We just got back from a camping trip to the Molalla River just east of Molalla, Oregon.
We had a great time on our camping trip.
But from a rockhounders standpoint, we were pretty disappointed.
Rockhounding Molalla River
What Is It Like At Molalla River?
The Molalla River runs mostly south to north (ish), and is located east of Silverton, Oregon.
We visited the river in late June not far from the town of Molalla on a Hipcamp.com adventure.
The river at that time of the year was fairly warm, and the flow was not all that high.
We were made to understand by locals that the river level tends to be pretty shallow in the summer months.
As a boater/floater, the river level and flow was disappointing.
But the rockhounder in me was excited, because it meant that a lot of gravel and riverbed would be easy to access.
What Rocks Did I Find At the Molalla River?
I’m an agate hunter.
It is usually pretty quick and easy to find some good looking decent sized agates and jaspers.
Not so with the Molalla River.
As I had hoped, the low flow of the river left tons of rock exposed.
The low flow also made it easy for me to see to the riverbed and the rocks just below the surface.
Sadly, there were very few rocks that I found interesting in my search.
There was tons of gray basalt pebbles, eggs, even boulder sized stones.
There were also quite a few other igneous rock mixes that I did not work to identify, because the rocks did not exhibit any sort of color I was attracted to.
I spent 3-4 days on the river, surface hunting, and then even digging down to see if I could turn anything over.
At the end of the trip, I didn’t find a single agate, a single jasper, or anything else pretty but unidentified that I wanted to take home with me.
I looked for boring stones with cool holes.
I looked for cool shapes.
Again, not much.
If Not Rocks, What Did I Find In The Molalla River?
While we got skunked on rocks, I will note that there was actually a ton of clay in the river.
There were several large pieces (bigger than my hands) that we broke apart to let the kids play with.
After mushing up the clay a bit with some water, the kids were able to turn the lumps into cool shapes which we then left out on the hot rocks to dry.
There were also several large shelf areas that were made completely of the clay.
These were cool to find, but pretty darn slippery to stand on, especially in the current.
We also found tons of decent sized crawdads/freshwater crayfish.
These little dudes were everywhere, swimming around our lawn chairs that we placed in the water to beat the heat, or resting behind or under rocks in the current.
Notes for Visiting The Molalla River
While we got pretty much skunked for pretty rocks, that shouldn’t stop you from visiting the Molalla River.
After all, the river and surrounding areas are dang beautiful.
The water levels are not super high, but when you do find swimming holes, the water temps are not frigid.
This means that you could sit in your tube for an entire afternoon comfortably, and the kids can swim all day without turning blue.
In fact, it turned out to be a great place for my kids to swim.
There are several public access spots to visit, but we did notice that those areas tended to get pretty crowded on hot days.
The reason for the crowding–the low flow.
This means that floating the river for pleasure/fishing is not an option, though many people still try it.
(And end up with bruised behinds and injured feet from walking tubes and kayaks over the exposed gravel bars).
We also noticed that the landowners in the area tended to be pretty “assertive” about keeping trespassers off the edges of their property (at like the river’s edge).
We managed to find a good swimming hole that was close to a Hipcamp location, which provided us the right to be in the water at that location.
With a decent amount of privacy.
This is a pretty dry area in summertime, and temps there tended to be a bit higher than those in the middle of the valley or towards the west.
This means you should plan for hot days (meaning bring lots of water).
The local stores in the area of our trip actually ran out of ice!
Another important note: people who are unstable or who are not in good shape should have a care when trying to walk around in the water.
The rocks and gravel areas are covered with a thin layer of silt.
This silt made the rocks slicker than snot, I kid you not.
I fell several times, and I watched several other adults fall, and at least one get injured.
My kids came home with scraped up toes and cut feet.
Wear good and well strapped on water shoes if you are going to rock hunt or walk around in the water.
I wore flip flops one day and got a flop caught in the current on a rock….and took a pretty big embarrassing tumble into the water.
Final Thoughts About Molalla River Rockhounding
We’ve heard of other folks who had luck hunting for rocks in the Molalla River.
In particular, folks who focus on gold panning have reported some success.
But we’ve heard from just as many people who headed out to the Molalla River to hunt rocks and came home empty handed.
We recommend that you visit this river area, for its beauty.
But we also think you should bring a camping chair, cooler with drinks, and a book.
You’ll need something to do.
We have a trip to go rockhounding near Lebanon, Oregon planned soon, we’ll let you know how it goes!
Oregon Rockhounding Resources
If you are interested in having a physical book in hand while exploring Oregon (when wi-fi/cell signal is not reliable), consider:
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