Located in the Northeastern part of Georgia is the small Bavarian town of Helen which only has 500 annual residents but is surprisingly the 3rd most visited city in Georgia! From Atlanta, the drive to Helen is roughly 2 hours or 93 miles.
In 2022 my fiance and I took a last-minute road trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains to evacuate from a hurricane that was on track to hit St Petersburg directly (thankfully it didn’t).
Before we left the area we realized it was Oktoberfest in Helen and we couldn’t pass up our opportunity to experience one of the best Oktoberfest’s in the United States! It was so fun and we made lots of awesome memories!
In this guide, you’ll find out how to experience Helen Oktoberfest including where to park, where to stay, what things to do during the festival, and other fun activities in the area if you have more than a day in Helen!
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History of German Influence in Helen Georgia
You might be wondering, was Helen always a German town? No, in fact, the Cherokee people were the first group that lived here until the early 1800s. In 1828, gold was discovered just 5 miles away in Duke’s Creek which brought lots of settlers who were looking to strike it rich.
This didn’t last long and soon Helen was nothing more than a logging town up until the mid-90s. At this point, the demand for lumber was dying (plastic products were on the rise) and the town was in trouble but in 1968 a plan from a few local businessmen to rebrand the town into a Bavarian district was the game changer Helen needed!
It worked because the eye-catching storefronts caught the attention of travelers passing through to get to the mountains and they ended up stopping! In just a few years the tourism here was soaring and more and more changes were being made to resemble an authentic German town.
The first Helen Oktoberfest took place in 1973 and has continued every year since!
About Helen Oktoberfest 2023
Where to Stay in Helen for Oktoberfest
Because Helen sees 2 million visitors during the course of Oktoberfest it is super important to book your accommodations as far in advance as you can. If you wait too long your options will be limited and you’ll also be paying a much higher than normal rate.
Riverbend Motel & Cabins (budget)
For a reasonable price (starting at $89 USD) you can stay right along the Chattahoochee River at Riverbend Motel & Cabins. Even though the property is an older motel with character it has had some updates to bring it back into this century. There are swings and picnic tables for you to enjoy down by the river and it is easy to walk into town.
Heidi Motel – Helen (moderate budget)
The Heidi Motel will be your best option for a reasonable price, has good reviews, and is located within walking distance of everything in town. The spacious renovated rooms have a cable TV, a small refrigerator, and a microwave – some even have a fireplace. Free parking is included in the nightly rate which is an average of $162 USD.
Holiday Inn Express & Suites Helen (high budget)
One of the nicest stays right in town is Holiday Inn Express. This classic trusted chain will be unlikely to disappoint! The location is great and the rooms are spacious. A daily hot continental breakfast is included and there is an on-site gym.
Things to do at Helen Oktoberfest 2023
Enjoy a beer and pretzel from International Cafe on the Chattahoochee River
There’s no better way to celebrate Oktoberfest than by sipping a cold beer next to a great view and I’m confident that Cafe International has the prettiest deck view of the Chattahoochee!
All of the servers are dressed in dirndls or lederhosen which makes the experience all the more authentic. My fiance and I aren’t big beer enthusiasts but our server helped us decide on one that we really enjoyed!
We couldn’t resist ordering the Bavarian Pretzel with beer cheese and it was excellent!
If you want a souvenir you can also buy an Oktoberfest collector’s mug to take home with you.
Have a Bavarian-style meal
What would a visit to a Bavarian town be without eating some German food? The authentic restaurant choices felt a bit overwhelming but we decided on The Heidelburg because it has reasonable prices and looked to be popular and we were both happy with our choice!
We sat in the loft space on the 3rd floor which ended up working out for us because there was live music going on that evening. I ordered a Wurstsampler that came with 3 different types of sausages, sauerkraut, and German potatoes.
The wait for a table can tend to be long so to avoid waiting plan to eat after the lunch crowd leaves or for early dinner.
Check out the local shops
Stroll along Main Street and enjoy window shopping or popping in and out of the different shops. From gift shops and clothing stores to wine-tasting and gourmet cheese shops there is something for everyone!
Make sure to explore the different back alleyways for hidden gems!
I found my Helen Oktoberfest collector’s pin inside Helen’s Best! Let me know in the comments if they have the same design available in 2023!
Listen to live music at the outdoor auditorium
Near the strip of shops, there is an outdoor auditorium and pretty frequently throughout the day, there will be live music going on here! We listened to a man playing the saxophone and he was so talented!
Celebrate in the Helen Festhalle
When I was googling Helen Oktoberfest before deciding to visit I was under the impression based on other websites that there was a $10 USD admission fee to enter the festival. This isn’t true as visiting the town of Helen is always free and this cost is specifically for the Helen Festhalle which is where the town’s event hall throws an official Helen Oktoberfest celebration.
Admission to enter is $10 USD on Fridays and Saturdays and Sunday is free. The reason why you might want to pay to enter this event is because there is scheduled live music, dance performances, yodeling, and an energetic atmosphere.
For us personally, we didn’t feel like the $10 USD was worth it to then have to pay for drinks and food that according to the reviews didn’t seem as high quality as the actual restaurants downtown.
However, if you want to experience as much of the German culture as possible then why not check it out?
Other Things to do in Helen, Georgia
Helen and the surrounding areas have quite a few other attractions that you can explore if you’re spending more than just a day here. The activities listed below aren’t related to Oktoberfest but are definitely worth checking out!
- Uhuburg (Eagle Owl Castle) – This wasn’t built yet when we visited but in 2023 you can explore this pure white castle that looks like it came out of the page of a fairytale novel. You can join a guided tour with the owner to learn about the architecture and gardens or stroll the grounds on your own before heading up to the 8th floor of the tower for a beautiful view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Tickets are a bit pricey at $35 USD per person and the details are still a work in progress.
- Unicoi Hill Park – A city park right in downtown Helen. In front of the entrance, there is a small man-made waterfall called Alana Falls. It’s a nice place to walk off some of your food on the short loop path and you can take some pictures of the cute covered bridge. There’s also a playground for the kids.
- Take a picture with Willie The Wildewood Bear – Whether you’re visiting during Helen Oktoberfest or not a quirky thing to do is find Willie the bear and cement your visit by getting a picture of or with him!
- Go tubing – One of the most popular things to do in Helen during the summertime is to float down the Chattahoochee River! There are two companies that do this, Cool River Tubing and Helen Tubing. It is an affordable activity for just $14 USD on a weekday or $18 USD on the weekend.
- Georgia Mountain Coaster – Looking for a quick thrill? The Georgia Mountain Coaster is a fun family-friendly activity where you get to control the speed of your own cart. One ride costs $17 USD for adults or $14 USD for children and while it is a short ride you will get 50% off of your second ride that day.
- Visit local wineries – There are lots of them close to Helen but we ended up choosing Jumping Goat Coffee Roasters and Tasting Room just 10 minutes from downtown Helen. It has a stunning outdoor property with an epic view of Yonah Mountain! Plus, the wine and mead was delicious!
- Nora Mill Granary Grist Mill & Country Store – A nice piece of history right along the river. The inside feels old timey and you can buy quality grits, porridge, pancake mix, jellies and jams, and more! On the back patio, there’s a nice view of Nora Mill Dam.
- Anna Ruby Falls – A quick 0.9-mile paved uphill walk to reach the twin falls which are 153 ft and 50 ft tall. The trailhead is located just 15 minutes from Helen so if you have the time make sure to stop! There is a $5 USD recreation fee to enter.
- Hike Blood Mountain – The tallest peak on the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail! There are several ways to hike Blood Mountain but we chose to do the 4.4 out-and-back Blood Mountain via Byron Reece Trail. It definitely was a bit challenging and there are no views until the last section of the trail but it was worth it in the end!
Final Word on Helen Oktoberfest
Thanks so much for reading! I hope this guide was helpful and that you enjoy your time at Helen Oktoberfest in 2023. Drink lots of beer and eat as much German food as possible!