Thinking about a trip to Unicoi State Park in Georgia? Unicoi State Park hosts some unique ways to get outdoors with your family. We sent contributor Kristina to check out their barrel cabins and soak up all the adventure she and her kids could handle for a couple of days in Northern Georgia.
Accommodations at Unicoi State Park were given to us so we could review the park but the opinions henceforth are those solely of the author.
As much as I’d love to take a few months or even a year off to show my kids the world and have all kinds of epic adventures, it’s not happening. It’s not possible for most families. What is possible? Lots of places within driving distance of the Upstate to have amazing adventures.
One such place we recently visited – only two hours away – and made those memories that I was hoping to share with my kids, instilling adventure into their developing personalities, and satisfying my own wanderlust.
Unicoi State Park, part of the Georgia State Park system, is only two hours away from Greenville and has everything a family could want for a great trip – camping, cabins, a lodge, zip lining, swimming, boating, fishing, hiking, archery, you name it. And the quaint German town of Helen is a mere five minutes away by car or 90 minutes by hiking.
Staying in a Barrel Cabin at Unicoi State Park
I’ve never ventured into the North Georgia mountains or a Georgia state park so I had no idea what to expect. We stayed at the park in a barrel cabin, which is pretty much like it sounds. My kids were in awe when we pulled up. They said “we are staying in that? How cool!” It’s fun to amaze your kids.
Barrel Cabin Amenities
The barrel cabin we stayed in is one of several in the park. It had two bedrooms, a pullout couch, a full kitchen, living and dining rooms, and a porch with rocking chairs where you could see one of the trails and catch glimpses of the lake. It’s a good size and can fit six people. My favorite was the kitchen because I try to stay in places that have cooking areas because it saves me so much money on eating out. This cabin was a win.
In my barrel cabin, the two bedrooms were upstairs, while the full bath was downstairs. I thought it may be an issue for middle-of-the-night bathroom runs for my daughter but it worked out fine.
The barrel cabins were designed and built in the 1970s as an experiment to lure people into the park to enjoy all of the wonderful outdoor activities the park offers. Needless to say, the barrel cabins were a hit, and generations later, people can still stay in this odd, but useful and functional, structure.
The cabins are built on stilts and are in a little barrel cabin village, nestled within the forest and right off the lake trail that loops around Unicoi Lake. The interior is all wood and although not completely updated to Chip and Joanna Gaines’ standards, they are clean, comfortable, and have air conditioning and heat. There are cabins from one-bedroom up to deluxe three-bedrooms.
One special thing I loved about the barrel cabin is the symphony of sounds when it rains – the structure has tin on the outside so the rain is beautiful. Sit on the covered porch and just listen. You haven’t experienced the beauty of rain until you’ve heard it on a tin roof.
Other options for lodging
If you’re into primitive camping, have an RV, or want a space more like a hotel room or even a large cabin, the state park has all of those available as well – and plenty of them. The park is spacious and has lots of room for everyone.
Prices for barrel cabins and other lodgings vary widely based upon season. Accommodation reservations are available online. Some of the accommodations in the park are pet friendly.
In light of COVID-19, Unicoi State Park has retrained their household cleaning staff with new procedures for cleaning and disinfecting cabins and guest rooms. They also do daily temperature checks and health screenings of employees and as many contactless transactions as possible.
Unicoi State Park Beach
Unicoi State Park has a small but beautiful beach swimming area. I loved this for my young kids and they enjoyed the shallow water. We brought sand toys and spent a good chunk of time there enjoying the warm day on the sandy beach. The water is not more than four feet deep, maybe even less. Mountain beaches are great.
Although we didn’t rent boats during our visit, several options for enjoying the water are available: paddle boats, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards. There is a boat house right at the beach where you can rent whatever you like, although call ahead for reservations during the busy summer and fall seasons to make sure you get what you want.
There are numerous trails throughout the park to stretch your legs.
The Lake Trail loops around Unicoi Lake and is an easy hike and a beautiful way to see the lake. We took it in parts after dinner and my kids enjoyed it.
Smith Creek Trail
The Smith Creek Trail is over eight miles and is more difficult. There is a waterfall, but recent reviews indicate downed trees make parts of the trail harder to navigate. Check out AllTrails before you go to plan ahead for any unforeseen challenges.
Unicoi to Helen Trail
The Unicoi to Helen Trail was on my list but we didn’t get to it. It’s a six-mile roundtrip hike from the park right into Helen, the famed Bavarian-themed village. It’s of moderate difficulty but a great way to get in some exercise before enjoying beer and brats and then hiking back (or taking the free shuttle to the park).
Anna Ruby Falls
Anna Ruby Falls, the waterfalls named after the daughter of a Civil War general, is located in the park up a paved 0.4 mile trail. It’s straight up so it may take you some time while you catch your breath but it’s magnificent. I failed to capture the beauty of the falls on camera but needless to say, if you can make it here during your trip, do it.
There is a $5/person fee for anyone ages 16+. And there is a cute little gift shop on site as well as restrooms and picnic tables.
Archery, Zip Lining, Water Sports, & Fishing
Unicoi State Park is actually an adventure lodge as well, hosting an enormous zip line course, an archery range, an airgun range, and fishing on-site.
Zip Line Course
Kids have to be at least six-years-old to do most of the adventures so we weren’t able to do what I was hoping for this time around, which means we have to come back. But we did see many of the zip lines and platforms and it looked incredible. Many of the lines go right across the gorgeous lake and everything else looked like it was part of the forest.
In the fall, I can only imagine the tapestry of colors that the forest showcases. Fall is one of the busiest times of year for Unicoi State Park because of the changing of the colors of the leaves. Being from Greenville, I always think “go north”, go to the Blue Ridge Parkway or up in the mountains near Asheville. But the mountains of Northern Georgia put on quite the show as well. Imagine zip lining and hiking through the forest that time of year!
I was quite bummed we weren’t able to participate in archery while at the park. I love the sport and my girls are learning quickly as well. If you have your own bow and arrows, you only pay $5 to use the range. Otherwise, it’s $25/person for a lesson and range time. If you haven’t felt the pull on the string, your fingers tugging and feeling for the right moment, and that last breath you take below you let the arrow fly, you’re missing out.
The park also teaches fly fishing lessons. I’d absolutely do if I had the patience of a saint, which I don’t. I imagine it would be an enlightening and enjoyable activity – the photos alone would probably be worth it- but I may need a little convincing to get me away from the archery range.
Boats and mountain bikes are available to rent and other activities, like s’mores at a campfire, happens at night as well as gopro rentals and GPS scavenger hunts. Adventure pricing is available online.
The location couldn’t be better
Unicoi State Park is just five minutes from Helen, Georgia and all the restaurants and activities of the Bavarian village. We certainly made use of the proximity of the park by grabbing ice cream and chocolate truffles as well as taking a tubing trip with Cool River Tubing down the Chattahoochee River.
The park runs a free shuttle to Helen as well – just call the lodge 30 minutes before you want to leave – which saves money on parking in town.
Check out our review of Helen, GA.
Also nearby are fantastic hiking trails in addition to the ones at the park itself. We did the High Shoals Falls Trail, only about a 25-minute drive from the park, where we saw Blue Hole swimming hole and High Shoals Falls, both of which were worth the 2.5 mile hike.
Day use area at Unicoi State Park
Unicoi State Park has a huge day-use area with a playground, lots of picnic shelters, creek access, and restrooms.
My kids loved the playground and a swimming hole looked ideal for hot weather, which we totally would have used if we had more time to spend that day. The park has many picnic shelters spread throughout the park that visitors can rent.
Adventure is calling
There are few things I’d rather do with my kids than explore the outdoors. The best part is that you don’t need to go far from Greenville in order to fulfill that desire.
There is so much to enjoy at Unicoi State Park that you’ll want to come back the minute you leave, wishing you had the time to have more adventures. You don’t even need days and days to savor that quality together and make memories that will stay with you and your family for years to come.
So what’s holding you back? You can’t have too much fun in the mountains.
Have you been to Unicoi State Park?