I am a Christian. I was an 8th-grade American History teacher. I am currently a freelance writer, public speaker, & homeschooling mom of 9.
Going to Helen, Georgia, makes for a wonderful day trip from Atlanta or a refreshing trip from anywhere else—especially in the fall when the leaves are changing. There are so many great options, though, that it can be hard to decide what to do if you'll only be in town for a day. Where are the best places to visit when you're short on time?
Below, you'll find our schedule for our one-day trip along with all the helpful tips we discovered along the way. This post is focused on traveling with children and on a budget.
Helton Creek Falls
- Trail Length: 0.6 miles round-trip
- Difficulty Level: Easy. My 3-year-old walked the entire way without help.
- What's There: You can see the two waterfalls from the parking area. They're beautiful and so easy to get to! As an added bonus, there's a mature kiwi tree along the trail. This would also be a great place to let kids splash around in the water when the weather is warm.
- Cost: Free
- Tips: 1) Get there early; the parking is very limited. 2) Also, do not try to enter through Hatchet Creek Road off route 348 unless you have an off-road vehicle. We thankfully entered by Gainesville Highway (US 19), which is the way most people should take. We tried to exit the other direction, almost got stuck when we reached the part that you have to cross a creek, and turned back around.
- Want to Add Another Location? You'll pass Vogel State Park on the way to Raven Cliff Falls. Vogel State Park has a man-made waterfall and a paved walking path around a lake.
Raven Cliff Falls
- Trail Length: 5 miles round-trip
- Difficulty Level: Moderate. My 3-year-old walked about 1/3 of the way. My 5-year-old was able to walk the entire way. We did skip the very end of the trail (about 1/8 of a mile) to get to the last waterfall as the trail was a bit too difficult for our youngest ones.
- What's There: This is a beautiful hike as the trail follows Dodd Creek the entire time with plenty of places that are perfect for the kids to splash around in the water or skip rocks across the creek. The waterfalls aren't as picturesque as you'll find in other areas, but the unique aspect to this trail is the waterfall at the end (which requires a bit more skill in hiking) as the water flows between a split in boulders.
- Cost: $5 parking fee (honor system box, so bring cash)
- Tips: 1) You might not have internet access. We lost our cell phone service on the drive here and didn't get it back until we were almost to Helen, GA. You might want to bring a paper map just in case. 2) You should also plan to get there early. This is a popular trail that gets crowded starting around noon.
- Want to Add Another Location? This is right next to Dukes Creek Falls, which is a 1.9-mile round-trip hike out to a beautiful waterfall. This was one of the first places where gold was discovered in Georgia, so you can keep your kids occupied looking for shiny rocks.
Anna Ruby Falls
- Trail Length: 0.9 miles round-trip
- Difficulty Level: Easy. This is more challenging than the Helton Creek Falls Trail as it's a steep incline the entire way to the falls. My 3-year-old was tired at this point and only walked half the way. My 5-year-old walked the entire way.
- What's There: The entire path is paved. You'll pass a creek and eventually get to 2 platforms where you can admire the beautiful 150-foot and 50-foot waterfalls. They eventually join the Chattahoochee River.
- Cost: $3/person fee for ages 16 and older
- Tip: I wouldn't recommend taking a stroller. They say the path is stroller-friendly because it's paved. I think the incline is too steep, which would make the walk up incredibly difficult and the sprint down incredibly dangerous.
- Want to Add Another Location? You'll be driving through Unicoi State Park to get here. The park has trails and a lake for fishing. (Note that you don't have to pay the Unicoi park fee if you're driving through just to see Anna Ruby Falls.)
As soon as you pull into Helen, you'll see Charlemagne's Kingdom, which is next door to the inn/motel with a windmill.
- What's There: A Bavarian-inspired village built for model trains.
- Cost: Currently free (donations are accepted) because most of the trains aren't running. We personally wouldn't pay their full price for this, but we did enjoy seeing it for free. (We did give them a donation.)
- Tip: Ask about the scavenger hunt paper. It will help you notice some of the fun additions, like a UFO crash site and a dragon.
You'll of course want to drive through Helen itself to see the Alpine-inspired Bavarian architecture. The shops are very touristy, so we didn't stop at any. The town is beautifully decorated around Christmas time.
There is a nice playground if your children need a fun break. And if you get hungry, the town does have a Wendy's.
Other Things to Do in or Near Helen
If you're looking for a few more things to do in and around Helen, here are some fun ideas.
- Brasstown Bald: This was on our original itinerary. We had enough time to hike it, but my younger ones were satisfied with the amount of hiking we'd already done. If all my children were a little older, we would have hiked up Brasstown Bald, which is the highest mountain in Georgia.
- Hardman Farm Trail: This is a 2-mile round-trip, stroller-friendly, paved trail along Chattahoochee River starting at Hardman Farm State Historic Site. I didn't find out about it until after our trip. The next time we go to Helen, I'm adding in this trail.
- Smithgall Woods Conservation Area: Located near Dukes Creek Falls, this area includes trails to covered bridges, waterfalls, overlooks, and a Discovery Room with exhibits. If we had more time, we would have stopped here.
A Few Sites Not Worth Visiting:
We also went by the Romeo and Juliet Indian Mound Tragedy Site, Stovall Mill Covered Bridge, and Old Sautee Store. None of us felt like they were worth visiting.
- What's There: Babyland General is a toy store focused mainly on Cabbage Patch dolls, and it includes a small museum of some of the original Cabbage Patch dolls. They even show the dolls being "born." My 3-year-old loved it and my younger children (10 and under) enjoyed it as well. It's a quick stop.
- Cost: Free
- Who Should Go: Only go to this if you have someone in your group who likes dolls. Otherwise, skip it.
Mountain Fresh Dairy
- What's There: Mountain Fresh Dairy has a farm store that includes a window that lets you watch them bottle milk. (They also offer tours of the farm, but we didn't do that.) Outside the store is a silo where they sell ice cream. Yes, the ice cream tastes different from what you'd buy at a store. My kids described it as "sweeter." I thought it tasted like fresh cream.
- Cost: $3/small cone (prices increase from there)
What to Do the Next Day?
We stayed overnight in Atlanta and then returned to Florida, making lots of stops along the way.
- Stone Mountain: If you've never been to Stone Mountain, you should absolutely make a stop. We've been lots of times, so we didn't go this time.
- *Arabia Mountain: Since we've been to Stone Mountain many times, we hiked Arabia Mountain. It's like Stone Mountain but is much easier and has barely anyone there. My 3-year-old walked most of the way on her own. Cost: free
- The Monastery of the Holy Spirit: Near Arabia Mountain, the Abbey Church was built by hand by the monks. It also includes a heritage center and bonsai greenhouse. The grounds are usually open to the public. (We didn't get to visit because it was closed to the public for COVID, but we'd been planning on stopping by.) Cost: free
- *Noah's Ark in Locust Grove: This is a wild-animal rescue facility that is like a zoo with bears, tigers, monkeys, lions, etc. They also have farm animals. Cost: Free (Donations are accepted.)
- Dauset Trails Nature Center: Located in Jackson, this is a working historical farm and education center. They have a wide variety of animals you can see. Cost: Free (Donations are accepted.)
- *Robins Air Force Base Museum of Aviation: Located in Macon, well off I-75, this stop is worth the drive if you like to see military planes. It includes four hangers filled with aircraft (planes, helicopters, drones, missiles, etc.) and also has additional planes outdoors. They claim to be the second largest air force museum in the US. Cost: Free (Donations are accepted.)
*The above places with asterisks are the places we actually went. The other options are places we would have stopped by if we'd been able to.
- Washington, D.C.: Find out our full 5 day itinerary and tips on food, parking, and more at Washington, D.C. on a Budget with Kids. I also included our favorite children's books, guide books, and YouTube videos we used while preparing for our trip.
- Grand Canyon: Find my "I wish I had known ahead of time..." tips, full itinerary, & more at my page Grand Canyon on a Budget with Kids. I've included our schedule for our trip and all the helpful tips I found out ahead of time or learned afterward! Also included are our favorite children's books, guide books, and YouTube videos we used while preparing for our trip.
- North Florida: To find our favorite fun, free (or inexpensive) activities and events in Jacksonville, Tallahassee, & Gainesville, go to my post Family Fun & Activities for Kids in North Florida. I included my favorite links to find out about local events and our favorite spots to visit and to take visitors from out of town.
© 2020 Shannon
Shannon (author) from Florida on November 29, 2020:
Thank you for the kind comment, Linda! I definitely think Helen is worth visiting at least once; however; I'm not quite sure its beauty would be comparable to the gorgeous landscapes you have in Canada!
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on November 29, 2020:
I've never been to Georgia. Helen and its surroundings looks like an interesting area to explore. You've shown some lovely scenes in your photos.
Shannon (author) from Florida on November 28, 2020:
Thank you for your kind comment, Liz!
Liz Westwood from UK on November 27, 2020:
This is an excellent article, which includes a lot of helpful information for anyone planning a trip.