Choosing where to stay in the charming town of Alpine Helen, nestled in the heart of Georgia’s stunning mountain landscapes, is a tough decision. Helen’s allure lies not only in its Bavarian-inspired architecture but also in its breathtaking outdoor beauty.
But, I recently discovered a hidden lodging gem in Helen when I stayed in one of the cozy Smithgall Woods State Park cottages snuggled alongside two rushing creeks.
Immersing myself in the great outdoors by staying in a cottage became the perfect escape, allowing me to connect with nature while indulging in the serenity and tranquility of this remarkable destination.
Smithgall Cottage Overview
There are six rustic-themed rental cottages in Smithgall Woods State Park, the namesake being Smithgall Cottage, where I stayed.
The two-story lodge was crafted exclusively from Montana lodge-pole pine and is tucked away amidst a canopy of hardwood trees, mountain laurel, rhododendron, and two rippling creeks. Of all the cottages, this one is the most luxurious.
Walking across the footbridge to the secluded haven, you’ll catch your first glimpse of the tumbling waters surrounding the cottage.
The symphony of babbling water creates a calm and peaceful ambiance to your stay, whether enjoying a morning cup of coffee on the wraparound porch or drifting off to sleep in your cozy room.
Smithgall Cottage is surrounded by running water from two creeks: Duke’s Creek on the front side and Dover Creek on the backside. It’s magical.
Cottage Features and Amenities
PRIVATE ENTRY: The creek cottages are on a private drive with a gate (and code). Once you pass through the gate, you’ll meander (slowly) about one mile back into the woodlands and creek area where the cottages are scattered.
BED & BATH: 4 bedrooms/4.5 bathrooms on two floors. The primary bedroom and one additional bedroom are on the first floor; two more are upstairs. The half-bath is on the main floor between the two bedrooms.
LIVING SPACE: The living room, dining room, and kitchen flow together in a light and airy open floor plan, with the focal point being a wood-burning fireplace. (Wood and starter supplies are available.) The dining table seats six, and there are also stools at the counter of the fully-equipped kitchen.
Nature and Wildlife
The cottage’s idyllic natural setting offers lots of opportunities to explore. You may spot trout in the creeks and white-tailed deer, wild turkeys (I did!), squirrels, rabbits, hawks, herons, and songbirds amongst the trees. Keep your eyes and ears open (and your cameras and binoculars ready) for fun wildlife sightings.
DUKES CREEK WATERFALL HIKE
Hike the 1-mile one-way trail to Dukes Creek Falls, a stunning multi-tiered cascade of tumbling waterfalls. Several observation platforms allow you to view the falls from different perspectives. The trailhead is located across the road from Smithgall Cottage. The hike is mostly uphill to the falls, so wear sturdy shoes with good traction and bring water. (There’s a separate public access point to the falls off the Russell-Brasstown National Scenic Highway.)
Guests in Smithgall Woods cabins may fish at any time. Otherwise, fishing is seasonal, and reservations are required. Keep in mind fishing is catch and release only, using artificial bait.
Enjoy an evening of s’mores at the firepit. (The firepit is available to all cottage guests, and wood is provided.)
ADMIRE THE GARDENS
Stroll through the gardens between Smithgall Cottage and Creekside Cottage. The gardens are tended by a master gardener volunteer twice a week. Sample the wild blueberries (if the birds haven’t gotten to them yet) and breathe in the fragrant scent of lemon balm and fresh blooms.
HIKE THE TRAILS NEAR THE VISITOR CENTER
There are six trails on the Visitor Center side of the park. Park in the lot, purchase a ParkPass and pick up a hiking map with directions to the trailheads.
- Visitor Center Loop Trail – ADA-accessible 0.3-mile loop trail
- Laurel Ridge Trail – 1.6-mile loop trail up to Laurel Ridge with a view of Mt. Yonah. (Trailhead adjacent to Visitor Center)
- Ash Creek Trail – 1.5-mile one-way rugged trail that requires fording/wading Dukes Creek. (0.6 miles from Visitor Center at Western Terminus, 1.3 miles from Eastern Terminus.)
- Martin’s Mine Trail – 0.5-mile historic trail interprets the history of gold mining. A short spur to a small waterfall. (Trailhead 2.1 miles from Visitor Center.)
- Chunanee Falls Trail – Moderate 0.5-mile hike to a beautiful waterfall. (Trailhead 2.8 miles from Visitor Center.)
- Wetland Loop Trail – Easy 0.55-mile loop by a beaver pond and wetland area with waterfowl and frogs. (Trailhead 1.2 miles from Visitor Center.)
Other Smithgall Woods State Park Cottages
Dover Creek (5 bedrooms, 5 1/2 bathrooms) Originally designed as a boutique hotel, this is the biggest of the Smithgall Woods lodging options and rests beside Dover Creek. With a large kitchen and wet bar, Dover is ideal for large groups and catered events.
Creekside Cottage (3 bedrooms, 3 1/2 bathrooms) – Built on the side of the mountain and right over the creek, guests can actually trout fish from the back deck. This 3-story cottage has a main floor with a kitchen and living room, two bedrooms on the second floor, and a hideaway bedroom on the upper floor.
Garden Cottage (1 bedroom, one bath.) This cottage overlooks the garden and has a wood-burning stove, skylights, and an outdoor hot tub. The Garden Cottage is the only cottage that’s pet-friendly.
Laurel Cottage (1 bedroom, one bath) Identical layout to the Garden Cottage but tucked a bit more in the trees.
Parkside Cottage (3 bedrooms, two baths) This cottage is located near the Visitor Center, not on the private access road.
The natural beauty surrounding the Smithgall Woods State Park rentals is breathtaking. The lush verdant forest with rustling leaves, the melody of morning songbirds, and the gentle babbling of water over the rocky creek bed…I couldn’t have loved it more.
Staying in a cottage is the ideal way to experience Helen, Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountain landscape. Yes, it may be a bit more expensive than a standard hotel, but it’s an experience you’ll never forget. I know I won’t.
Notes & Tips
There is free WiFi in Smithgall Woods State Park accommodations, but cell service was non-existent for me (I have Verizon), so be prepared to be off the grid.
Bring bug spray. I got bit multiple times and never saw them coming.
Consider bringing water shoes if you want to walk into the creek. The mossy rocks can be very slippery, and you don’t want to cut your feet on anything.
Guests at the gated cottages have free access to a fishing license allowing them to fish the creek waters beyond the gate. A traditional fishing license and advance reservations are required for fishing on the Visitor Center side of the park.
Make a Reservation
View and/or print this location map for the Smithgall Woods State Park Cottages.
Book a cottage! (Made through the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.)