What are some of the tallest waterfalls in north Georgia? You probably have the names "Amicalola Falls" and "Anna Ruby Falls" somewhere in your head. But what about Cochrans Falls? There is a possibility that you haven't heard that name before, and for good reason. This 600-foot waterfall is only around 130 feet lower than Amicalola Falls, but it is one of the most secluded waterfalls in the entire state and has nowhere near the fame of its taller neighbor to the west. On this hike, you'll follow a jeep road into the depth of the Cochrans Creek valley, before taking a rugged and steep goat path to Cochrans Falls and the head of this remote and very scenic area. This hike occurred on Saturday, May 21st, 2016. My plan was to follow a jeep road from Blackhawk Road along Cochrans Creek. At the terminus of the road, I would take an unofficial trail that would scramble along the creek and past the numerous lower cascades and drops of Cochrans Falls all the way to the uppermost and highest drop.
R/T Length of Trail: 4.9 Miles
Duration of Hike: 4:50
Type of Hike: Out and Back
Difficulty Rating: 8 out of 10
Total Elevation Gain: 978 Feet
Pros: Only the last part of the hike is difficult; cables are strung along the trail at the steepest parts
Cons: There is ORV usage on the jeep road that the trail originally follows
Points of Interest: Cochrans Falls - 10+ stars
Trail Blaze Color(s): None
Best Season(s) to Hike: Year-round, but one spot could be icy during winter
Beginning Point: Clearing on Blackhawk Road just before an old gate and a ford of Cochrans Creek
Directions: From Dawsonville, GA: Follow Shoal Creek Road northward for 2.6 miles. Then, turn left onto GA Route 136 and follow it for 3.2 miles. Next, turn right onto Bailey Waters Road. Continue on Bailey Waters Road for 4.4 miles (past the GA 52 intersection) until Dan Fowler Road. Turn left onto Dan Fowler Road, and continue for 1.2 miles. At a place where the road curves right, bear left onto Blackhawk Road, a narrow gravel road. Continue on Blackhawk Road for 0.3 miles, and after keeping left at the fork, arrive at the clearing to the right of the road. This clearing has space for several cars. Blackhawk Road, while narrow, should be suitable for most passenger vehicles.
Click here for more information and to download this trail map to view in Garmin Basecamp.
Having read about the difficulty to reach this waterfall in several guidebooks, I wasn't quite sure if I would make it, but in the end result, I can conclude that this isn't the hardest hike that I have done. The scrambling is fairly tough, but if you have some hiking experience, you should be able to do it without any significant problems.
Begin the hike to Cochrans Falls by continuing down Blackhawk Road from where you parked your car. Shortly, you'll arrive at the first ford of Cochrans Creek. Just before the road, note the old gate lying in the weeds. Several years ago, this road was gated to prevent any further ATV use, but at some point after that, the gate must have been illegally removed. Thus, on your car, you could drive slightly farther in, but I suspect that the gate here will be replaced in the future, which is why I recommended starting before the first ford. It is also the traditional starting point of the Cochrans Falls hike. And plus, both fords are easy and shallow. Following the first ford, the road passes a field t othe left and then curves to the right to a fork at 0.15 miles, where one road keeps left, uphill, and the other road keeps right, downhill back to Cochrans Creek. Take the right fork and descend to the second ford shortly thereafter. The second ford is at 0.25 miles, and there is a camping area to the left. After the ford, there are several vehicle-blocking boulders, and the original route of the jeep road is filled in by fallen trees. However, a new path to the right, utilized by hikers, has unfortunately grown wide enough for at least a motorcycle to pass. To continue the hike, bear right on this path, bypass the downed trees on the old roadbed, and then return to and turn right onto the jeep road. There is not much to see along this jeep road as it remains mostly flat and sometimes within sight of Cochrans Creek. There are some muddy areas, and as you get further in, these muddy areas increase in number, but they can be avoided. At 0.7 miles, a jeep road bears left and fords Cochrans Creek. Bear right to continue on the route to Cochrans Falls.
At 1.8 miles, the jeep road enters a camping area. From here, a less distinct but still wide road continues straight. At 1.9 miles, the jeep road ends in front of a large fallen log. This is where you will leave all ATVs behind and begin the rugged goat path to Cochrans Falls. Cross over the log, descend to an area of slippery rocks, and then begin ascending into the narrowing Cochrans Creek valley. Soon, the path bears right - try to stick with the most obvious path. The valley steepens very suddenly and quickly here, and before long, the path starts to follow a steep slope with Cochrans Creek foaming below to your left. There are several large blowdowns in this area that can take a while to maneuver across. The grade of the trail also steepens. At 2.3 miles, the trail reaches the lowermost part of Cochrans Falls. This is a beautiful, tall sliding waterfall. This is where the hardest part of the hike begins. First, you must scramble across a slanted rock next to the creek. This area may be impassable during winter, if it's icy. If you don't wish to scramble along the rock here, you can walk through the creek to the other side of the rock instead. Once you're past the rock, there are two paths that rejoin later. I took the one to the right - I scrambled up another rock and then to a steep area where you must walk across a slippery rock. Luckily, a cable has been strung here for assistance. Just a bit farther, you'll come to what looks like the steepest stretch yet: another cable strung across a tall rock. The route up this rock looks almost like a rock climbing route! I wasn't quite sure if I could tackle this spot, so I took a distinct path to the left to see if I could find any other way up there. Sure enough, there was another route up this steep slope to the right, and it was easier, because it did not involve rocks. It was just a steep scramble. Before I attempted the scramble, I continued straight to a point where the path dead-ended at a picturesque set of cascades. By now, you have probably realized that the striking beauty of the upper reaches of the Cochrans Creek watershed is one of the most beautiful places around.
From the set of cascades, return to the scramble and make your way up the steep path to the more traveled path up top. Then, turn left to continue on the way to Cochrans Falls. Congratulations, you have made it past the most difficult section! From here, the trail has less obstacles, but it is still quite steep as it ascends above the rushing creek below. Through the trees, especially during winter, you can see the highest drop of Cochrans Falls, along with smaller cascades below it, to the trail's left. At 2.45 miles, the steep ascent finally ends at a tall rock bluff that is reminiscent of the Cumberland Plateau. This is the end of the trail to Cochrans Falls. To the left, you can walk out to the top drop of Cochrans Falls. What a view! The creek begins falling down here and continues to do so for nearly a quarter-mile, falling a total of 600 feet. The waterfall itself, along with the rock wall to the right, makes for a very picturesque setting. As of this writing, this is officially my favorite waterfall in Georgia and one of the best waterfalls that I've ever hiked to. By the way, I have heard about a potential scramble route to the top of the cliff next to the falls, but I have not tried it out, so I cannot confirm if it's there or not.
The route back is the same way, so from Cochrans Falls, retrace your steps. The descent seemed to me to be a little more difficult in the tough spots, so be careful and don't try to go too fast. You'll return back to your car at 4.9 miles. For such a short trail, this hike is of surprising difficulty - the roughness of the terrain around Cochrans Falls is not to be underestimated. Nevertheless, the reward is outstanding. I rate this hike a "Best Hike"!
0.0 - Cochrans Falls Parking on Blackhawk Road
0.25 - Second ford of Cochrans Creek
1.9 - The end of the jeep road
2.3 - Lowermost drop of Cochrans Falls
2.45 - End of the trail at final, highest drop of Cochrans Falls
4.9 - Return to the parking area
None, unless you choose not to scramble all the way up to the top of Cochrans Falls.
Bearden Falls is a nearby waterfall that is similar to Cochrans Falls, although not as tall. It is a lot easier to reach Bearden Falls, from what I've read.
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Year 5: 33.9 Miles