The morel is perhaps one of the most prized quarries of American mushroom hunters. Its distinctive look, rich meaty flavor, and reputation for elusiveness all make for an intoxicating chase. Consequently, the locations of morel jackpots are often closely guarded secrets.
Morel mushroom hunting maps do exist, but they’re often based on reports from other foragers. If you want to find your own secret spot, or discover the hotspots locals won’t share, you’ll need to supplement those reports with a map of your own.
Tricks for Finding Morel Mushrooms
Though the exact whereabouts of morels can be difficult to predict, they are more prone to appearing at certain times and in certain locations.
Start hunting for morels in the spring, usually when tree buds just begin to open and soil temperatures hover consistently around 50 degrees. That means daytime highs in the 60s or 70s and nighttime lows in the 40s. In most places in the U.S., those conditions occur for a week or two sometime between late-March and the end of May.
Before you head out, secure permits for foraging when required. Research local land management policies to determine responsible collection limits. Also be sure to follow other regulations and Leave No Trace policies as they apply to off-trail exploration.
In the early season, look on warmer south- and west-facing slopes and at lower elevations. Later in the season, move your hunt uphill and on cooler north- and east-facing slopes. Morel mushrooms tend to favor damp, well-drained soils.
Look around ash, elm, or cottonwood trees, particularly ones that are dead or dying. Morels are linked to environmental distress, particularly timber cuts and, in the West, wildfire burn scars.
The Best Morel Mushroom Hunting Maps
To build your own morel mushroom hunting map, you’ll need the following map layers. All of these are available in Gaia GPS, and you can layer maps on top of one another and adjust the transparency to pinpoint the spots where conditions are perfect. Usually, you’d need a Premium Membership to use them, but you can access all these maps for free for the rest of the season with the three-month free trial offered at the bottom of this page.
1) A Burn Scar Map Layer. In the Western US, morels have been known to proliferate on completely burned soil in the first growing season after a fire, especially in burned coniferous forests. Use the Wildfires (Historical, US) map layer to see burned areas color coded by year. On iOS devices, you can also tap on a burn to learn the name of the fire and see just how recent it was.
2) A Timber Cut Map Layer.Use the Timber Harvests map layer to show swaths of recently felled trees, one of the harbingers of a morel mushroom gold mine. Wait for a little rain and the right temperatures, and then go prowling around the stumps.
3) Maps of Private and Public Land Boundaries.Always make sure you’re hunting for morels legally. Ask private landowners for permission to search on their property, and follow appropriate regulations on public land. In most national forests, for example, collection permits are required for morel mushroom hunting. Check the land manager’s website for specific details. Use the Private Land and Public Land maps in Gaia GPS to make sure you’re within the right boundaries.
4) Good Shaded Relief.Hillshading, or shaded relief, can help you distinguish the different aspects of a slope. This is useful for gauging how much sun it will receive. Remember: morels often favor south- and west-facing slopes in the winter and north- and east-facing slopes in the summer. In Gaia GPS, try the Shaded Relief Layerfor nationwide coverage.
5) Clear Contour Lines.In Gaia GPS, you can leave waypoints to mark where you’ve found morels in previous years. If you start your hunt earlier or later in the season in subsequent years, check the elevation of the waypoint. Then, follow the contour lines (like those on this Satellite Topo base map) up or down the slope until you reach the elevation and corresponding soil temperatures that match your predictions about this season’s crop.
6) A Rainfall Forecast Overlay. Mushrooms tend to emerge after a good rain, often appearing to suddenly pop up overnight. You’ll want to look for places where the soil is damp but not drenched. Check the forecast over your intended hunting grounds several days in advance with the 24-hour or 72-hour Precipitation Forecast overlays in Gaia GPS. The overlays show the estimated rainfall in inches.
7) Reliable Topo Maps. If off-trail searching is permissible, go for it, but be sure to carry a GPS-enabled map with you. It’s easy to get turned around when your eyes are on the ground. The Gaia GPS app uses your phone’s built-in GPS chip to show your location and direction of travel even without cell service. Plus, the app lets you download maps so you can always find your way home—hopefully with a bag of morels in tow.
Tips for Responsible Morel Mushroom Hunting
Never hunt for morels or any other mushroom without consulting an expert first. Many mushrooms are toxic, and morels have dangerous lookalikes that can easily be mistaken for the real thing. Always carry a reliable field guide, but know there’s no substitute for in-person instruction from a seasoned professional, and that the consequences for misidentification can be serious.
Always be careful to observe collection limits set by land managers, and secure a permit if one’s required. Don’t over-pick any one area; like any mushroom, morels perform an important service to the ecosystem by breaking down debris in the forest floor. Plus, if you leave a few behind, they’re more likely to release more spores and ensure future harvests.
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Access all the maps above and more with a 3-month free trial of a Gaia GPS Premium Membership.