This trail system offers a great 5k loop, and a myriad of picturesque areas to explore from forests and marshlands to rocky dirt trails. This is an ever popular place to run, hike or bike, and locals flock to the area on a regular basis.
The beauty of Cochran Shoals is not just its location along the Chattahoochee River, but the array of trail systems that are exceptional for trail running, hiking or mountain biking.
On an early Saturday morning at Cochran Shoals, it can seem like half the city is at the park - enjoying running, hiking, or mountain biking. A well-shaded trail runs alongside the Chattahoochee River and loops through a grassy field and it’s easy to tack on more heavily wooded mileage on the back trails of rolling clay and rooted terrain. Cochran Shoals is part of one of the trail systems for the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, a connection of parks and recreation spots spanning from Sandy Springs to Buford.
What Makes It Great
Cochran Shoals has the ability to be a very easy, straightforward trail to navigate, or you could spend hours winding through wooded paths that seem limitless. The main loop offers views of the Chattahoochee River between the trees, while the wooded trails frequently cross creeks and traverse the rim of small valleys.
Who is Going to Love It
Trail runners will find no shortage of trails to opt for more cushioned distance runs, or the main loop provides measured distances for speedwork and tempo runs. The day hiker looking for an escape within the city will find the trails scenic and the rolling terrain is enough to break a sweat. For mountain bikers, switchbacks and single track paths are good practice for an afternoon.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
You have the option of parking at the Interstate North lot on the southwest end of the park close to I-285, or the Columns Drive lot north, that is closer to Sandy Springs. Both allow you to start on this same loop trail. Picnic benches are right near the parking lot, making it an easy place to have an outdoor picnic. Remember to pay the $3 parking fee, and leave the permit on your dash. The lot is monitored! Bring your dogs, because they will love the soft trails, but remember to keep them on a leash, especially if you walk the mountain bike trails.
The Main Loop
For a “tune out and run/walk” kind of workout, stick to the main loop. It’s 3 miles on a flat and wide, pea gravel path. With mile markers every 0.25 miles, this is also ideal for a switch up in your speed work session. This loop tends to get the most crowded, especially on the weekends. A narrower, dirt trail cuts closer to the Chattahoochee River, and that tends to be less crowded.
Cochran Shoals Columns Drive
This trail system is primarily multi-use for both foot traffic and mountain bikes. On a late Thursday morning, you can still come across 5 different mountain bikers, and more are common during busier hours. Run these trails with caution, because while the bikers are good at calling ahead, the trails are single-track and require you to completely step off the path.
The mountain bike trails are well groomed and primarily a mix of hard packed dirt. Enter the woods at CS 12 and you’ll weave through the trails in a snakelike pattern. Many parts of this section are rolling and lead you along the rim of wooded forest valleys. The rockiest terrain lines Terrell Mill Creek from CS 15 to 17, so watch your footing.
Cochran Shoals Interstate North
Parking here gives you closest access to the trail system CS 18 to 33. Most of these trails are hiking only trails, which means you don’t have to worry about getting run off the path from mountain bikers. A good entry point is CS 22, where a wooden bridge crosses Gunby Creek. The creek makes an appearance on several parts of this run, including a few sections where the trail dips and requires you to jump sections to cross, no wider than 5 feet.
You’ll find some of the steeper climbs and thigh burners here, especially between CS 24 and CS 28, where the elevation drops and rises. The back section of the trail around CS 30 lead you past the backside of office complexes, but the distance is short before the path winds back into the woods. Connecting from CS 31 to CS 18 will put you back on the multi-use loop that connects to either the main gravel trail or Columns Drive trails.