Only an hour drive from Portland, the Molalla River Recreation Area has over 20 miles of trails and yet has managed to stay somewhat off the radar. With a seemingly endless number of routes to choose from, we found one that offers the most unique feature: a shack that once housed a family who served as trailkeepers and now hosts hikers in need of a break on this nearly 10-mile route.
Begin at the Hardy Creek Trailhead, where you're likely to encounter at least a few horse trailers and perhaps some mountain bikers, since the trail is open to both types of riders part of the year. Climb up the road bed until you reach the junction with Huckleberry Road and go right before veering left to ascend the Rim Trail, taking you deeper into the forest as you skirt above Hardy Creek. At the Loop Trail junction, make a right to stay on the Rim Trail, where you'll walk beneath alders, eventually cross a couple of creeks, and drop through a few gullies.
You'll notice a lot of ant nests along the path, which from far away just look like huge dirt mounds—but don't be fooled. Resembling thatched roofs, the mounds are built by colonies using small pieces of plant debris. If you get close enough, you'll see the nests are teeming with the tiny bugs. Anyone with a phobia of insects, though, will find the whole display horrifying and should probably just keep walking.
Once you reach yet another junction, hang a right onto Red Vole Trail and keep straight until you come to a fork at Huckleberry Road. Go left here. You'll soon come to a clearing and reach Annie's Cabin, a one-room structure with a cool history. According to the panel mounted inside, it was once home to Jim Williams, Annie Miller and her daughter, delightfully named Squirrel, who I imagine to be a half-feral child of the woods raised in part by her namesake critters. All three were stationed there while volunteering to keep the trails free of debris from June 1992 to December 1993. Thankfully, the cabin wasn't their only shelter and simply acted as a living room, while cooking and sleeping took place in a trailer parked next door.
Visitors are allowed to use the cabin, and you'll find items that have been brought there for anyone who might need extra supplies. On my visit, the house was stocked with canned food, coffee creamer, propane tanks, hand warmers and an array of melted tea candles that looked like someone decided to use the space for a séance.
Unless you decide to take up the former family's mantle and move in, your path back begins at Huckleberry Road. Then take the Fern Creek Trail to Deer Skull Trail, which reconnects with Rim Trail. Descend to the parking lot using Hardy Creek Trail.
Difficulty: Dirty Boots
Distance: 9.9 miles
Directions: From Portland, take Interstate 5 south and get off at exit 282A, following the Portland-Hubbard Highway for about 1 mile. Turn left onto Arndt Road Northeast, then right onto South Arndt Road and right again onto South Barlow Road. After 2 miles, take a left onto South Lone Elder Road and then right onto Canby-Marquam Highway. You'll then veer onto South Macksburg Road and stay on it by taking three left turns over 13 miles until it reaches Oregon Route 211 north. Turn left there. Then travel less than a mile to South Wright Road and turn right. Follow that for nearly 2 miles until reaching South Feyrer Park Road and turn right. Continue straight onto South Dickey Prairie Road and follow it for nearly 5.5 miles. Make a sharp right to cross the Glen Avon Bridge and then left onto South Molalla Forest Road. After about 3.5 miles, you'll turn right into the gravel parking area for the Hardy Creek Trailhead.
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