Mushroom Foraging for Morels at Mount Shasta

Mushroom foraging for morels is far from glamorous. After a day spent traipsing through the woods, my pockets may have been filled with mushrooms, but my bare feet held together a displeasing combination of bear scat and red dirt. The area around Mount Shasta had received plenty of rain during springtime and was primed for wild mushroom hunting. With a spontaneous invite by some local guides, off I went.

Mushroom foraging for morels at mount shasta mk holds morels
MK holding freshly foraged morel mushrooms

A Fresh Forager’s Frolicking on Shasta

I didn’t plan on spending my day pushing through overgrown brush and dead trees – it was a last minute invite. If I’d have known I’d be climbing over fallen trees, ducking under dead branches, avoiding animal den holes, and walking through piles of snow and scat alike, I’d have dressed far more appropriately.

Mushroom foraging for morels at mount shasta

Maybe wearing shorts and flip-flops adds to the story, but I can’t say I’d recommend such attire for another forager or my own repeated adventure.

Mushroom foraging, also referred to as mushroom hunting or mushroom picking, is the unusual adventure of collecting wild mushrooms for culinary, medicinal, or psychotropic uses. This practice is widespread and has some incredible historical lore and roots across the world.

I’ve long desired to forage for mushrooms, especially living in Northern California, and I finally had my chance. I was invited to traipse through the forests around 4,000 feet in altitude near Mount Shasta. 2024 has been a particularly rainy spring, which in turn provided superb growing conditions for morel mushrooms.

Taken to a hidden spot, the mushroom foraging began at the lowest elevation they had been reported as of late, around 3500 feet. Before setting out into the dense forest, off trail and away from any sense of civilization, we went over briefly plans for encountering bears or mountain lions.

Plenty of other vehicles were spotted parked alongside the road, tucked into turnouts and in between trees. I laughed at the sight of multiple people wandering seemingly aimlessly in ferns and the woods, a knife in one hand. In any other moment, I’d have been very worried by the sight of a strange person holding a knife. In this particular area and situation, I found it to be the opposite – seeing the knife was encouraging and a comfort. This was the right spot to hunt for mushrooms!

Mushroom foraging for morels at mount shasta hiking around
Following my trusty guides

We took off into the forest, sort of following the footsteps of other foragers, steadily climing uphill. It wasn’t long until the brush closed in and we began making our own path, eyes in the trees for mountain lions or bears, as well as on the ground for each step, looking for a hint of treasure.

Some mushrooms were incredibly tiny, yet full of detailed beauty. I loved how the moss surrounded this miniscule grove.

Mushroom foraging for morels at mount shasta finding morel mushrooms

The sun moved through the sky ever so subtely and lit up a morel mushroom on the ground. The funny thing about morels, and plenty of others, is once you find one, you begin to find a whole bunch more in a line. It is very rare only one will be spotted.

Mushroom foraging for morels at mount shasta cutting first mushroom

This was the first mushroom I’ve ever wild foraged, so I was especially elated to capture it on film. My guides were incredibly helpful in providing detailed instructions and plenty of background info on the how and the why.

Mushroom foraging for morels at mount shasta more morels in a line
Line of morel mushrooms

Sure enough, after cutting the first morel, we quickly spotted the line of morels hidden under fallen branches and pine needles.

We hiked up and up all over, through trees and brush and snow, around animal dens, stepped through bear scat, crunched on snow, and walked away with a fair amount or morels to tell the tale. This trip resulted in many tiny ones – other folks around the mountain reported finding much larger mushrooms.

Flip flops and shorts are not ideal for mushroom foraging.
Flip flops and shorts are not ideal for mushroom foraging.

Very unprepared for foraging. This is what not to wear and why. My guides were kind enough to go out of their way around rougher areas to give me easier access.

Preparing Morel Mushrooms Back Home

Back home, it was time to prepare the morel mushrooms to eat. They are poisonous if not cooked, and also prone to lots of worms. Soak them in a very salty bath for 5-10 minutes. This kills the bugs. Most sink to the bottom, some float. Rinse thoroughly.

Mushroom foraging for morels at mount shasta soaking in salt bath

After rising, I cut them to size for cooking then rinsed again, getting even more dirt and bugs out.

Mushroom foraging for morels at mount shasta sautee in butter

Cut into bite-sized pieces and sauted in butter. Ready for their final form – morel mushroom pizza! I got the idea from The Garden Tap in Mount Shasta.

Mushroom foraging for morels at mount shasta morel mushroom pizza

I have to admit, after making the dough from scratch, prepping the morels, being out all day, I completely forgot to take photos of the finished pizza until it was halfway eaten!

Morel Mushroom Identification

Identifying mushrooms accurately is crucial for safety and culinary enjoyment. Field guides are invaluable tools for distinguishing edible mushrooms from their poisonous or inedible counterparts. Check out the list of books section of this article for some of the renowned options out there.

For morels, separating them from false morels is as simple as paying attention to the color and stalk. And if you get home, simply cut the stalk in half. Is it hollow and look like calamari rings? Safe. Does it have a cellular structure? Toss it.

One common method used by both mycologists and amateur foragers is the spore print technique. By placing a mushroom on a surface and allowing its spores to fall, you can better identify the genus of the mushroom and differentiate between visually similar species. I have to admit, I haven’t tried this and depended on the people I was with for their identification experience.

Successful mushroom foraging requires knowledge of when and where to search, as different species thrive in specific conditions. Some mushrooms grow exclusively at the base of certain types of trees. Mastering the timing and locations for finding desired species in specific regions requires practice and experience.

The season for morels seemed to range from early to mid-March, all the way through early June, depending on weather and rainfall.

Around Mount Shasta, morel mushrooms were found at the base of saplings and near older fallen or dead trees with enough dampness in the soil.

Black morels will grow around burn sites, or spots where there have been forest fires. The following year will often result in many a morel in the area.

Mushroom Foraging Tools

I’m a prime example that mushroom foraging without any preparation can lead to success, but having the right tools can make a world of difference. Without guides, I’d have been much worse off and had a miserable time.

Sunscreen – Reef-safe spray works just fine. Being up in altitude, even if its cooler, you can burn really fast.

Mosquito / Bug Spray – The closer to mushrooms you are, the more biting, flying insects you’re likely to encounter.

Bear Spray – This is one spray you’ll never want to use, but glad to have it on you. Bears love mushrooms, and I spotted way too much bear poop all around them.

Hiking Safety Whistle – This is a tiny tool which will help both scare bears away before using the spray, and also assist in calling for help if you need it.

Mushroom Knife – This is THE mushroom knife to own if you plan on foraging – the Opinel No. 08. Made in France of Beachwood and forged steel, it includes boars hair bristle for cleaning off your fungi. Opinel makes all sorts of neat tools for outdoor food and camping you might want to check out while you’re at it.

Foraging Bag – A mesh bag is the sustainable approach, as it allows spores to continue to spread, fall and prolificate while you’re walking around hunting for the next mushroom.

Garmin inReach SOS Emergency Communicator – When you are traversing the backcountry, beyond reach of cell phone towers, you’ll want an emergency transponder to signal for help should you need it. This is very much the difference between life and death in many situations.

Hiking boots, jeans, and shirt that can get torn up. I made the mistake of wearing flip-flops and shorts, as this was an impromptu adventure. I’d return with clothes which can be torn by thistles, branches, and other elements of the forest. And boots to keep the bear scat from between my toes.

The mushroom knife is pretty much the only tool specific for mushroom foraging. Everything else can be reused for plenty of other adventures, whether you’re in hiking through Yosemite, kayaking in Lassen, or exploring the desert in Badwater Basin Death Valley.

Mushroom Books

Mushrooms Demystified – This book will tell you just about everything you’ve ever wanted to know about mushrooms. It is not the kind of book to bring with you while foraging, but to have at home and study.

All That the Rain Promises and More: A Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms – A superb field guide, and a great companion to Mushrooms Demystified with easy to identify key information.

Mushrooms and Other Fungi of North America – A great identification guide with multiple clear photos of different mushroom varieties.

Where to Stay

One of my favorite spots to stay at in the area is Cave Springs Resort in Dunsmuir. The location is fairly central to all sorts of outdoor activities, and many of the hot spots for mushroom foraging. They offer private cabins or a motel experience. Having done both, my first preference is their cabin with a hot tub. I’m like a mushroom, I need a good soaking to get all the dirt and bugs out. They also have Airstreams to stay in, which I have yet to do.

Annual McCloud Mushroom Festival

This festival is a great way to explore the world of mushrooms and fungi and take in some of the local culture.

The 20th Annual McCloud Mushroom Festival took place on May 25-26, 2024, in downtown McCloud, California.

The festival showcases wild mushroom foraging in the region, including workshops from resident mushroom experts, and live music from local bands. Around 10,000 people show up to the Mushroom Festival for good reason!

Along with all of the mushroom features, the festival hosts over 100 artisan, craft, and food vendors.

These were some of the classes for the 20th Annual festival to give you an idea of what to expect:

Mushroom Foraging Tour with Chris Farley

Chris Farley, an experienced forager from Northern California, will lead a mushroom foraging tour. Participants will learn about identifying and harvesting wild mushrooms in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. Farley brings a wealth of knowledge from his years of agricultural and foraging experience, making this tour an invaluable opportunity for both novice and experienced foragers.

Bioprospecting of Mushrooms with Andrew Reed

Andrew Reed, head of Mossy Creek Mushrooms, will present on bioprospecting. He will discuss the practice of searching for new fungal varieties, sharing insights on how this contributes to mycology and environmental conservation.

Preservation and Use of Medicinal Mushrooms with Angelic Garza

Angelic Garza will offer a workshop focused on the preservation and medicinal uses of mushrooms. This session will cover techniques for drying, storing, and utilizing mushrooms for their health benefits, providing practical knowledge for incorporating these fungi into daily life.

Junpu: Foraging Wisdom from the World’s Earliest Mushroom Manual with Dylan Goldfine-Middleton

Dylan Goldfine-Middleton will introduce the “Junpu,” a historic Chinese mushroom manual from 1245. He will share his research and translation work, highlighting the relevance of ancient mycological knowledge in contemporary foraging practices.

Healthy Forests Through Fungi with Angelina Cook & Nick Joslin

Angelina Cook and Nick Joslin will discuss the role of fungi in maintaining healthy forest ecosystems. Their presentation will cover how mushrooms support forest health and provide ecosystem services, followed by a discussion on local conservation efforts.

In Search of the Morel Super Flush: Identifying & Indicating Signs with Joseph Sparrow

Joseph Sparrow will lead a workshop on finding morel mushrooms. With over 15 years of experience as a homesteader and wild harvester, Sparrow will share tips and insights on identifying signs that indicate the presence of morels.

Decoding the Forest Floor: The Art of Mushroom Recognition with Alan Rockefeller

Alan Rockefeller, a renowned mycologist, will delve into the details of mushroom identification. Attendees will learn about key features such as cap shape, gill arrangement, and spore color, enhancing their ability to recognize different mushroom species accurately.

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