Settled snugly on a mountain ridge above the alpine village of Helen, Ga., is one of Georgia State Park and Historic Sites’ hidden treasures — the secluded getaway of Unicoi Lodge and State Park.
The nearly 1,100-acre park includes more than seven miles of hiking trails and eight miles of biking trails. A 53-acre lake offers summertime swimming and year-round fishing and boating.
The 100-room lodge and conference center includes a buffet restaurant and special-occasion activities like wood crafting and bluegrass concerts. Mountain trout are served every night as part of the buffet. There are 30 cottages, 82 RV campsites and 33 walk-in tent campsites. There also are 16 “squirrel nest” camping shelters, a beach house/group shelter and seven picnic shelters.
According to Kim Hatcher, Georgia state parks public-affairs coordinator, Unicoi was slated to close Dec. 31 for a year of renovations. Those plans recently have changed, however.
“The (Department of Natural Resources) has contracted with Coral Hospitality (hotel management company) to operate the lodges at Unicoi and Amicalola Falls state parks,” she said. “It was determined that it was better to renovate Unicoi’s lodge in phases without closing it, beginning next year.”
She explained that Unicoi’s multi-building layout will make it easy to do this with minimal impact on lodge guests.
“Amicalola Falls’ lodge will also be renovated next year,” said Hatcher, referencing the lodge and state park located near the mountain town of Dahlonega.
The nearby community also offers visitors a variety of activities and entertainment.
During October, the village of Helen celebrates Oktoberfest. Every building in town, from restaurants and inns to gas stations and miniature golf courses, are designed to recreate the look and atmosphere of a village in the Alps.
The Chattahoochee River runs through the heart of the town, where cars move along at a pedestrian pace in October. During the summer months, tubing is a popular activity, along with July 4 fireworks and Bravarian Nights of Summer. Other celebrations are expected for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
During November and December, Helen’s alpine image is amplified with snow on the ground and colorful lights on the trees and cottages.
Most of the year, seasoned hikers can take on the rigorous trek up to beautiful Anna Ruby Falls between Helen and Unicoi. Families with little girls can visit nearby Cleveland with its special hospital famous for delivering Cabbage Patch Dolls.
The nearby community of Sautee-Nachooche offers its own peak into the past. The 140-year-old Old Sautee General Store has been described as a combination of a Scandinavian specialty shop and country store. Recently, it was featured on Georgia Public Television’s “Georgia Traveler.”
Just outside the town of Helen, at the intersection of highways 17 and 75, visitors can’t help but notice a Nacoochee Indian mound with a small gazebo on top of it. Legend has it the mound marks the burial site of Sautee, a Chickasaw brave, and Nacoochee, the daughter of a Cherokee chief. Their star-crossed love story is reminiscent of William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”