Our annual spring burn morel foraging trip to the Pacific Northwest has come to a close and was a smashing success. For the first time in the last few years, the weather was perfect and offered the right combination of rain, warmth, cool and dry. We also have expanded our burn morel hunts to include spring porcinis and not only found all we wanted, but, discovered a whole new area of the state with stellar mushroom hunting.
Timing is Everything
As we drove into Oregon, the mushroom areas we intended to hunt had been enjoying a nice cycle of rain every few days. Furthermore, two full days of rain were in the forecast and then a short warming trend. Finally, it was followed up by a cooling trend. The rain and the warmth allowed burn morels to pop at new elevations. After that, following cool and dry weather assured mushrooms would remain fresh and pickable for days. The cool, dry weather also inhibited bug activity in the mushrooms, even the large spring kings were pristine.
Along the way we discovered Prospect, Oregon and its stunning environs. Prospect is a hyper local morel and bolete hotspot. Towering grand fir forests from Prospect to Union Creek pick well for both mushrooms (earlier in the season specifically). You can follow the mushrooms up into the mountains as the season progresses. We had a ball riding our fat-tire e-bikes on numerous soft groomed and bermed OHV trails, all the time spotting spring porcinis along the trail. We met several other local mushroomers in the field who were friendly and helpful.
2018 Oregon Burn Overview
Following are the four main burns we hit during our 2018 road trip.
Desolation and Wildcat
May 18th: Our first burn was west of Prineville, Oregon – the Desolation fire was 2,475 acres burned September of 2017. While 75% of the fire burnt designated Wilderness areas, there were still hundreds of acres around 4,500 ft to explore. We scouted out the fire, stopping at several locations, and picked a gallon or two. In past years, we have had great luck at nearby burns (within a mile!). The ground was moist – and even though we found some morels, they were sparse. Finally, after driving through and checking many parts of this burn we decided the forest itself was not just right for maximum morel growth, not enough shade and undergrowth. We also did a drive-by on a small burn nearby, Wildcat, and it was more of the same.
If you want to know more about the type of forest we look for, check out our ebook, which has details. The most reliable terrain offers mixed conifer forests with lots of undergrowth, brown needles both on the ground and in the trees, and plenty of bushy areas. What we found were wide open forests that had burned but there wasn’t a lot of “structure” under the canopy. The map above shows the area we drove and walked (the roads winding through the bottom right quadrant inside the red burn lines, tough to distinguish). We color coded the elevation (pink 4,000′ to blue 5,000′, color gradient) and focused on the orangey blueish area @ 4,500 feet. For each of our burns, we create these color coded maps so we can find our desired elevations on the map more easily. On the map above we would ignore the green area – it is over 5K feet and the mushroom weren’t there yet, also mostly Wilderness.
May 19th – 23: Our next destination was the huge Milli fire near Sisters Oregon. Milli is a “destination” fire: located in prime territory, easily accessible by many roads, a large range of elevations available and huge: 24,000 acres (38 square miles). We spent several days exploring the Milli fire and picking a bag of shrooms each day.
Milli had dozens of pickers working it every day and cars parked at regular intervals in the forest. The good news was there was so much land we were able to find areas that were unpicked and also lots and lots of mushrooms the other pickers missed. Even though the weather was perfect, we never located a huge “first flush” of pickable morels. However, we did enjoy a “second flush” which worked really well. The second flush seems to have happened a week or so after the first flush and the commercial pickers had already been through most of the area. Our sweet spot at Milli was around 4,450 feet. We found mushrooms as high as 4,600 feet but they were small and fresh (telling us we needed to go lower). We were surprised that we weren’t finding them higher as friends had picked this same burn and elevation a week prior.
What does it look like to “do well”? For us it typically means going on a 2-4 hour hike and coming home with a full bag. We never sell our mushrooms, but like to maximize our hunts. Our bags hold about 2.5 gallons of mushrooms comfortably. When dried that roughly fills 3/4+ of a gallon ziplock bag. The rub here is two-fold. One: we cannot easily process more than that out of our camper. Especially if we are also finding some porcinis each day. Two: these mushrooms were not A+ mushrooms. Because we were picking the second flush, we were often getting older mushrooms mixed in. Also, it rained hard during this time and when the existing morels (first flush) get rained on, they start to degrade much more quickly. The morels were nice, but, not awesome.
We camped at Whispering Pines, which is actually a horse camp. It was a neat campground, smack in the middle of the burn, with no one else around! We had the whole place to ourselves. The burn was only a 15 minute drive to Sisters so we were able to make side trips into the Camp Sherman and the Metolius River basin to look for natural morels and spring porcinis. We were mildly successful on the porcinis (Boletus rex-veris) and were able to cook some up in camp and dry a few as well.
We left Milli still looking for A+ quality mushrooms in greater abundance. We were confident if we stayed at Milli they would flush more higher, but we get a little stir crazy and like to find new spots. Plus, we wanted to go find a great place to spend Memorial Day Weekend and knew we better have that nailed down by Thursday.
The Broken Lookout burn is a 1,900 acre burn North and West of Prospect in the Rogue River Siskiyou National Forest. We stayed at Abbott Creek Campground which put us halfway between the fire and Prospect. We tried to hit this fire every day. It rained very cold cats and dogs during our first day and then turned sunny, got warmer each day and was in the high 70s by Monday. This turned out to be perfect for the mushrooms and we were able to fill our bag every trip up the mountain. We spent most of our time around 4,600′ and found higher quality morels at this burn.
We saw gyromitras (known false morels) in some spots of the burn and lots of beautiful wild iris. We also started hunting spring boletes a lot harder in this area and had great luck filling several baskets with these yummy treats. We actually found several porcinis in the burn itself, on un-burned logging roads at 4,600 feet. We ended up going lower though and finding lots more mushrooms.
Blanket Creek fire
May 30th – June 1st: We wrapped up our trip with the Blanket Creek fire which was east of Prospect. The Blanket Creek fire is another big one: 33,000 acres. This turned out to be the proverbial motherlode for us where we could quickly harvest large fresh morels in great quantity. The problem with this fire was that it was hard to access by car and required a 3 mile up-hill hike. We did do the hike, once. After that, we zoomed up to the fire on our electric fat-tire bikes. That was super fun!
In this fire, we hunted from 5,200 to 5,600 ft and got fresh large mushrooms in great quantities. It felt like no other pickers had been in the area where we were hunting either (the benefit of a 3 mile hike/bike!). We were able to fill our bags in about an hour at this fire. We continued to find porcini too but at 1,000 feet lower than the burn morels.
All Good Things Must End
With another successful foraging trip under our belts, we ponder what we learned and what we would do differently. Definitely trying to make a two week trip, catch some weather cycles and learn what the mushrooms are doing was a great idea. We also discovered that porcinis call us almost more urgently than morels do… as our trip progressed we found ourselves prioritizing the hunt for spring kings. Don’t tell anyone, but, Trent would rather eat a spring porcini than a burn morel. Finally, we really appreciated getting to spend a lot of time in a new area (the Prospect area) and look forward to returning next year!
Lots of PNW fires are still producing out there! If you are interested in 2018 maps with burn perimeters, elevation and satellite view, please check out our PNW Burn Morel e-book which is packaged with maps for CA, ID, OR, WA (CO, MT + WY also available). Note: burn maps do not come with elevation gradients as shown above, just marked topo lines (this is some extra fancy stuff we do for our own hunts). Also – you must have a Google account (or be willing to create a free account) to view.