Are you a Coloradan thinking about getting out and foraging for mushrooms this season? Getting started doesn’t need to be daunting! Think about it as “hiking with purpose” while you look for mushrooms along the way. Of course no serious mushroomer will share their spots with the general public, but here is a roadmap for seasons, habitat and mushrooms.
The most important thing to know about morels is that they are slave to moisture. Pay attention to recent precipitation. Secondly, as a spring mushroom, they thrive in warming temperatures. Most people who seek and fail are too early in the season or looking when the weather patterns have NOT been moist and warming. After that, you just have to put in your time – morels are elusive! This article offers a good start on Colorado Morels.
Yellow Morels: Look in riparian areas with cottonwoods and grass. Typically May at 6000′, a bit earlier or later at lower or higher elevations. Read more at Forage Colorado
Black Morels: Blacks come on the heels of the yellows, but in a different habitat. Look for these 7000′-9000′ in mixed conifer and aspen forests. Look when the Aspen leaves are just sprouting out and still small. Also read more at Forage Colorado
Burn Morels: These come out in June and July and might go all the way into the early fall if conditions are right. Focus on 1st and 2nd year forest fires between 8000′ and 11000′ and in mixed conifer forests. Read more at Modern Forager.
Summer & Fall Mountain Mushrooms
Summer mushrooms usually start showing up around July 4th and peak sometime in August. We spend most of June and July watching the weather and hoping for regular rain. Burn morels are always on the menu if it rains, but they can require a lot of driving. Here are the primary mushrooms we look for and collect:
- Porcini (or Bolete) (Boletus rubriceps)
- Chanterelle (Cantherellus cibarius)
- Hawk’s Wing (Sarcodon imbracatus)
- Puffball (Lycoperdon spp)
- Milky Cap (Lactarius deliciosus)
Read more about those 5 mushrooms here. Long story short, we hunt July thru September in mixed conifer forests between 9000′ and 11000′. This is prime habitat across Colorado and all five of these mushrooms grow here. We often actively search for Porcini, but find all the rest during the hunt.
Chanterelles are probably the most elusive but can also grow abundantly in parts of the state with good rainfall. Boletes typically start in mid to late July and peak in August. Chanterelles often start in August and peak in September. The others can be found from July thru September.
No matter where you live in Colorado, here is the recipe… get a map, find some roads and trails in the 9000′ – 11000′ range, and explore! Nearly every “pass” goes through this range and offers ample access to public land. Look for healthy mixed conifer forests and focus your searching there. Many of these mushrooms love openings in the forest and the moist, mossy edges.
There are also many other delicious mushrooms found in the high country and around the state in different forest types and elevations. Our list is not meant to be exhaustive – it is meant to get the rookie out into the woods and into some mushrooms. The mushrooms detailed above are a great place to start.
Beyond the links sprinkled throughout the article above, here are a few resources:
- Mushrooms of the Rocky Mountain Region by Vera S. Evenson is the best ID book for the state. This is going to be your primary go-to ID guide for the state. There are certainly others, but, this is the first you want. It does not give edibility information.
- The Essential Guide to Rocky Mountain Mushrooms by Habitat by Cathy L. Cripps, Vera S. Evenson and Michael Kuo is an excellent “second” book that highlights specific mushrooms by their habitat. Rather than a primary reference, it provides excellent observations on the mushrooms and their habitat
- 100 Edible Mushrooms with Tested Recipes by Michael Kuo is a great second book too, which delivers information specific to the pursuit of edible mushrooms. A handy guide as you try to expand your repertoire of mushrooms.
- All That the Rain Promises and More by David Aurora is a nice little handbook that covers the entire Western US. Good edibility notes. Highly recommended!
- Mushrooms of Colorado and the Southern Rocky Mountains by Vera S. Evenson is out of print but a favorite if you can find it. It has excellent pictures and edibility notes.
- Telluride Mushroom Festival is the marquee event int Colorado
- Also check the Colorado Mycological Society for events and forays in season.
- Do I need a permit? Permits are required in most US Forests and area available at ranger stations. Each forest service has its own rules. It is illegal to harvest mushrooms in Colorado state forests unless otherwise posted.
- How do I get help with an ID? The best way is to take several good pics (top, underneath, stem and it root structure, in-situ) and note the smell. Test for any discolorations or bruising from handling. That info is often enough for one of the Facebook groups about mushrooms to help you get an ID If you ask. That said, take a go at it yourself using a book. Experts will be more generous with their time if you have tried to do some sleuthing on your own and have some ideas.
- What other mushrooms can I find? Here are some other species we pick and eat here in Colorado:
- Lobster (Hypomyces lactifluorum)
- Shaggy Mane (Coprinus comatus)
- Matsutake (Tricholoma murrillianum)
- Shrimp Russula (Russula xerampelina)
- White King Bolete (Boletus barrowsii )
- Coral (Ramaria largentii)
- Is hunting for wild mushrooms unsafe? Not if you are smart, arm yourself with information, and do your research! There are a few mushrooms to avoid in Colorado, but they are easily identified. Know your poisoners just as well as you know your favorite edibles and never, ever eat a mushroom that you can not identify with 100% certainty.
What Are You Waiting For?
Well aside from May that is… get out there! It really can be this easy. If you are just getting started, try to join a few forays through CMS or go out with someone who knows the ropes. Once you have a good visual for the mushrooms you want, you will learn to ignore the rest (unless of course you are interested in mycology, then by all means cherish them all!).
There is little reason to be afraid of Colorado’s wild mushrooms, in fact bears and mountain lions should be way higher fear factors! Mushroom foraging is a highly rewarding, and dare I say obsessive, hobby where you will meet some of the very best people in the world.
Come on, get weird – it’s cool these days 🙂