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Betty's Country Store is like stepping back in time! This is a grocery store that is untouched by corporate America. Shopping at Betty's is like being transported back to the 1950's and 60's. Entering the store from the street brings wonderful reminders of days gone by. A courtyard filled with comfortable benches and rocking chairs sprawls beneath shade trees enticing one to sit and dine, read, chat or just enjoy the soft breezes. A checkerboard, ready for play, sits atop a barrel on the sidewalk leading to the front door which is flanked on one side by a vintage Coca Cola machine. Up the concrete stairs and through a large green wooden door, visitors are welcomed by a metal pushcart stocked with bottled cokes and a variety of Stewart's flavored sodas on ice. The displays of standard grocery items and delicacies sit side by side, some in modern commercial cases and others in authentic oak refrigerators. Barrels of help-yourself snacks like yogurt covered pretzels, fresh nuts, trail mix and dried fruits lead you down an aisle to the deli section. Here shoppers find not only a treat for the nostrils, as the essence of fresh brewed coffee wafts through the air, but also a smorgasbord for the eyes as one surveys cases of fresh cheeses, baked goods and assorted meat delicacies, a display which would rival any New York deli. According to Darlene Broadway, Betty's daughter, owner and manager of the store, Betty's is known for its mid-western corn-fed Black Angus beef. "We have a reputation for our inch to inch and a half steaks and fresh pork chops," she says.
In the 1960s, a group of enterprising residents transformed this then-struggling mill town in the Blue Ridge Mountains into a traditional Alpine-inspired village in a bid to attract visitors. It paid off. Today, the unexpected mix of sights—fairytale buildings and cobblestone paths, artisan pottery studios and Bavarian-style beer gardens—has helped make Helen one of the state’s most-visited towns. Its prime location doesn’t hurt, either: It’s within easy reach of north Georgia’s wine country and untouched wilderness. Hike to nearby waterfalls, shoot across Unicoi State Park on a zipline, or just tube through town on the Chattahoochee River before breaking for beers and brats.
The closest airport to Helen is Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International (ATL), almost 100 miles away, and about a 90-minute drive as long as you’re not leaving Atlanta during rush hour. It’s best to rent a car at the airport, since public transportation is limited and rideshares (save for the horse-drawn carriages in downtown Helen) are scarce.
Other major cities within a few hours’ driving distance include Charlotte, North Carolina (around 200 miles), and Birmingham, Alabama (230 miles).
Helen’s mild climate makes it a year-round getaway. Expect highs in the 60-and 70-degree (Fahrenheit) range in the spring and fall, 80s in the summer, and 50s in the winter. Whatever time of year you visit, pack a jacket as evenings can dip in temperature, and an umbrella for surprise (though typically brief) rain showers, along with appropriate outdoor shoes and gear.
Reachable by a half-mile-long paved path in the Chattahoochee National Forest, this pair of waterfalls delivers a thunderous payoff without a lot of sweat. From the waterfalls, take the interpretive Lion’s Eye Trail to learn about the park’s ecosystem (the path is fully accessible, with signs also in braille), or try the more challenging Smith Creek Trail (9 miles roundtrip). Parking is limited near the entry to the falls, so try to arrive by the park’s opening at 10 a.m. during the peak season.
From May to September, floating down the river in an inner tube (aka “shooting the Hooch”) is a peak Helen experience. Local outfitters rent inner tubes and offer pickup and dropoff services for a float that lasts 1 to 2.5 hours.
This 8.5-acre cultural center gives you a full picture of Helen’s past, with galleries and sites dedicated to local Native and African American history, folk pottery, and gold mining. Or take a deep, restorative breath in the Native Peace garden.
A clear stream full of rainbow and brown trout draws serious anglers to this park a few miles west of Helen, but wildflowers in spring and summer and a foliage show in the fall make it worth an afternoon hike too. Fishing is allowed only on certain days and with a reservation, so call ahead.
Grapes thrive in the north Georgia mountains’ high elevation and warm temperatures, making the area a burgeoning wine-growing region (it’s known for its European varietals and muscadines). This trail connects six vineyards and tasting rooms, with big mountain and vineyard views along the way.