BY VICTORIA HENLEY
Let’s face it: 2020 was chaotic, to say the least.
It left many of us in desperate need of a relaxing vacation.
While, for many, the word “vacation” connotes the image of lounging poolside at the beach, there are many wonderful and unconventional vacation destinations just waiting to be discovered.
Should you be searching for a unique locale for your next trip, look no further than Helen and Dahlonega, Ga., nestled in the breathtaking Northeast Georgia Mountains.
Helen, known internationally for its Bavarian-style buildings and vineyards, is also widely regarded as the home of Anna Ruby and Raven Cliff Waterfalls. Dahlonega, the site of the nation’s first major gold rush in 1829, is acclaimed for being the home of many famous hiking trails and waterfalls, including the towering Amicalola Falls, which at 729 feet tall-is the highest waterfall in the southeastern United States.
What should you do on your vacation bucket list? I pulled together my very own “North Georgia Must Sees” list that you and your family are sure to enjoy.
CHARLEMAGNE’S KINGDOM , a 50-foot exhibit that illustrates the architectural beauty and majestic terrain of over 700 miles of Germany, was reopened under new management in 2017, after the initial creation of the attraction by its original owners, Willi and Judi Lindhorst. An engaging and educational attraction for all ages, Charlemagne’s Kingdom takes visitors on a journey from “The North Sea to the Alps,” as the famous hot air balloon replicas glide over the vast terrain. Flags representing various European nations are featured on each side of stairs leading up to the scenic overlook, offering a panoramic view of the attraction. Created and curated to pay homage to Willi’s homeland, its people, architecture, industry, customs and culture, the newest owners of the downtown Helen, Georgia landmark have held true to the original artist’s creative vision, while expanding their entrepreneurial talents to other local tourist attractions, including the adjacent Heidi Motel, The Gold Outpost and Alpine Slot Cars (featured below.)
charlemagneskingdom.com, (706)878-4004. 8808 N. Main St. Helen, Ga.
THE GEORGIA MOUNTAIN COASTER, a fast-paced Alpine roller coaster, takes riders slowly up the mountain, overlooking the quaint and charming downtown Bavarian-themed Helen, Ga. Excitement builds as you gradually climb up a mountain, and signs are posted to remind riders they can push brakes forward to go “Full Throttle” at over 28 miles per hour on a thrilling, winding ride back down the mountain.
Owned and operated by the same company as beloved local staple, Cool River Tubing, this relatively new attraction is already making a name for itself with over 100,000 satisfied customers to date and a near 5 star rating on TripAdvisor.
georgiamountaincoaster.com, (706)878-1347; 84095 Main St., Helen, Ga.
ALPINE SPEEDWAY: SLOT CAR RACING is the largest 1/32 slot car road course in the USA, featuring a variety of race-able slot cars on tracks that accommodates a variety of racers, in a high energy, competitive atmosphere. Alpine Speedway, previously named Slingshot Speedway at the Sugar Loaf Mills Mall in Gwinnett, Ga. has been redesigned to accommodate much larger crowds. It offers a complete line of cars and parts from top industry vendors. Spectating is always free, and be sure to call and ask about rentals for large group events or parties as well as weekend racing/competition opportunities.
alpinespeedway.com, (706)878-0111, 8016 S. Main St., Helen, Ga.
ALPINE GOLF, a quirky, fun, and eclectic Bavarian-themed golf course in the heart of downtown Helen, is one of the first miniature golf courses in the vicinity and continues to be favored over the newer competition due to its friendly staff, scenic year round indoor Christmas village, challenging and well-maintained courses, and not to mention the ice cream and sweet treats shop just next door. Guests can enjoy breaks at the numerous relaxation grottos and gazebos throughout the course (a natural stream also flows through the course) and Alpine Golf features a social media -worthy experience with scenic German-themed decor peppered throughout the gamut of 18 holes. If you play your cards right, you just might get a visit from the resident mascot cat, Midnight!
helenminigolf.com, (706)878-3328; 7914 S. Main St., Helen, Ga. 30545
NACOOCHEE ADVENTURES is an outdoor adventure company, specializing in zip lines, ATVs, aerial adventure parks and overnight tree house camping. The zipline experience, extremely relaxed, and a great activity for the entire family, begins with a winding, steep uphill road leading to the first of many zip lines on the sprawling course, which takes about 1.5 hours total to complete. Jovial and personable guides lead as you “zip” above treetops and lakes, encouraging guests to have fun with backward jumps, flips and tricks and more shenanigans throughout. The course ends with a half mile run, and is a perfect introduction to the world of ziplining for first timers and is a fun filled, laid back experience for seasoned aficionados. The adventure park is open seven days a week, rain or shine, and offers many other exciting attractions near the property including the Habersham Winery, an antique shop and overnight lodging opportunities. (Reservations are highly recommended)
nacoocheeadventures.com, (706)878-9477, 7019 S. Main St., Helen, Ga.
HABERSHAM WINERY has been producing award-winning wines since 1983 and is one of the oldest and largest wineries right outside of Helen, Ga. Guests can purchase wine by the glass to enjoy on the patio seating area, overlooking a beautiful water view, by the bottle to take home, or perhaps in its most popular form: a tasting, led by a friendly and knowledgeable staff bartender. Guests are treated to five generous samples of the plethora of dry and sweet selections on the winery’s legendary menu, including some of my personal favorites, “The Scarlett” (a best seller!), Signet, Bubbly Blush (a unique alternative to champagne or Prosecco, featuring Chambourcin grapes and Peach Treat, which provides the experience and aroma of biting into a fresh, juicy peach. Habersham winery also features the delicious and full vinifera grapes, the first grapes grown in the area since Prohibition. Wine slushees are also available for purchase by the glass for those hot summer days.
habershamwinery.com, (706) 878-9463, 7025 South Main St., Helen, Ga.
UNICOI ZIPLINE, brought to you by American Adventure Park Systems, the industry leader in zipline equipment, construction and retrofits, offers a physically intensive and strenuous 3 level zipline course (levels may be booked separately or altogether), beginning with quick and fun “zips” around the grounds of the landmark Unicoi Lodge, and ending with an over 2,300-foot ride called, “Screaming Eagle” across a sprawling lake. This course, as educational and challenging as it is exciting, is a great way to learn more about safety and technique pertaining to zipline. Know before you go: All three levels of this course can take up to three hours (or longer, depending on pace of riders and other factors) and requires climbing and upper body strength. A 45 minute tutorial, led by the guides is required by all guests prior to experiencing the course. Each tour includes complimentary snapshots taken by the tour guides; reservations are recommended but not required.
UnicoiZiplone.com, (706)878-4740, 1788 GA-356, Helen, Ga 30545
THE CONSOLIDATED GOLD MINE Is the largest rock gold mine east of the Mississippi, where guests can head 200 feet underground to step back in time over 100 years to experience life as a gold miner might have during the mine’s operation in the 1890’s. Miner D, for Backstage Pass, gave me an exclusive inside look at state of the art equipment utilized during that time period and the looming perils mine workers faced in their daily work lives. A fascinating and educational experience for children and adults alike, guests are also given the opportunity to pan for gold after their mine tour and can add on an opportunity to pan for gemstones as well, if they choose. Guests are given the opportunity to present the treasures they discover to the skilled and experienced lapidaries in the gift shop, who can bring guest’s stones to life in the form of customized pendants, earrings, bracelets, rings and more . (At the time of this article, Consolidated Gold Mine was rated number one for things to do in Dahlonega on TripAdvisor.)
consolidatedgoldmine.com, (706)864-8473, 185 Consolidated Gold Mine Rd. Dahlonega, Ga.
DAHLONEGA GOLD MUSEUM is housed in one of Georgia’s oldest standing courthouse buildings. The building was restored by the state of Georgia as an official historic site and holds the honor of being one of the most visited historic sites in the state. A 23 minute film, which describes mining techniques, the effects of the gold rush on the city, and features interviews with families of prominent miners and prospectors of the time, kicks off the tour, then guests can make their way to various mining equipment and gemstones exhibits throughout the museum. Housed in a stunning venue, which is an experience in itself and featuring exciting and comprehensive information about the past, present, and future of arguably the area’s most precious resource – gold– the Gold Museum is a “Don’t Miss” attraction.
gastateparks.org, (706)864-2257, 1 Public Square North, Dahlonega, Ga.
Victoria Henley is the host of Backstage Pass on the FCB Radio Network and IHeart Radio. She also is a former contestant of “America’s Next Top Model.”