Morel mushroom are quite possibly the highest regarded forage in North America. They’re the gem of the wild food kingdom and are always welcome in enlightened kitchens.
Like most fungi, morels can be incredibly difficult to find. If you’re new to the mushroom hunting scene, make sure you check out our complete guide to morel hunting.
If you already know the basics, then you’re ready for this regional guide. Our experts lay out the where, when and how for finding morels across the country.
Hunting Morel Mushrooms in New England
“Hunting morels in the Northeast is a practice in managing your expectations. Unlike the big burn sites out west, here you might only harvest a handful. Or, you might gather some fiddleheads instead, to avoid going home empty-handed.
“Morels here fruit from April through June, peaking in mid-May. When turkeys are in full strut, and spring ephemerals like trillium and bloodroot are flowering, it’s time to start searching.
“They’re most often found with elm, ash and apple trees. They are less commonly found with tulip poplar, big toothed aspen and cottonwood. You’ll want to look for very mature, declining or dead trees in any of these cases. Morels prefer the loamy, slightly alkaline soil where these trees tend to grow.
“Other things that could indicate suitable ground are skunk cabbage (not the super wet spots), wooded edges of farm fields where agricultural lime is applied, or areas that have been mined for limestone, marble, clay, cement or brick. A good way to narrow your search is to use Onx or Google Maps to spot abandoned orchards or old mine sites.” —Jenna Rozelle
Hunting Morel Mushrooms in the Mid-Atlantic
“Just like many other regions, finding morels in the mid-Atlantic isn’t an equation with one simple answer. The good news is that mastering tree identification doesn’t take a whole lot of effort, which is what I consider the most important factor in coming home with a full bag of mature shrooms.
“Growing up in western Maryland, the often-abundant tulip poplar or yellow poplar was the golden ticket. It’s probably the most distinguishable eastern hardwood with its arrow-straight trunk that’s often clean of any limbs or branches until near the top of the canopy. We’d look for its tulip-shaped leaves—the time is right for morels when those leaves are about the size of a silver dollar—and hone in on big stands to start our search.
“From there, we’d look for southern-facing slopes that catch sunlight for a good part of the day thanks to the lack of low-hanging branches from the tulip trees. Once we had found a spot to search, it was all about time and patience. As my old man often said to me, ‘Boy, a close relationship with the poplar is a fast-track to finding these things.'” —Ben O’Brien
Hunting Morel Mushrooms in the South
“Like anywhere else in the country, morels start showing up in early spring when daytime temps are in the 70s and nighttime lows are in the 50s. For much of the South, the best mushroom hunting happens in early April. With the vast fluctuations in temp, this can be difficult to track. When that’s the case, lean on the old timer wisdom that says morels pop when dogwood leaves reach the size of a squirrel’s ear.
“Morel hunting is competitive below the Maxon-Dixon. Start your search on southern-facing slopes, and then shift your focus to everything else. Dying elm and ash trees seem to be the most productive vegetation in which to find morels. Mushroom hunting around pine trees is very hit or miss because of acidity in the soil.
“Wild fires in the South are rare these days, but old burn sites still produce some decent foraging. Low intensity prescribed grass burns along wood edges are quite common, though, and offer some of the finest and easiest picking in the region. Creek bottoms and river edges are also very popular for morel hunters. The best opportunity seems to be within 100 yards of water, where runoff disturbs the soil and adds key nutrients.
“As with most things outdoors, those who pay close attention to detail will be the most successful. The South is full of microclimates and niche environments that will test even the most experienced gatherers.” —Joshua Smith
Hunting Morel Mushrooms Around the Great Lakes
“Mother’s Day is traditionally the middle of the morel mushroom hunting season in the driftless region of Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.
“White and red elm are a common tree species in the mixed hardwood forests of the upper Midwest. Recently deceased white and red elms continue to be the biggest producers of morels in our area.
“Look for dead elms, with the bark just beginning to loosen and fall from the tree. Early in the season, look higher up on south and southeast facing ridges and slopes. Indicator species like blood root, May apple and Jack in the pulpit will help tell if the temperatures are right. Once blood root begins to flower, the May apples are putting up their umbrellas and Jack in the pulpits are starting to open, morels are also likely to be up.
“Move up and down the hill on those warm southern exposures, all the while looking for dead and dying elms and indicator species. As spring progresses and the Jack in the pulpits are preaching, the season is waning. Keep moving around the slopes into more northerly areas and in bottoms to extend your morel season.” —Doug Duren
Hunting Morel Mushrooms in the Great Plains
“The Great Plains are a damn great place to be for anyone who loves morels. These mushrooms start showing up in the southern end of the region as early as late March, and in the northern end of the region as late as late May. For most of the area, though, primetime is mid-April to early May. When you see the first dandelions get their yellow, it’s just about time to start looking for morels.
“In a good year, you’ll get about two weeks of mushroom hunting before they disappear. In a bad year, they can vanish in as quickly as a few days. Begin your search for the golden fungus in sandy soil and open areas. As the season progresses, you’ll find mushrooms in less permeable soils and areas with more shade.
“For much of the region, the finest mushroom hunting will be near water. The Missouri, Mississippi, Ohio, Platte and Illinois Rivers all have good mushroom hunting, as do their tributaries. You’ll find that the best spots are often only accessible by boat, leaving the majority of foragers behind. These spots get even better in the spring immediately following a flood, as disturbed soil inspires good morel growth.
“Often times the presence of more common shrooms, like inky caps or shaggy manes, will signal that there are morels in the area. Most Midwestern mushrooms favor similar habitat, so finding an undesirable species can actually lead you to what you’re really after.” —Spencer Neuharth
Hunting Morel Mushrooms in the Mountain West
“The varied elevation of the Intermountain West is both a blessing and a curse when it comes to morel hunting. The curse is that timing can swing wildly from one location to the next, as morels in one valley might pop a month earlier than another that’s just an hour’s drive away. But then there’s the blessing: Varied elevation means that enterprising morel hunters might enjoy a season that lasts a couple months or more, as they chase the fungi from low-elevation riparian zones up to higher elevation aspen stands and forest fire sites.
“As for the riparian zones, look for river valleys with ankle-high grass and mature cottonwoods. We find a lot of them from late April to late May. Oyster mushrooms are good indicators; they usually show up on the trunks of cottonwoods somewhat simultaneously with the morels growing beneath.
“Aspen stands are also a good bet in the mountains, earlier on southerly and easterly exposures and later on northerly and westerly exposures. We’ve found them as late as July at elevations around 8,000 feet by following the snowline uphill.
“Far and away, the real action in the mountains comes in the wake of wildfires. When a summer fire burns, the following spring can be dynamite during the weeks after snowmelt. You can find morels in burns while there is still patchy snow on the ground, but things generally pick up as the snow vanishes and vegetative growth starts in earnest.” —Steven Rinella
Hunting Morel Mushrooms in the Pacific Northwest
“In the Pacific Northwest, you can find yellow morels and black morels. Each have unique relationships with different trees. Large yellow morels (morchella americana) are most likely to be found along rivers near cottonwood trees. Smaller yellow morels (morchella tridentina) and black morels (morchella snyderi) are common near fir trees, specifically Douglas fir.
“Like any mountainous area, burn sites are great places to key in on. The spring following a fire is the best time to find morels, especially if the trees that burned were fir.
“Morel season is drawn out in the Pacific Northwest. To know when it will start, watch for daffodils blooming, apple trees budding and wildflowers opening. Start at lower elevations early in the spring. Morels here grow quite slowly, sometimes taking three weeks to fully mature. When you notice mushrooms deteriorating at lower elevations, move up 500 to 1000 feet at a time to find fresh morels.
“You’ll cover lots of ground searching for morels in this region, so always carry your harvest in a mesh bag. By doing that, you’re helping spread morel spores as you go.” —Chris Matherly
Feature image via Spencer Neuharth.