The Hiker’s Guide to Helen, Georgia

Make this quaint Bavarian mountain town your next basecamp.

Cold mountain streams, forested trails, and public land in every direction: Helen, Georgia, is, quite simply, a hiker’s paradise. Located less than two hours northeast of Atlanta, the town is nestled between three state parks in the North Georgia Mountains. Because its elevation is about 1,000 feet higher than Atlanta proper, it offers a cool respite for outdoor explorers during the summer months—and a perfect spot to catch some of the state’s first fall color in October. 

The Changing Face of Helen 

Helen’s cultural history is full of twists and turns. The land was first inhabited as early as 10,000 BCE by Indigenous peoples (you can still see evidence of ancient gravesites at the Sautee Nacoochee Mound just southeast of town). The valley was later occupied by the Cherokee, who were forcibly removed from their homeland in the 1800s. White settlers then moved in and founded the town of Helen. For a while, it was a mill town, but when the mills closed, the townspeople decided to lean into the landscape’s recreational appeal and remodeled all Helen’s buildings in a Bavarian style. Today, it’s one of Georgia’s most-visited cities and a major draw for hikers, campers, and anglers alike.

Getting There

From Kennesaw, use Interstate 75 (or the fastest route) to pick up state Route 400 (U.S. 19), and head north for about 65 miles before hanging a right onto GA-115. When you get to the town of Cleveland, pick up GA-75 going north. This will take you all the way to Helen. 

Helen’s Best Hikes 

Helen is surrounded by national forests, wildlife reserves, and state parks, which gives visitors a nearly limitless choice of trails. Here are five local favorites to narrow your search.

Anna Ruby Falls

The 1-mile round-trip hike to Ruby Falls is one of the most popular in the area. Still, it’s worth doing, especially if you’re visiting on a weekday when parking is easier to come by. Start at the Anna Ruby Falls picnic area and head 0.5 miles uphill through lush hardwood forest to catch a glimpse of the roaring twin cascades. 

Blood Mountain Loop

This 5.8-mile lollipop loop connects the Freeman and Appalachian trails with the Bryon Herbert Reece Trail. It winds past mountain laurel and rhododendron (blooming in June) to the wide-open summit of 4,446-foot Blood Mountain.

Yonah Mountain

This summit trek is short and steep—gaining over 1,200 feet in about a mile—but every step is worth the view. From the open, rocky bald on the top, you can see all across the foothills, and even as far as the Atlanta skyline on clear days.

Raven Cliff Falls

This 5-mile out-and-back traces the burbling Dodd Creek and passes two smaller waterfalls on the way to the mighty Raven Cliff Falls. Because the wilderness area is managed by the U.S. Forest Service, dispersed camping is allowed. (Be sure to camp on disturbed surfaces at least 200 feet from the creek.)

Helen Trail

This one starts right on Main Street. From Alana Falls (right next to the excellent Hofer’s of Helen Bakery), hike north up the Helen Trail, winding through the woods of Unicoi State Park. When you reach the shores of Unicoi Lake, stop to marvel—or take a dip in the swimming area—before retracing your steps back to town. 


Spring and summer is when blooming wildflowers and verdant foliage provide plenty of shade and scenery. But autumn has its charms, too: Helen starts ramping up its famous annual Oktoberfest celebrations in September, and fall color peaks in late October. 

Other Activities 

Helen may be a hiking hotspot, but there are plenty of other adventures to be had. 

Float the River

Heading there in the summer when it’s too hot to hike? The Chattahoochee River runs right through town. Here, so close to its headwaters, the current runs cool and clear, and innertube rentals and shuttles abound. Grab one for yourself, or launch a paddle-craft of your own to spend the afternoon going with the flow. 

Cast for Trout

To snag a quiet afternoon on the water, head north to the Chattahoochee Wildlife Management Area. Here, sections of the Chattahoochee River and Low Gap Creek are heavily stocked with rainbow, brown, and brook trout, some of which can be to 14 inches. (Check out Georgia DNR’s interactive map for updated stocking info.) 

Stay the Night

Grab a first-come, first-served tent site at the Forest Service-operated Low Gap Campground, which offers both amenities and a backcountry feel. Or, head to Unicoi State Park for your choice of tent camping, cabins, glamping, or resort accommodations. 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.