Helen is one of the most popular Blue Ridge Mountain Towns in Georgia, drawing some 3 million visitors to the tiny 2.11-sq-mile Alpine town every year.
From family-friendly tourist attractions and annual festivals (including the largest Oktoberfest celebration outside Germany) to two Georgia State Parks and myriad natural attractions, there’s a lot to love about the area.
But if crowds are not your thing, this may not be the best place to visit in peak summer or autumn.
Fortunately, the quiet, unincorporated community of Sautee Nacoochee lies just south of the town of Helen, offering loads of history, culture, and fun activities for visitors to explore.
Read on for our guide to the best things to do in Sautee Nacoochee GA, including all the best attractions, hiking trails, restaurants, shops, and more!
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Things to Do in Sautee Nacoochee Guide
- Explore Restaurants & Shops in Nacoochee Village
- Get Cultured the Folk Pottery Museum of Northeast Georgia
- Hike the Helen to Hardman Heritage Trail
- Horseback Riding with Chattahoochee Stables
- See the Stovall Mill Covered Bridge
- Shop at the Old Sautee Store
- Tastings at Habersham Winery
- Tour the Hardman Farm State Historic Site
- Visit the Sautee Nacoochee Center
- Watch Sunrise/Sunset at the Nacoochee Mound
READ MORE: The Top 20 Things to do in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia
1. Explore Restaurants & Shops in Historic Nacoochee Village
Located just a 1/2-mile from the heart of Alpine Helen, the Historic Nacoochee Village has been a hotspot of commerce in the North Georgia Mountains for nearly 150 years.
The oldest business in the area, Nora Mill Granary & General Store, was established in 1876, just 11 years after the end of the Civil War!
They still utilize the original 1,500-pound French Burr Stones to produce products such as grits, cornmeal, pancake and waffle mixes, flour, biscuit and bread mixes, pioneer’s porridge, and more.
Other shops in the historic district include the Nacoochee Village Antique Mall, the fly fishing specialists at Unicoi Outfitters, and the Habersham Winery.
There’s also Wildwood Outfitters, which offers rental gear and guided kayaking and rafting trips down the Chattahoochee River, and numerous great restaurants.
READ MORE: The 25 Best Things to Do in Helen GA
2. Get Cultured at the Folk Pottery Museum of Northeast Georgia
The Folk Pottery Museum of Northeast Georgia is located inside the Sautee Nacoochee Center, which is the cultural heart of the unincorporated community.
This museum showcases one of the premier grassroots art forms of the Blue Ridge Mountains, exploring the history and evolution of folk pottery in Southern life.
Local potters from the Meaders family of White County drew national attention when they were the subject of a Smithsonian Institution documentary in 1978.
And Northeast Georgia received a special Library of Congress Local Legacies designation for its distinctive pottery traditions in 2000.
Expanding upon the original collection of the Swanson family, the museum‘s permanent and temporary exhibits (such as “Clint Alderman: A Modern Folk Potter”) offer an engaging look at this uniquely Southern craft.
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3. Hike the Helen to Hardman Heritage Trail
This relatively easy hiking trail takes visitors on a 1.6-mile paved path from the heart of Downtown Helen to the Hardman Farm State Historic Site in Sautee Nacoochee.
One of the most picturesque wheelchair-accessible trails in the area, the Heritage Trail features numerous interpretive signs about the area‘s native plants and animals.
Along the way, hikers can expect beautiful views of the Chattahoochee River and watch for wildflowers and beautiful birds in the surrounding forest.
The trail takes you along part of the old Unicoi Turnpike, an important road to the Cherokee people before the Georgia gold rush sent them packing on the tragic Trail of Tears.
Eventually you’ll reach two of the most popular historic sites in Georgia– the Hardman Farm and the Sautee Nacoochee Indian Mound (more on those later).
READ MORE: 15 Helen GA Hiking Trails Worth Exploring
4. Horseback Riding with Chattahoochee Stables
Encompassing 150 acres in the Sautee Nacoochee Valley, Chattahoochee Stables offers horseback riding tours that are widely regarded as one of the best things to do in North Georgia.
Opened in 1987, the company offers 1-hour guided trail rides that are gentle enough for almost anyone to enjoy.
Most of their trail horses are quarterhorses, and their calm, steady demeanor makes them well-suited for beginning riders. Note that all riders must be at least 6 years old, and weigh under 250 pounds.
The easygoing trail ride covers approximately 3 miles, about half of which takes riders right along the Chattahoochee River.
We recommend that you make reservations for horseback riding tours in advance, but Chattahoochee Stables will often accept walk-ins if they’re not fully booked.
READ MORE: 15 Great Places to Go Horseback Riding in Georgia
5. See the Stovall Mill Covered Bridge
Much like Bell Mountain in Hiawassee GA, the Stovall Mill Covered Bridge is one of those unfortunate attractions that have fallen prey to vandalism over the years.
The outside remains relatively pristine, but the walls inside the bridge have been completely covered in graffiti.
It’s a shame, because this historic site dates back to the post-Civil War era, when Fred Dover built the covered bridge and a grist, saw, and shingle mill complex in Sautee Nacoochee.
When the original bridge was washed away by floods in the 1890s, Will Pardue replaced it with the current bridge back in 1895.
Crossing Chickamauga Creek near Helen, the 38-foot-long Stovall Mill Bridge is the shortest historic covered bridge in Georgia. But it is set just off the road, and is only accessible to foot traffic.
The bridge is also said to be one of the most haunted places in Georgia. Some visitors claim to have heard the cries of unseen babies and the sounds of horse-drawn carriages
READ MORE: The 15 Coolest Covered Bridges in Georgia
6. Shop at the Old Sautee Store
From the Dahlonega General Store in Dahlonega GA and Sunrise Grocery in Blairsville GA to Betty’s Country Store in Helen, many North Georgia towns offer old-fashioned shopping opportunities.
The Old Sautee Store in Sautee Nacoochee is arguably our favorite. It feels like a food market/deli, gift shop, and living history museum all rolled in one.
Opened in 1872, the general store’s entrance is like entering a time warp to the 19th century, with vintage products, signs, and coin-operated machines everywhere you turn.
Its more modern back section offers a hodgepodge of gift options, from boutique-style clothing and old-fashioned candies and sodas to souvenirs and more.
The Market at The Old Sautee Store is one of the most popular Sautee Nacoochee restaurants, offering baked goods, coffee, fresh-made sandwiches, ice cream, and Scandinavian-style Farmer Cheese.
We love eating on their well-shaded patio, and their food makes for a great picnic lunch if you’re hitting up any of the local hiking trails.
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7. Tastings at Habersham Winery
One of the largest and oldest wineries in North Georgia, Habersham Winery & Vineyards has a popular facility located in the Historic Nacoochee Village.
This family-owned winery’s 30-acre Stonepile Vineyard opened in Clarkesville GA in 1983, while the much smaller Mossy Creek Vineyard (just south of Cleveland GA) was founded around 5 years later.
Their Sautee Nacoochee tasting room is open Monday to Friday from 11AM to 5PM, Saturday from 11AM to 6PM, and Sunday from 12:30PM to 5PM.
They typically offer a 5-wine tasting flight for $12, including vinifera wines as well as blended wines using vinifera and French-American grapes. If you prefer sweet wines, check out Habersham’s Southern Harvest label, with varietals made from the local Muscadine grape.
In 2023, their Habersham Music Series will feature live music from local artists on select Saturdays from 1-4PM.
READ MORE: 8 Great Wineries in Dahlonega GA
8. Tour the Hardman Farm Historic Site
The former home of Georgia Governor Lamartine Hardman, the Hardman Farm State Historic Site was donated to the state of Georgia in 1999.
This historic site offers guided tours of the home (built in 1870 by Capt. James Nichols) every Thursday through Saturday, with the first tour departing at 10AM and the last tour leaving at 3PM.
It starts on a tree-lined road that was part of the Unicoi Turnpike, which stretched 200 miles from Toccoa GA to western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee.
Moving into the house, the tour’s highlights include the fancy 19th century parlor, a bedroom that belonged to Anna Ruby Nichols (for whom nearby Anna Ruby Falls is named), innovative telephone systems, and period antiques.
Outside you can also explore the old kitchen, a barn that used to house the Nacoochee Dairy, and a barn featuring numerous 19th century carriages.
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9. Visit the Sautee Nacoochee Center
The Sautee Nacoochee Center has been the cultural heart of the Sautee Nacoochee community for 40 years.
It’s widely regarded as one of the strongest community arts organizations in the state of Georgia.
They offer an intriguing array of classes, concerts, festivals, galleries, theatrical productions, workshops, and other special events representing every style of performance and visual art you can imagine.
The SNC is also home to the critically-acclaimed Folk Pottery Museum of Northeast Georgia and the SNC History Museum, which focuses on the Appalachian culture and history of the Sautee and Nacoochee valleys.
Call ahead to schedule a tour of their Heritage Site, which features a historic North Georgia cabin that was constructed in 1850 by a local farmer for the enslaved Africans who worked on his plantation.
READ MORE: 40 Facts About the History of the Banjo (From Africa to Appalachia)
10. Watch Sunrise/Sunset at the Nacoochee Indian Mound
Located on the beautiful banks of the Chattahoochee River, the Nacoochee Indian Mound is widely regarded as one of the most iconic Indian mounds in Georgia.
This site predates the Cherokee people, who some historians say never lived there at all.
It was occupied during the Woodland period (100 to 500 AD), but was largely developed by people of the South Appalachian Mississippian Culture from 1350 to 1600 AD.
After excavations by the Smithsonian in 1915 uncovered 75 human burials from this era, Governor Lamartine Hardman had a reconstruction built of the late 19th-century gazebo that was installed on top of the mound.
Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986, the Nacoochee Indian Mound is now part of the Sautee Valley Historic District.
Although the cow pasture that surrounds it remains off-limits, there’s a roadside pull-off that’s perfect for watching the sunrise/sunset. –by Bret Love; all photos by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett unless otherwise noted