibit designed to resemble the landscape and architecture of Germany. It was fun picking out the different vignettes, such as the horseracing track, the burning house and
the local fair. My favorite was the hot-air balloons that float over the scene. My son could have stayed there all day.
Just down the road from Helen in Cleveland, Ga., we visited Babyland General, the birthplace of Cabbage Patch Kids. I had been here many years ago and always enjoyed watching Mother Cabbage give birth beneath the Magic Crystal Tree. It was especially fun listening to the young children in the crowd name the newest baby. On this visit, my kids loved watching as a new baby was born, and my daughter was especially thrilled to provide the first name for the baby girl: Sara. It was yet one more memory my children and I now share from our respective childhoods.
Obviously, I have a soft spot in my heart for Helen. I hope this trip is the start of a family tradition for my kids, too, one that they will treasure as much as I have.
Disclosure: Karon and her family visited Helen as a guest of the Alpine Helen/White County Convention & Visitors Bureau.