Smithgall Woods State Park History & Things To Do While Visiting

This blog post is part of the “YOUR COMPLETE GUIDE TO THE NORTH GEORGIA OUTDOORS” blog series.

Northern Georgia, namely, the Helen area, is the perfect spot for nature lovers to get away from the stresses of everyday life in the “big city” and get back to the basics.

In addition to several other popular Helen Georgia attractions, state parks like Smithgall Woods are extremely popular with vacationers who are staying in the area

Regardless of your interests, you’ll find a wide range of opportunities for fun and exploration while paying a visit to this 5,664-acre park facility.

This comprehensive guide will walk you through the possibilities and help you plan your day at Smithgall Woods State Park.

Visiting Smithgall Woods State Park

While enjoying a day trip to one of the most beloved Helen, Georgia attractions, you’ll want to consider taking advantage of the many things that Smithgall Woods has to offer, such as:

Smithgall Woods Conservation Area

The history of Smithgall Woods speaks of ruin and a new beginning. When first located by gold miners back in 1829, the area was full of wildlife and lush forest. Along Dukes Creek, small towns were crafted to house the miners. For the next few years, the miners feverishly panned for gold. Then, in the 1850s, the gold miners introduced the use of hydraulic mining. With this new technique, the landscape soon transformed from bountiful to desert-like. Due to its destructive nature, hydraulic mining was halted in the 1880s.

Afterward, the area slowly began to recover. In the 1940s, a local radio station owner by the name of Charles Smithgall became interested in the land throughout White County. With the profits from the sale of his media properties, he purchased 5,500 acres of land and spent over $20 million of his money to help with the restoration. Later, in 1994 he donated the land to the state of Georgia. Since then, the State has concentrated its efforts to preserve and protect the property. This land is known today as the Smithgall Woods Conservation Area.

Hiking & Biking Trails

Looking to get some fresh air and exercise? Of the many opportunities for exploration in the great outdoors is Smithgall Woods, one of the largest Helen, Georgia attractions. It offers no shortage of possibilities for discovering nature through hiking and biking and features some 23 miles of roads and trails with varying degrees of difficulty.

Visitor Center Loop Trail

This easy .3 mile trail will give you a beautiful view of the Dukes Creek area. It is also an excellent place to picnic and enjoy the outdoors with your family.

Cathy Ellis Trail

You will learn the history of Cathy Ellis along this short half-mile trail and witness the same beauty of which she fell in love. The trail goes downhill to a beautiful waterfall, and along the way, you will find remnants of gold mining history.

Wetland Loop Trail

On this easy .55 mile nature trail, you will walk alongside a fascinating wetland area and a beaver pond. It is an excellent place for watching birds, waterfowl, and frogs. All of which makes this a fun trail for children and adults alike.

Martin’s Mine Trail

This .9 mile loop will take you across Dukes Creek on a wooden bridge and lead you to a historic vertical shaft used by the miners from long ago. Since then, bats have made this their home, so keep your eyes open, and you may see a few.

Laurel Ridge Trail

For a moderate hike, this trail will take you 1.6 miles to Laurel Ridge, where you can witness the stunning beauty of Mt. Yonah.

Ash Creek Trail

On this 3-mile round-trip hike, you will travel through the beautiful woods of Smithgall and throughout the Dukes Creek area. Be prepared for a rugged trip and some wading through the creek at the north end of the trail.

Visitor’s Center Loop Trail, for instance, offers a stroll with views of Duke’s Creek and rare Florida Torreya trees. The trail has picnic tables and adult swings for relaxing. Ash Creek Trail, on the other hand, is much more rugged and provides hikers with incredible scenery, including the creek and the surrounding forest. One of the favorite trails is Martin’s Mine Trail where you’ll encounter an abandoned gold mine shaft that has become a unique habitat for local bats.

Fishing Opportunities

One of Helen’s biggest draws is its supply of trout in the gorgeous Chattahoochee River. Although trout can make for a tasty entree, many vacationers to the area are merely looking for a sport. If this rings true for you, Smithgall Woods State Park is the perfect spot to cast your line. While visiting the scenic park, you can enjoy some quiet time alone or bonding time with your family and friends as you sit along the banks of the river for a morning or afternoon of catch-and-release fishing. Be sure to make reservations with the park.

Hunting Season

If you take pride in living off the land and hunting your own game, you’ll want to consider visiting Smithgall Woods during the various hunting seasons throughout the year. You’ll have the opportunity to track and hunt a variety of game ranging from small furbearers and turkey to deer and even bears. Test your skills with a bow and arrow during archery season, using primitive weapons, or practicing your aim with your rifle or other firearms. If you’re lucky, you might be able to bring something back to your cabin to cook up in your kitchen or on your outside grill.Hickory Wood Cabin

Educational Opportunities

Smithgall Woods State Park offers a wide range of educational opportunities throughout the year for locals and vacationers to enjoy. It’s easy to check the park’s calendar or contact the visitor’s center to learn which activities will be occurring while you’re in the Helen area. Depending on the month or season, you might enjoy wildflower hunts, bird watching, children’s events, information and events related to the gold rush and earlier settlers, and more.

Hardman Farm

Hardman Farm is a satellite site of Smithgall Woods. Like many other Helen, Georgia attractions, the 162-acre farm is a well-preserved historical site, offering a sense of rich culture and intrigue. The farmhouse was constructed in 1870 and donated to the state of Georgia in 1999. The area contains a well-known Nacoochee Indian Mound. Smithgall Woods offers tours of this 19th-century working farm.


Throughout recent years, geocaching has grown in popularity, and the Georgia State Parks system – including Smithgall Woods – welcomes and encourages the activity as a means of making the in-park experience even more enjoyable. In geocaching, a small capsule (or cache) containing a token gets placed at a specific set of GPS coordinates. The coordinates get posted on a geocaching website, and hunters can set out to search for the treasure within a particular area (i.e., Smithgall Woods). Once found, the discoverer may take the token and replace it with one of their own for the next hunter to find. All one needs is a working GPS or a smartphone. There are even geocaching apps available for added convenience.

When to Visit & Getting There

If you are planning to visit any of the Helen, Georgia attractions, Fall is an excellent time. You can hike, bike, and fish without the worries of being rained out or having to deal with the heat. The temperatures are comfortable during daytime hours, giving you plenty of time to enjoy all that the Smithgall Woods area has to offer.

Only 5 miles from Helen, the Smithgall Woods area is a short drive from Cedar Creek. 

Head west on GA-17 N/GA-75 N/N Main St/Unicoi Turnpike toward White Strasse. Turn left onto GA-75Alt N. Turn left onto Tsalaki Trail. This road will lead you directly to Smithgall Woods.

Share Your Thoughts Below

Have you visited some of the popular Helen, Georgia attractions within Smithgall Woods State Park? Feel free to share any tips or advice to future vacationers in the comments section.

This blog post is part of the “YOUR COMPLETE GUIDE TO THE NORTH GEORGIA OUTDOORS” blog series.