I find that the mention of Helen, Georgia invites one of two reactions — an eye roll or declaration of love. It’s a popular tourist town that reinvented itself when it began to decline by adopting a Bavarian alpine facade. City zoning requires all of the buildings to adopt this style, including national chains, so you can have your Huddle House fix and pretend you are in Germany at the same time. Since tourism is the big industry now, the shops have also become very touristy. Although I did come across a quilt shop I liked, for the most part, the downtown area doesn’t have much that appeals to me. Too
many t-shirt stores. But since my husband had never been there, we went to check it out and had lunch at a restaurant on the river. Helen is an exceptionally popular tubing spot. I realized as we sat there that it might be a little too popular for me. Early on, the tubers were pretty spread out, pushing themselves over shallow spots with sticks, but as the day progressed, the river transformed into a tube interstate reminiscent of Atlanta rush-hour traffic. So if you go, go early, or on a weekday.
Since we were in the area, we checked out a few nearby points of interest. Unicoi State Park is to the north, however, we didn’t have the time that day to explore it, nor had I researched the handicap accessibility. However, you can access Anna Ruby Falls via the park, even though it is a separately-operated piece of federal property (fees are separate and the state park pass will not get you access to the falls. However, you can access the falls without buying entrance to the park). The waterfall’s fee is $3 per person age 16 and up. Children are free.
We opted to check out this waterfall, of all the popular ones in the area, because it is handicap accessible. My four-year-old son has special needs, including epilepsy which has affected his motor coordination. He can walk, but longer distances require use of his adapted stroller. Anna Ruby Falls has a paved path. That being said, handicap accessible does not equal easy when pushing a heavy chair. The uphill portions will make you break a sweat–credit to my husband goes here. Not to mention, the day we were there turned out to be the hottest day in Georgia of 2016 thus far. The walk to the falls is only about a mile round trip. The viewing platforms require steps, but there is still a good view from the path and bridge.
Another spot to look for if you are passing by Helen to the south is the Nacoochee Indian Burial Mound at the junction of SR 75 and SR 17. Many artifacts and 75 human burials have been excavated here and the mound reconstructed. Sometimes referred to as the Romeo and Juliet Indian Mound, there is a legend that lovers of opposing tribes were buried there.
And finally, keep an eye out for the Stovall Mill Covered Bridge on SR 255. It’s the smallest covered bridge in Georgia and was built in 1895. It was used in the 1951 film Climb the Highest Mountain. Local lore says it’s haunted and that if you stand on it at night, you can hear crying babies and horse-drawn carriages. During the day, all I heard was the sound of locals cooling off in the water nearby.
Also randomly spotted along the drive: