Known for its gentle hills, lush meadows, and rural landscape, South Fulton County is the antithesis to Atlanta, just 30 miles away. Here you can enjoy hiking, fording creeks, and viewing waterfalls on the trails at Cochran Mill Park before heading into the quaint town of Serenbe for lunch.
Take I-85 South to the I-285 interchange to get to Chattahoochee Hills, where you’ll begin your day at Cochran Mill Park. This 800-acre park has undergone recent improvements to the trails, signage, and facilities so it is much easier to navigate. Parking costs $5, so pay your fee and grab a printed trail map before heading off on your hike.
You can opt for a few different trails: The Henry Mill Falls Trail is 6.5 miles, or take the 3.5 mile hike to Cochran Mill Falls and Ruins. The elevations aren’t too steep so the trails are enjoyable for many different age groups depending on fitness levels. Also, keep in mind that you share most of these trails with horseback riders, so the earlier you go, the less chance you’ll step in fresh horse manure.
Henry Mill Falls Trail
To take this 6.5-mile hike, walk to the far end of the parking lot. You will see the yellow trailhead where the horse trailers park. The trail descends through a wooded area for about 0.25-mile until it merges with Upper Wooten Road, a gravel road that has been closed off at the park entrance. Soon, you’ll come to the beginning of the red trail.
After following the gravel road past a large event field, the red blazed trail soon dips into a low-lying area, reminiscent of swamp land. In addition to horse-back riders, you may see several mountain bikers. The trail can sometimes be muddy in spots, regardless of recent rain or sunshine.
It gets tricky when crossing Bear Creek. You will have to walk (or jump depending on recent rainfall) across several rocks to get to the other side. Plan on your shoes getting wet. A fall into the cold water is at least refreshing, and is less than two feet deep.
Next, the trail splits for the first loop. Veer left for the direct route to the falls. This path ascends while maintaining views of the creek. Sunshine abounds through the bare pine trees in winter, but the massive tree canopy will provide a respite from the heat in the summer. Trees along the way are marked with red so you’ll know you’re in the right area. You’ll merge with the horse-back riders at the top end of this first loop briefly until they veer off again at the upper loop.
Continue hiking until you get to the Henry Mill Falls on your left. Although they don’t have a steep drop, the falls are a welcome treasure after several miles of hiking. Sit on the large granite boulders and eat a snack. Walk further alongside the falls to the sandy beach area to get a different view. If you have a dog, let them splash in the shallow waters of the beach. You’ll often see several hikers with hammocks strung between the trees. Retrace your steps or take the other half of the two loops. Once you’re back on the yellow trail, you can opt to take the rest of its 1-mile loop.
Cochran Mill Falls and Mill Ruins
If you’re up for additional hiking, cross Cochran Mill Road from the parking lot to explore the orange and blue trails. You’ll follow a gravel path just a few yards down to an old, closed-off iron bridge. You can ford the creek crossing, which is rather wide or take the well-marked temporary trail that follows the creek until merging with the regular orange trail about 0.5-miles north.
Following the top end of the orange trail loop, you’ll continue past a bridge leading to nearby Cochran Mill Nature Preserve—a private entity with different hours, fees, and trails. Don’t cross the bridge over the creek, but stay on the orange trail until you get to the blue trailhead on the left. Once on the blue trail, you’ll have several ups and downs in elevation but will follow the ridge of Bear Creek where you will see two dams through the trees; the first one in the distance, the second one more impressive and up close.
The trail departs the creek, turning into the woods filled with lichen-covered trees and ferns, until it ends at the other end of the orange trail. Soon, you’ll reach Little Bear Creek (as opposed to Bear Creek) and the top of Cochran Mill Falls.
Higher and more majestic than the Henry Mill Falls, you’ll climb down a rocky, steep path (the only challenging part for children and older adults) past the sluice to the other side of the closed, iron bridge. When you look back at the falls, notice the brick ruins that remain from the original mill. You’ll follow the temporary trail back to the parking lot to complete the 3-mile hike.
After your hike, head over to Serenbe , just 6 miles away, for a local meal. This planned community, with a focus on sustainability, features an enclave of houses, lofts, art galleries, and eateries nestled among nature trails and a 25-acre organic farm. For a casual meal, stop in at the farm-to-table Blue-Eyed Daisy . On Monday, Tuesday, and Friday evenings, the restaurant hosts “Taco Nights.” There’s nothing like a pint of beer and chips and queso, and a trio of pork, beef, or chicken tacos.
Sit outside to people watch, enjoy a beer, and make a toast. Before leaving, order their signature double chocolate cupcake. It’s the perfect end to a day well spent in the woods.