Mushroom Forage

Bounty of the Earth

“Once you start to learn even a little about fungi, it feels like you can’t see the world the same again.”
Erin Moore, Secretary Mushroom Society of Utah

My first mushroom forage happened by accident while studying abroad in Northern Germany. As I hiked through the woods with my host parents on a rainy autumn day, we were attracted off-trail by bright red amanita muscaria, or fly agaric, the fairytale mushrooms with their red, white-spotted caps. Some were as large as dinner plates, and I was enchanted. Later, we happened upon a grouping of yellow, wavy-capped chanterelles. My host mother whipped a spare bag out of her pocket and proceeded to teach me how to gather them. That night we made a delicious buttery pasta with the mushrooms we’d foraged, and I was terrified I would be poisoned the entire meal. I lived through the night and promised myself I’d learn more about foraging.

The practice of foraging for mushrooms goes back to prehistory when foraging was less treasure-hunt and more survival skill. Before Google or guidebooks, humans relied on observation, generational knowledge, and animals to help them find edible fungi. Mushroom foraging is still heavily associated with truffle hunting, and although truffles are a type of fungi, they differ dramatically from other types of mushrooms in both climate and growing conditions.

Truffles are stemless and similar to tubers, growing underground, attached to tree roots in a mycorrhizal (symbiotic) relationship. They cannot be easily foraged or seen above ground, requiring specially trained pigs or dogs to be found with any reliability. (The unique scent of truffles attracts animals, who then dig them up and spread them to other areas after digestion.) Truffles require specific moisture and soil conditions predominantly found in Southern Europe, which means they’ve resisted cultivation until the last 50 years. Even with the help of science, growing truffles is still more of an art, which is why they often come with a hefty price tag.

Lucky for you and me, there are thousands of free mushrooms growing above ground; spreading their spores through the air and pollination. The ample rain and snowfall in the Uinta mountains over the last couple of winters means edible mushrooms are more abundant than ever. Heber City’s backyard has become quite popular among local mushroom enthusiasts. These forage-able treasures are plentiful, and some edible varieties are so easily cultivated they can be grown on a kitchen counter. In fact, most varieties you purchase at the grocery store are simply the same common Portobello mushroom (Agaricus bisporus) in various stages of maturity. But there are so many other delicious and beneficial above-ground mushrooms to be found, and this is exactly what has been drawing humans into the mountains to forage.

Although foraging is gaining popularity among Utahns, this hunt for edible fungi is nothing new. Humans have been eating and using mushrooms medicinally for millennia. They are a rich source of protein, fiber, antioxidants, and even vitamins that increase brain function. According to Ashley Simon, past president of the local Mushroom Society of Utah (MSU), “Fungi have long been misunderstood and neglected in science, some in part to inherited cultural associations and some due to their mind-blowing diversity.” This diversity means scientists and botanists are constantly finding new uses for mushrooms, and so-called “citizen scientists” are helping in this important cause, simply by taking photos of their finds and uploading them to apps.

Simon explained, “Mushrooms have the potential to solve many of the problems we have created as humans, such as mycoremediation (using fungi to clean toxic soil), breaking down plastic, increasing soil health, and moisture retention…” It almost seems as if fungi could be the solution for most problems facing our world today; everything from sustainable farming and building materials to plastic-free packaging and clothing. What can these amazing mushrooms not do?

Well, for one thing, they cannot tell you whether or not they are toxic. There are many beautiful but inedible varieties of mushrooms, including some quite easily mistaken copycats. Always remember the adage, “When in doubt, throw it out.” If you are not one hundred percent sure of what you’ve found, don’t forage, or eat it. This fact alone keeps many people from ever trying their hand at foraging. This is why it can be invaluable to find the right community to forage with.

If you have been reluctant, perhaps just waiting for the right community, consider joining a local organization that prides itself on its “inherently social” nature, as Ashley Simon refers to it. The Mushroom Society of Utah is a volunteer-run and membership-based society founded in 1993. Regular meetings take place in SLC, but membership includes guided forays into the Uintas to learn about local fungi. It’s incredibly helpful to have a guide to tag along with when you’re first starting. “[Mushroom foraging] is an intimidating task. There is so much to learn, and it can feel like there’s little direction out there,” said Aimée Nguyen, MSU’s newly elected president. She continued, “Tapping into a community can direct you to the right resources for local species, connect you with people who can help with identification, [and] teach you sustainable practices.”

Once you know where to look and what to look for, you can find many edible mushroom varieties in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. Puffballs, morels, meadow mushrooms, porcini/king bolete, and even chanterelles may reward your time and effort. As daunting as it seems, a botany degree and years of experience are not required to identify these varieties. With a little luck — and a good identification book — you’ll probably be discovering at least one of these mushrooms in the wild.

Ready to get out there?

These are some of our local fungi, ready to be discovered!


Late Spring to Early Summer. Cone-shaped, with a sponge- or brain-like texture, and a light-colored stem. Often found under Lodgepole pines and mature cottonwoods, morels prefer a north or northeast slope. There are three varieties found in Utah: black, gray, and yellow/white.


Summer to Autumn. These guys like their space and won’t be found in big clumps or growing on trees. You’ll find a few of them spread over the same grassy or mossy area with abundant moisture, favoring the shade of hardwood trees like oak and pine. Most will have a sweet, fruity smell. Their poisonous lookalike (the Jack o’Lantern) grows on wood, in a big grouping, making it easier to differentiate.

Porcini/King Bolete

Late Summer to Autumn. (Utah’s official state mushroom as of 2023!) It grows well in our spruce/pine forests. You’ll find its tan cap, which resembles a hamburger bun, erupting from dense loam. Underneath the cap, you’ll find pores, not gills. The porcini’s cap can grow up to 16 inches in diameter, but it’s most flavorful as a button between two and three inches.


Summer to Late Autumn. Favors grass pastures and meadows, especially if there is water close by. Known by its lack of stem, and spherical shape. Good quality should be solid white all the way through. When cut open, check if it has a ring around the outside, is discolored to yellow or brown, or has signs of bugs. If any of those signs are present, do not consume.


Bring a few paper bags to separate your varieties, especially if you are unsure about a particular type.

Purchase a guidebook such as The Essential Guide to Rocky Mountain Mushrooms by Habitat by Cathy Cripps, and Mushrooms of Utah by local Don Johnston. Don’t want to wait for a book? Print a few pages off the internet to bring with you.

Not sure what you’ve found? Submit photos of your mushrooms to MSU’s Facebook page or send a message to their Instagram account (@utah_mushrooms). Try and get photos of the following:

  • The mushroom growing before you picked it/the ground where you found it
  • Close-up of the top of the cap
  • Close-up underneath the cap
  • The stem and base
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