Mushrooms aren't just for eating. As the rains pick up in fall, I love returning to the forest to see what mushrooms I can find. Some, like chanterelles, boletes, lobsters and cauliflower mushrooms, are easy enough to identify and harvest that anyone with some preparation and guidance can get started foraging. But even the non-edible mushrooms are a delight to find and learn about.
The best way to start your journey into mushrooms is by picking up a good book and finding your local mycological society. There are certain mushrooms you'll want to make sure you can identify in any given area to avoid ingesting anything truly poisonous, such as an Amanita phalloides, commonly called the death cap mushroom.
Some good books to consider picking up can be found at your local bookstore or can be ordered online. I'd recommend Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest, by Steve Trudell and Joe Ammirati, Mushrooms Demistified, by David Arora, and the classic text All That the Rain Promises and More - A Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms, also by David Arora.
If foraging is what you're after, the rules change for when, what and how much you can forage depending on the state where you are foraging and if the forest is on federal land. For instance, if you plan to harvest mushrooms in Mount Hood National Forest, you'll need to obtain a free permit that allows you to harvest up to one gallon per day and keep to permissible harvesting areas. Larger quantities require a fee permit. Likewise, if you are harvesting on Oregon State Forest land, such as Tillamook State Forest, no permit is required for harvesting up to one gallon in a day.
Here are a few of my favorite forests to explore in the Pacific Northwest come fall. Many mushrooms will be visible right from the trail, but in certain areas, you can head deeper into the forest to find a cache all your own.
Saddle Mountain is one of the highest peaks in Oregon's Coast Range. On clear days you can see to the ocean in one direction and the Cascade Range volcanoes to the other. Such a day is a rarity in the fall, however. The flanks of Saddle Mountain are almost always enshrouded in mist, making for prime mushroom foraging. Explore the lower sections of the mountain, where you'll find stands of red alder, Sitka spruce and noble fir.
Not far from Saddle Mountain, rising above the Wilson River, Kings Mountain is another mist-covered and forested peak that is ideal for a mushroom foraging adventure. The area's vegetation is composed of Douglas fir, noble fir, red alder and sword ferns. On a clear day you can see Mount Hood and the Pacific Ocean from the summit, but if you're there for the mushrooms, stick to the lower sections of the trail.
The Salmon River runs off the western slopes of Mount Hood and eventually merges with the Sandy River. Along the way, it passes through a pristine old-growth forest composed of Douglas fir and western redcedar. The area stays wet and soggy year round, making for ideal mushroom growing conditions. It's also a place where you can watch salmon making their annual return to spawn and see the leaves change color. This is a must-visit for anyone who loves forest adventures during the fall season.
Hike deep into the Opal Creek Wilderness and you'll find a magical old-growth forest with Douglas fir, western hemlock, and a grove of western redcedars that are nearly 1,000 years old. Most popular as a destination for camping and swimming in the summer, the crowds dwindle once fall comes and the rain starts. During this time, the area comes alive with fungi. You'll be rewarded with a variety of colorful mushrooms that grow here. Please note that it's prohibited to harvest mushrooms or berries in wilderness areas, such as Opal Creek Wilderness, for purposes other than personal consumption on site.
This stretch of old-growth forest in the Siuslaw National Forest sits between Eugene and Florence on the Oregon Coast. The trail runs by a number of beautiful waterfalls along Sweet Creek and heads through towering stands of Douglas fir, bigleaf maple, and alder trees. Come fall this area gets a lot of rain, meaning the mushrooms grow in force.
This year-round trail in Washington's Chuckanut Mountains has some great views of the San Juan Islands. It's sometimes referred to as the place where the Cascades meet the sea. The forests on this hike were slated for logging, but thanks to Conservation Northwest and other local conservation organizations, it was protected instead, making the wet forests a great place to find bountiful mushrooms.
This short trail near Snoqualmie Pass is relatively flat and leads to a beautiful 70-foot waterfall. The area stays relatively damp year round, making it an excellent environment for mushrooms. Be prepared for some slippery rocks. Nearby trails will take you into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, where stricter rules restrict harvesting mushrooms, even for personal use.
The trail along Boulder River is long and flat, offering numerous places to find and forage for mushrooms in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Old-growth forest with fern-filled undergrowth gird the trail. Waterfalls abound on the trail's earlier stretches, and overnight camping opportunities can be found throughout.
We'd love to see photos of the mushrooms you've found on your explorations! Please leave them in the comments below.