The 1,050-acre Unicoi State Park & Lodge is in Helen, Georgia, a Bavarian-influenced town best known for the stunning Anna Ruby Falls and its year-round celebrations of German culture. Unicoi is an adventure lodge, meaning it has a lot of outdoor offerings to choose from in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.
You don’t have to be an avid outdoorsman to stay there, and in fact, my husband and I had a great time at the lodge itself, dining on the property and enjoying the scenery. However, this family-friendly address in northeastern Georgia is one outdoors-lovers won’t want to miss any time of the year.
Pro Tip: October is the busiest month for the park, as this is when visitors flock for leaf peeping.
Note: I was hosted by Unicoi State Park & Lodge. As always, opinions and reviews are 100 percent mine.
Hiking is a big draw anywhere in the North Georgia Mountains, and Unicoi State Park & Lodge has several designated trails, all within the Chattahoochee National Forest. You will want to follow the signs and be sure to stay on the path.
I found Frog Pond Nature Trail to be a good, quick hike (only one-third of a mile) that provided a lot of scenery and a nice workout in a short time. Keep your eyes open for possum, squirrels, and chipmunks. Bottoms Loop Trail was another trail that we enjoyed, with fallen trees that added more beauty to our pictures and the groundscape. This trail makes a 2-mile loop and is rated a moderate hike.
Perhaps you would enjoy a guided nature hike. How fun does that sound? For this activity, a park naturalist will take you on one of the trails and introduce you to plants and animals found on the Unicoi property. Any age will enjoy and appreciate this one to two-hour nature excursion. Tours start around $10.
Pro Tip: This is prime bear country, so keep an eye out and do not wander or travel alone. With that being said, the scenery is fantastic and the terrain exhilarating, so don’t let me scare you with the bear info.
2. See The Waterfall
The mother of all waterfalls in the Helen region is right here at Unicoi State Park & Lodge: Anna Ruby Falls. The falls (named after the daughter of a Civil War general) is operated by the U.S. Forest Service, so therefore a separate admission fee of $5 per person (age 16 and up) is required at the gate.
After parking your car, you will follow a well-marked path for .4 miles to reach the pinnacle of the waterfall. While the hike is short, it is pretty strenuous in places with steep inclines. People of all ages, and what appeared to be all ability levels, were hiking it, but everyone kept their eye on the prize and went at their own pace to reach the waterfall platform. There were a few benches along the way for resting, which I had to use at one point.
Once you arrive at Anna Ruby Falls, there are two viewing platforms for the best views and photo-ops. The lower one is great for groups and selfies, and the top one allows you to feel the mist of the thrashing water. You are that close to this gorgeous display of cascading twin falls.
Pro Tip: Don’t miss the gift shop, which has an excellent selection of t-shirts, postcards, stickers, and souvenirs.
I did something brand new at Unicoi State Park & Lodge. My husband and I had an archery lesson, along with two other couples. I had no idea what to expect, but our guide was informative, easy to understand, and had us all shooting targets in only a few minutes. Safety is vital in this sport, so be sure to listen to the instructor about loading your arrows and firing the bow.
We all shot three rounds of arrows. When she called “cold range,” we all knew it was safe to collect the arrows we had fired. We started out shooting at pretty close targets, but they were still not all that easy to hit for us newbies. After about 45 minutes of that, we made our way over to the 3-D range, which replaces targets with fake animals. The bear, armadillo, coyote, and a few others provided a place for us to attempt to shoot our arrows. There is a tower you can shoot from, too. I didn’t hit one of the animals (my husband did), but we had a blast. The lesson and activity lasted about 90 minutes.
Target shooting at the air gun range is another fun offering in this part of the park. A covered range is where you’ll try your luck at paper targets. All three areas of the Air Gun and Archery Range are considered ADA accessible.
As with many of the Georgia state parks, the zip-lining course is popular and enjoyable. Along with a canopy ranger, guests have the chance to take part in 19 aerial zips ranging from 75 to 2,000 feet long. You’ll zip 100 feet above the ground and have epic views of Unicoi Lake and the area’s wildlife.
There are two levels you can choose for your ziplining adventure. Level 1 has a series of 11 zip lines and seven suspension bridges, while level 2 has 19 zips and 12 bridges. One of the zips is a half-mile across Unicoi Lake. That sounds awesome! I heard from guests at Unicoi Lodge who did Level 2 and loved every minute of it. As for me, I kept my feet firmly planted on the ground, though I have zip-lined before.
5. Kayaking And Boating
Unicoi Lake on Smith Creek (a tributary of the Chattahoochee River) is a 53-acre attraction that is one of the prettiest sights you’ll ever see, especially in the fall when the colorful leaves are reflecting on the water. So stunning that nearly everyone who drives by pulls over for a photo or to just admire the sheer beauty. Smith Creek is an excellent place for getting out in a canoe, on a paddle board, or in a kayak, which can all be rented from the visitor center.
There is a fee to rent a canoe or kayak. Dogs are welcome but must have a lifejacket, which Unicoi does not provide.
Boating is also a popular activity on Unicoi Lake. In the warm months, you can rent boats on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Trout fishing is another desired outdoor offering.
If you have time and the desire, schedule a mountain fly-fishing lesson to learn the parts of the fly-fishing rod, how to cast your line, and tips for catching the big one (like reading the water, for instance). Be sure to schedule your lessons 24 hours in advance.
6. Relaxing On The Beach
Yes, Unicoi State Park & Lodge has a beach area. You are probably as surprised as we were. There is a roped-off area for swimming (though the water is not more than 4 feet deep) and a sandy beach area for building sandcastles or just relaxing and enjoying the view. Standup paddle boarders and kayakers use this part of the lake, too. You can rent your outdoor gear at the boathouse during the season.
7. Mountain Biking
Unicoi State Park & Lodge has a 7.5-mile mountain bike loop that is perfect for experienced riders. The mountainous terrain has specially designed paths through forests, fields, woodlands, and plenty of scenic overlooks. The trail makes a figure-8 shape so that you can ride it all or only half. You will need your own equipment for this activity. Watch for the white blaze markings that mark the trail.
8. Tomahawk Throwing
Join one of the activities attendants in this trendy, fun offering to spruce up your tomahawk-throwing skills. You’ll spend an hour on the outdoor range and learn the proper technique for throwing the tomahawk at wooden targets. Equipment is provided, and closed-toed shoes are required for this activity.
Pro Tip: If you want to capture some of your outdoor adventures with a GoPro, you can rent one from Unicoi Adventures on the third floor of the Unicoi Lodge. GoPro cameras are easy to use, and you can capture your unique experiences in beautiful 1080P high definition. Memory cards are sold separately.
Heading to Georgia? We have plenty more to show you: