Colorado Burn Morel Hunting Tips

Burn Morel Mapping

This is How We Do It

While we are getting pounded with snow and rain throughout the state (happy, happy, joy, joy!), what better thing to do on a dreary Friday night than hunt burn morels… online. Yep, you heard me right – I said online! And no, I’m not talking about perusing Facebook mushroom group photos either. Part of the reason we have been so successful at finding burn morels year after year is that we spend way too much time studying burn maps, terrain and weather. With last year’s fires and a huge snowpack this winter, I predict 2019 will be a big year for Colorado burn morel hunting! In this post, I’m going to give some big love to my home state and show you exactly, how we do it. Get comfy, let’s geek out on some burn maps.

One very specific burn map to be precise – The Silver Creek Fire, which is almost equidistant from Toponas, Kremling and Steamboat Springs. This is a fire you will be able to hunt in 2019, it is on Trent’s “A” list, meaning he has marked it as a top CO burn. Although a large burn, I’m going to call this a sleeper Colorado fire because the burn data is technically tagged as a Wyoming fire. The fire was fought by firefighters from all over the country, including CO, but managed out of the Laramie office so it was classified in the database as a WY fire (WYMRF-000312). Thank you to the Forest Service for clarification! And I don’t even have the words to properly thank all the firefighters out there who work tirelessly to keep us safe every fire season. Last season hit close to home, I appreciate you all. 

The Maps 

Trent spends a month every winter compiling and curating burn map data for 11 states, one being Colorado. We sell access to the maps each year along with our Burn Morels ebook. The maps shown below are what you can expect to get if you purchase the product ($25 for CO or $39 for all 11 states). The real version is interactive (sample at very bottom) so you can zoom in and out all around the state. Enough about that. Let’s dig in. 

First a few discussion points about hunting burn morels:

  • These mushrooms only grow in a wildfire one year or more after the fire happens so here we are looking at 2018 burn data.
  • Colorado burn morels grow in burned conifer forests so knowing tree cover prior to the burn is very important
  • Morels have a relationship with elevation and aspect, they go up in elevation as the season progresses
  • You may not hunt on private land or in Wilderness Areas (or Indian Reservations or State Forests among a few other land types)
  • You are targeting National Forest land and you will need a mushroom hunting permit and Forest Service map (free in CO unless you fall under commercial status, check the rules) 

A Note on Permitting

This fire spans two National Forests – Arapahoe/Roosevelt and Medicine Bow-Routt. If you plan to hunt in both sections you will need forest product permits from both National Forests. Every forest has different rules, please pay close attention. I would recommend calling to find out which Ranger Station can issue you a permit before just showing up, also note they are closed on weekends.

Here are the numbers for your convenience – permits in Yampa (Routt): (970) 638-4516, permits in Steamboat (Routt): (970) 870-2299, permits in Granby/Hot Sulphur (Arapahoe): (970) 887-4100.

Forest Service websites can be somewhat confusing but you’ll find more information about permitting and Ranger Station info here:

Maps

Thus to do our online burn morel hunt we are going to need a few types of maps. At a minimum we’ll need topographic and satellite maps so we can study elevation, aspect and tree coverage. It would also be helpful to see land types and road access too. I don’t know about you, but I prefer fairly easy accessibility so road access is important. 

The Colorado Silver Creek Fire

I chose this fire because it’s on Trent’s top 10 list, but it’s interesting for several reasons:

  • A large portion of the fire is in the Arapahoe National Forest (note: a portion of the Northern section of this fire is in Wilderness, be aware)
  • It had nice conifer tree cover prior to burning
  • It’s very accessible with a road running through most of the burn
  • It has many East facing slopes, small creeks and gullys 

Let’s take a look. This is our base topo map – the red line is the burn perimeter and the yellowish shaded region is the burn. I’m zoomed in here to the skinny bottom part of the fire which is an East facing slope that ranges in elevation from about 9000′ to 9600′. This is likely a later season fire, late June and likely even into July with all this snowpack. You’ll also see several creek gullys running down toward Red Dirt Creek. Morels like moisture – these gullys (if treed) will be prime territory to check out. 

Click the images for a larger view!

CO Silver Creek Fire - satellite viewSo what about the trees? Let’s see… Yes – those gullys and generally many areas look awesome! This is our base satellite map, you can use the tabs in the interactive online version to flip between maps. 

CO Silver Creek Fire - satellite viewWe also offer USFS and USGS map layers which are similar to one another but give you some additional data. 

CO Silver Creek Fire - satellite view

That gray shaded area below shows private land boundaries – definitely avoid.

CO Silver Creek Fire - satellite viewSo let’s review what we are seeing at Silver Creek. All good news.

  • Huntable sections of the fire are on National forest land
  • East and West facing slopes often retain more moisture, we have this going for us
  • Creek beds and gullys retain more moisture, again positive
  • The terrain is steep but hikeable (mushrooms don’t care about steepness – just take care)
  • Elevation ranges from 9,000 – 9,600ft in this section, later season into July
  • The fire is highly accessible by car
  • There’s lots more viable hunting terrain than you can see in these screen captures. Now that you have the interactive map (embedded below!), go check out the area just above this section I’ve called out.

Burn Morels: Other Factors

A few other things you might want to know about burn morels:

  1. As mentioned they like moisture (here are some exceptional precipitation map resources), but they also like heat. You are going to want ground temps of at least 50 degrees and warmer nights (and a way cool tool for soil temps).
  2. If it’s too hot and dry as Colorado sometimes is, focus on microclimates inside the burn. This means anywhere that holds moisture – creek beds, gullys, downed logs, depressions in the ground, areas with more shade, etc.
  3. If one aspect isn’t producing, try a different one. 
  4. If you don’t find mushrooms, go up or down in elevation until you do. They are consistent and once you find the elevation, they will be within 100-200ft until the season moves them up. Follow them and find more all season!
  5. Spend most of your time in denser burned tree cover and undergrowth – areas with lots of needles on the ground. 
  6. Areas that look like moonscapes with nothing left burned very hot, likely very few mushrooms here.

Interactive Maps

Bonus! Trent has created an interactive map of the CO Silver Creek Fire just for this blog post. Now you can see exactly how our maps work. The blog post interface is quite small so please click on the frame icon at top right in the map to expand to full screen and really dig in. Try out the different base maps by changing tabs at the top left. ESC key will bring you out of full screen mode. Enjoy!

Here’s a link to our morel hunting burn maps and e-book if you are curious to learn more.

What do you think, has it been a successful online hunt? If I were to get in the car right now and head to this burn, I know right where I would go – do you? 

Happy hunting Colorado foragers, Spring will show its face soon!

Questions or comments? Please let us know.

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