I love the spring. The snow is gone, the air smells fresh and new, and all of nature is waking up from a long winter slumber. For me, this time of year means one thing: morels!
In this article we’ll show your our favorite places, both common and secret, to find morel mushrooms in the spring.
The 15 Best Places To Look For Morel Mushrooms (Morchella esculenta)
1. Elm, Oak, Ash, and Poplar Trees
Morels love to grow near elms, oaks, ashes, and poplar trees. Got a hardwood forest nearby that was recently logged within the last year or two? Even better. Morels will love that place.
2. Next to Ferns and Fiddleheads
Fiddleheads are the tightly wound new shoots of ferns that come up in the spring. They point out the perfect time of year to hunt morels.
3. Near Pine Trees
In addition to hardwoods, you can also find morels near softwoods like pine trees. Again, logged areas that are 1-2 years old are ideal.
4. Wild Abandoned Orchards
Got an old fruit orchard nearby that’s started to get overgrown? You may have just found another morel favorite.
5. Dying Trees Without Leaves
Morels eat dead, decaying trees. That’s why you can often find them within 1-2 years after a logging event – feasting on the old dying roots. If you have dead standing trees that have bark (i.e. they are freshly dead within 1-2 years) that would be a great place to check for morels. You could even plant some morel spawn there and hope to get morels by the next year.
6. South-facing Hillsides
Warm, south-facing hillsides are great places to find morels earlier in the spring. As the spring wears on seek morels on the cooler, northern facing hillsides.
7. Loamy Soil
Morels need loose soil with lots of organic matter to grow. Loam, a nice mix of clay, sand, and silt makes life easy for morels. Find loam plus dead trees that are 1-2 years dead and you may have a morel jackpot.
8. Yards Next to Streams and Creeks
Streams and creeks flood and cause disturbance. Flat, yard-like, or grassy areas denote flood plains. These areas will be well watered by the stream and the area will be kept moist and humid. Plus the flood action will bring in nutrients and kill off some plants which feed the morels. If you have a creek, walk it for grassy areas and for recently dead trees that died within the last 1-2 years.
9. Recently Flooded Areas
Have a pond that just recently had a flooding rain event? Did that happen within the last 1-2 years and did it take out some trees on the edge? Check those dead stumps for morels – that’s where they like to feast!
10. High Ground Next to Swamps
Swamps themselves will be too moist and wet for morels but the edge of swamps reaching higher up into the forest can be great places. The swamp will keep the soil just moist enough and if you find some recently dead trees you just might stumble into some morels.
11. Tire Track Roads after a Rain
Morels like dead plants. Cars kill plants when they crush them while driving through the forest. The forest keeps the area moist and shaded from the sun. All of this points to potential hot spots for morel hunting.
12. Roads Near Pine Trees
As described above, morels like pine trees. Roads through pine forests will be edge zones where you combine dead, crushed plant matter with the shade of the forest. Seek morels there.
13. Burn Sites After 1-2 Years
Fresh burn sites haven’t given morels enough time to grow and fruit. Super old burn sites have had too much time. New burn sites that are 1-2 years old are the goldilocks of morel locations. You probably won’t be alone. Expect other morel hunters.
You can stay on top of this game by checking the global fire map website to spot recent burns in your area then mark your calendar to recheck them 1-2 years out.
14. Clear Cuts or Logged Areas After 1-2 Years
Like good burn sites, logged areas that were logged 1-2 years ago have provided a bounty of dead tree roots for morels to feast on and grow. You can expect to find other morel hunters here as well.
15. Tree Thinning Areas After 1-2 Years
These are much harder to find and come by. You must know your local forests well. You can try and get to know good local logging companies and figure out their schedule. Again, you want to hunt 1-2 years after a thinning. That gives enough time for the morels to grow. Look for thinned areas near streams and roads.
8 Morel Mushroom Hunting Secrets
1. Bring A Soil Thermometer
Look for soil temperatures that are 45 – 50 F.
2. Eat a good lunch in the woods
Relax and don’t try so hard, just watch
3. Check areas that were recently burned within the last 2 years
Use the Caltopo online map and turn on the fire layers (map link).
4. Check areas that logged in the last 2 years
Similar to burn sites, morels like disturbed soils.
5. Check flooded areas near water
Notice the theme? Morels like disturbed areas.
6. Know what false morels look like
This is key! See our article on false morels.
7. Don’t hunt morels in the fall
It’s easy to confuse false morels in the fall and potentially poison yourself
8. Spring happens at different times in the south vs the midwest vs the north.
Start earlier in the south then travel north to extend the season.
Where Do Morel Mushrooms Grow
In the U.S. morels grow in forested regions on the Pacific coast from San Francisco north through Washington State. They are also found east of the Mississippi River from eastern Texas up through New York.
What Is The Best Time Of Day To Look For Morel Mushrooms?
Hunt for morels when you have enough light to correctly identify them. Unlike flowers, they do not bloom at a certain time of day. If it’s spring and the soil is moist and a warm 50 degrees F you’re likely to find them.
What Time Of Year Do Morel Mushrooms Appear?
Hunt for morels when they appear in the Spring. Your area’s soil temperature should be 50 degrees F if you want the best chances to find morels. Bring a soil thermometer.
Fall Morel Mushroom Secrets
Do not hunt for morels in the fall or other times of the year. What you think is a morel could be anything. Poisonings from Amanitas are more common in the fall.
Though it’s a completely different mushroom you never know if what you think is a morel is just a diseased poisonous mushroom.
What States Do Morel Mushrooms Grow
Morels grow in the following states and locations:
- South Carolina
- North Carolina
- West Virginia
- New Jersey
- New York
What State Has The Most Morels?
According to volunteer-supplied location data from morel hunters, the most popular states for morel sightings are Tennessee, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. (websites – source 1, source 2)
How Do You Identify Morel Mushrooms (Morchella esculenta)?
Use these guidelines to identify true morel mushrooms:
1. Growing in the spring or early summer
2. Soil temperatures are at least 50 Degrees F
3. Caps have a honey-comb texture
4. Cap is attached to stem at the base of the cap (no space under the cap)
5. Cut them in half – they will be hollow from the base of the stem to the top of the cap
6. Longer than wide (most of the time)
7. Common cap colors – olive, grey, yellow, tan
What Do False Morel Mushrooms Look Like?
There are 4 common false morel mushrooms. Some of which are deadly poisonous when they aren’t cooked. Of course, you shouldn’t eat them even if cooked though many due.
As with all wild mushrooms, extreme care should be given. Mushrooms growing in the wrong locations, at the wrong times of the year could be deadly.
Eating a deadly poisonous mushroom could require a liver transplant within 7 days. There’s not much coming back from that.
Gyromitra Mushrooms (Gyromitra spp.)
These mushrooms are deadly due to gyromitrin. In theory, you can cook gyromitrin to destroy it. Not all of it goes away due to cooking.
Key features of Gyromitra Mushrooms:
- Often wider than tall
- Looks like a crumpled napkin, not a honeycomb
- Reddish caps
Wrinkled Thimble Cap (Verpa bohemica)
Another morel look-a-like sporting the toxin gyromitrin.
Key features of Wrinkled Thimble Caps:
- Brain-like ridges on cap (not clear honeycombs)
- Solid stem
Bell/Thimble Morel (Verpa conica)
Another verpa, questionably edible but definitely not morel, though it does its best.
Key features of Bell/Thimble Morels:
- No honeycomb features on the cap
- Small-cap, tall stem
- The base of the cap DOES NOT attach seamlessly to stem
Morel Mushroom Hunting Maps
There is a slew of websites with morel mushroom maps online where volunteers and mushroom hunters submit their sightings.
These are the best to check:
- The Great Morel Maps
- Morel Mushroom Hunting Maps
- Potential Morel Hunting Locations on State Land Map
- Global Fire Map
- Global Forest Watch’s Tree Cover Loss Map (check regularly for recent logging near you)
- Google Earth Historical Imagery Feature
Logging maps are hard to come by since it’s such a contested topic. The best way to check your area for recent logging is to scan Google Earth using their historical imagery feature.
Remember, you want areas that were logged within the last 1-2 years. That gives time for morels to take root and grow.
You can watch for these easily in Google earth as they usually refresh their images annually or more often.