Updated: May 16, 2022
Your guide to hunting morel mushrooms in the South Cascades
Hunting morels is one of the best spring outdoor activities in Washington.
If you are renting a cabin from us, feel free to forage on our 20 acres of land.
May kicks off morel foraging season here at Packwood Station. It's the only time of the year one of the most sought after mushrooms in the world grows in abundance all around us!
If you are planning a trip to Packwood in May, keep your eyes open everywhere you go.
This guide is meant to help you be successful foraging, but make sure you are 100% confident in your identification before you eat any mushroom you find.
*NOTE - YOU MUST GET A FREE MUSHROOM FORAGING PERMIT IF YOU PLAN ON HUNTING MUSHROOMS IN THE GIFFORD PINCHOT NATIONAL FOREST HERE.
In Mount Rainier National Park, you are allowed up to 1 gallon of mushrooms per day without a permit.
Different Types of Morels
Black morels are beautiful, and mysterious looking fungi. They have the classic ivory stalk, but the tops of them are tan on the inside with black outer ridges on them. Their flavor is just as good as the common morels, I find these the toughest ones to spot, as if it's been a wet spring, the leaves on the forest floor are turning dark brown as well and make these blend in even more.
They are usually 3"-6" tall, though some are slightly larger. Like all morels, they must be thoroughly cooked prior to eating. Undercooked morels can make your stomach upset, but don't worry, as long as you cook them you have nothing to worry about.
Common & Yellow Morels
The most easily recognizable and common morel, these are regarded for their flavor and uniqueness in the Kingdom Fungi.
These typically start to pop up about 2 weeks after the arrival of the black morels, usually early to mid May.
They range from ivory to a muted yellow in color, with the classic honeycomb cap found in all morels. These can get quite large, finding them 6" tall is not uncommon. 1 per person is enough for a meal!
These are easier to spot on the forest floor, they stand out slightly better from the lighter color, especially at this time of the year.
There are not many fungi in Washington that resemble morels, but the one that you must watch out for is the false morel.
These can cause you to become very ill, so take heed. They are easy to avoid, if you know how to tell the difference.
You can tell a false morel from an edible one by the cap. The grooves in a false morel is much shallower than the real morels. Also their caps usually appear a burnt red in color.
If you are not sure, you can cut it open and look at the inside of the stalk. True morels are completely hollow on the inside, where as false morels have an almost cotton like interior.
And finally, the bottom of a true morel's cap connects directly to the stalk, where as false morels caps connect about halfway up the stalk, under the cap.
Where to find morels in Washington
Soil temperature averages must be above 50°F
The leaves should just be starting to bud out on the trees when black morels start popping up.
The easiest place to find morels is in an area of the forest that burned the year, or 2 years prior. This is because there are so many more morels that we cannot see growing in the grass and brush, and after a fire it's easy to spot them without the understory.
Here in Western Washington, we don't get as many fires as the Eastern side of the mountains (luckily!). This means that you'll have to hunt a little harder, but remember that once you find one, there are surely more in that same vicinity.
Morels are most commonly found around hardwood trees. We find them most commonly in areas with a lot of Black Cottonwood trees. These trees are usually found in riparian areas, which just means alongside creeks, rivers, and swampy areas.
Morels like moist soil, and don't tolerate direct sun very well. They thrive when they are under a filtered canopy of sunlight that heats up the moisture in the soil and raises the humidity, but doesn't dry it out.
When harvesting morels, it's very important to use a knife to actually cut the mushroom away from the base, not pull it up. Think of a mushroom like the apple on a tree. The apple is just the fruit of the apple tree, and it's important to not damage the branches when you are picking apples.
Mushrooms come from the fungus body, called mycelium. The mycelium is the actual fungus, the mushroom is what is called the fruitbody. Cutting away the morels preserves the mycelium underground, and promotes more mushrooms to come up at that site in the future.
Morel foraging is a tradition as old as time. People have known about the incredible, steak like flavor of these mushrooms for a long time, and hunting them is great to do with your family, friends, and partners.
So get out there, and remember to move slowly through the forest. I've never met a both successful and speedy mushroom hunter. It's all about slowing down, enjoying your hike, and hopefully finding some treasures along the way!