How to Find Morels – Our Favorite Spring Mushrooms
First of all, this post isn’t about identifying morels but that’s obviously a very crucial part of any foraging. We have a brief post here where we provide recommendations for resources to learn to I.D. morels.
Here is a mushroom that looks similar to a morel, but it is NOT A MOREL!
If this looks like a morel to you, or you don’t know, make sure you know how to identify them before you consider harvesting and cooking them.
For those who are comfortable with mushroom I.D. and have been looking for morels but can’t find them – this article is for you!
A couple of years ago we had our most successful morel hunt yet. It wasn’t just successful because of the quantity of mushrooms that we harvested. It was successful because we picked a place on a map that we had never been to before, we drove 5 hours to get there, and while we were setting up camp we literally parked on top of morels. They were growing in the road and we soon discovered that they were everywhere.
Planning a trip out-of-town can be intimidating but it can also be rewarding!
With a few lessons that we have learned, we hope we can point you in the right direction for planning a morel hunt. Like any other type of wild food, it’s all about timing and location.
In a very basic sense, you are most likely to find morels in a FORESTED area that burned in the last couple of years.
We look for morels in areas that burned anywhere from 1 year ago to 5 years ago or so. 2-3 year-old burns are our favorite.
I exaggerated the word “forested” because I think this can be overlooked by beginners. You aren’t going to find morels in a high desert, grassland, or anything like that. Generally, out West, you are mostly looking for higher elevations – we like 4000 to 8000 feet, but they can absolutely be found outside of that range. A common exception can be river bottoms in lower elevations, but if you are looking for your first time and want to be successful, start up in the forest.
The beautiful mushroom in the photo below was growing in the cottonwoods next to a river down at 3,500 feet, far away from the pine and fir trees where we usually find them.
Another common mistake people make is that they are looking too close to the coast.
If you are in Washington or Oregon I would head up and over to the east side of the Cascades or at least be near the crest. I wouldn’t bother spending too much time looking down in the wet coastal range. Although it’s definitely possible to find them there, you’ll get more bang for your buck if you head a little further East.
To narrow down your search to burn areas, you are going to need to find maps of burn areas. For this, we use ONX maps.
If you haven’t given the ONX app a shot, we highly recommend it. They have a 7-day free trial and the $30 a year is incredibly worth it for a single-state membership.
The ONX mapping app can be installed on your smartphone and turns your phone into a GPS even when you don’t have cell service. It has a very handy map layer that shows all historical wildfires. This means that with one app you can plan a trip and then use it for navigation once you are out in the woods.
ONX shows pretty much all roads and trails, and property ownership too. You can also toggle between satellite imagery and topographic maps which can be very handy.
Anyway, if you don’t want to use ONX you’ll just need to find another way to find recent wildfires. If you live out west, it’s likely that there have been plenty in the last few years near where you live.
After you’ve chosen a likely area, it’s all about timing. Morels can flush as early as February and as late as July, and with the changing climate, the window is probably growing. We like to head into the woods to start looking in April and we’re usually done poking around in June. The month of May has been our most successful month for morels so far.
Timing can be tricky, though. Most people can’t go as often as they’d like to. That’s why we’d recommend using social media to see where others are having success.
Search for some mushroom social groups on Facebook and join. You’ll be pleasantly surprised with how much you can learn.
We don’t recommend asking for specific mushroom hunting spots, but lots of mushroom hunters are happy to share information like the elevation where they were successful last weekend. This information is not only super helpful for success, it’s highly motivating! If you can see that people have been doing well at 5,000 to 6,000 feet in the last week, get out there and start looking at that elevation.
Another important factor to consider is the aspect where you are hunting.
Aspect is just the direction that a slope faces. We have had successful morel trips where the mushrooms are only flushing on north or east-facing slopes. A couple years ago we were hiking up a bowl and we were finding tons of morels, but as soon as got to the top and started down the other side of the mountain, we found nothing. Lots of the time this is because south and west-facing slopes are drier than north and east-facing slopes. Just pay attention to the aspect of the slopes you are looking on, and if you aren’t finding anything make sure to try a different aspect. If you start paying attention to where you’re finding mushrooms, you’ll start to notice patterns, and then you know you’re really onto something great.
Do you see the morels in the photo above? You can also do all of the right planning and get to a great spot and walk right past morels.
They are hard to see, and it takes a bit of time for your eyes to get better at noticing them. Check out our other post here where we have some pictures to help train your eye.
We hope this article was helpful, please feel free to comment if you have any questions or tips that you’d like to share!