Hiking in the Off Season
Winter is one of the best times to hike on trails for hours without seeing many people, or sometimes anyone at all. For those who prefer off-season travel, you’ll find the Bavarian-themed town of Alpine Helen, Georgia is not as busy as in the high season of summer or Oktoberfest. Helen is popular. And so is the nearby Unicoi State Park & Lodge. Get your beers and brats on because this town will have it all!
There’s something awesome about winter in the North Georgia Mountains when the days are still so short and frosty. My hiking buddies and I went to Unicoi State Park & Lodge where peace in nature is easily found. And you can work up a good sweat too, depending on what trails you decide to hike.
Without giving away too many travel secrets, I’m sharing these tips to make the most out of your winter outdoor adventures here in North Georgia.
No. 1. Get a Cabin at Unicoi State Park
We booked a 3-night stay in a Barrel Cabin and received a bundle of firewood by booking the Cozy Cabin Deal (a 2-night minimum is required through March 31 for this extra perk). The cabins are 1-3 bedrooms. We are 3 guys (and one kid), and each have a room. There is a full kitchen and fireplace. For a group of hikers, that’s luxury!
No. 2: Go Big
While we do have a kitchen, it’s a real treat to be spoiled by chefs. Before hiking on our second day, we decided to go big with a deluxe breakfast at Unicoi Restaurant in the Lodge. Because of their focus on natural experiences, much of the classic, Southern dishes are made with fresh ingredients including vegetables from local farms. You can definitely fuel the day with their thick-cut bacon, heaps of locally milled grits, and scrambled eggs from local hens.
After an afternoon of hiking, Smith Creek Tavern sports bar, also at the Lodge, doubled as a tasty pub dinner with cheers and beers. Because it’s more casual, we could meet a few other winter hikers, share trail tales, and plan our last day together. This time of year, reservations are not required. You do your thing and come back hungry.
No. 3: Hike to Helen and Take the Shuttle Back
Experience the nearby town of Helen by hiking to it just under two miles from the Unicoi Lodge. Before you go, arrange free pickup transportation with the Lodge’s Shuttle (tips are welcome). Unicoi State Park & Lodge offers a shuttle to and from Helen during certain times of the day.
What’s in Helen? Everything you can imagine, from German-style fudge shoppes and the historic General Store to boutiques and restaurants. We recommend Paul’s Steakhouse, serving customers since 1965.
No. 4: Take Aim. Get that Package!
The Take Aim Package encourages park guests to try something that may require some physical strength, precision, and team building. As more incentive to coming here in the winter, right now you can book an overnight stay at Unicoi State Park & Lodge for the Best Available Rate and receive 2 passes to the Unicoi Archery & Air Rifle Gun Range. (Equipment rental and instruction not included.)
We brought our bow and arrows and rented the air guns to take advantage of the static archery range and 3-D archery range. You will need to schedule with an instructor if renting any of the equipment on the range. I liked the 3-D archery range best, where we could aim for animal replicas.
In the midst of the North Georgia Mountains just 3 miles north of Helen, Unicoi State Park & Lodge is an ideal winter destination where hiking is peaceful and nature is on full display.
- Cliff J.