All around Grays Harbor amazing outdoor opportunities await those who are searching. Some find solace in the rivers or along the coast. Others find their happiness foraging in the depths of the towering timbers, searching for delicious treasures along the forest floor. Grays Harbor County is home to some of the most sought after and delicious mushrooms in the world. From chanterelles, hedgehogs, morels, oysters, boletes, and chicken of the woods, the mushrooms in this corner of Washington State are extremely tasty and sought after. If you like to hunt for mushrooms – to sell, eat or just to look at – Grays Harbor is an amazing destination to forage.

Grays Harbor Mushroom
Once you have the skills and knowledge, finding a haul like this is possible every day during the fall. Photo credit: Terresa Taylor

It’s important to familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations of mushroom hunting before starting this fun activity. The Puget Sound Mycological Society tells us that “Washington State is divided into numerous federal, state, local and Native American jurisdictions. Each jurisdiction has its own rules (or not) and its own way of publishing and enforcing these rules (or not.)”

Knowing who to contact and what to ask can be confusing, but the Department of Natural Resources is usually your best step. Besides being able to direct you to the proper person to speak with, they also have information on harvest locations and limits. The National Forest Service is also an excellent resource, giving a straightforward guide to the rules and regulations of personal and commercial mushroom harvesting.

Out here in Grays Harbor, there are a few places to get started in your mushroom harvesting adventures. While locals won’t share their spots, there are two main regions to forage. The best place to go, once you have the proper permits, is up toward the Quinault Rainforest. Thanks to the immense amounts of rain that falls and the lush undergrowth, the conditions here are absolutely perfect for mushroom hunting. The second destination is up toward the Wynoochee, where similarly wet conditions have created an amazing home for mushrooms.

Grays Harbor Mushroom
A local favorite, Chicken in the Woods is easily found around Grays Harbor’s forests. Photo credit: Douglas Scott

“All mushrooms like plenty of moisture and decaying forest matter for the spores to produce,” Terresa Taylor, a mushroom enthusiast from the Olympic Peninsula, explains. “About a week after a good rain you will start seeing all sorts of fungal varieties pop up. Around here that normally starts occurring around September. Chanterelles, which are abundant & popular in October, grow in mossy, coniferous forest areas.”

“Chanterelles are often found in old, mossy tree wells and under fallen rotten logs, often in groups,” Terresa continues. “If you see one chanterelle, look around carefully because other mushrooms like chicken of the woods, oyster mushrooms, angel wings, or lion’s mane like to grow on trees. The type of tree can vary, including old rotten fir trees and alder trees.”

Terresa’s Wild Mushroom Pasta

1-pound (or more as desired) morels or chanterelles (dry sautéé first if you use chanterelles)
1 small zucchini, sliced ¼ inch thick slices
½ large red bell pepper cut as desired
½ cup coarsely chopped shallots or sweet onions
3 large cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 to 2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon Weber New Orleans Cajun Seasoning
A little of your favorite white wine
A few dashes Lawry’s Garlic Salt to taste
A bunch of chopped fresh basil
Parmesan cheese to taste
Linguine or other pasta noodles prepared according to package directions (amount of pasta is up to you)
Salt and Pepper

Finally, before you head out into the woods to find your haul of mushrooms, there are five things to do in order to be safe and ready for a family-friendly mushroom hunting adventure. While many people’s lists slightly vary, Terresa’s list is an excellent one to remember:

1. It’s very hard to learn all you need to for safe mushroom harvesting, so it is best to go with an expert the first few times. Don’t handle or eat a mushroom before you know it is definitely safe to eat. We also recommend attending a mushroom event, like the Quinault Mushroom Festival held in late October, to gain knowledge.

2. Spend some time researching and becoming familiar with the mushrooms you want to try to harvest. Take along your field guide. Many poisonous mushrooms are similar-looking to safe ones, so it’s paramount to know the difference. Make sure you know for sure before teaching your kids. Remember that mistakes can be fatal.

3. Check the weather before you head out and dress/prepare for the elements. Bring plenty of water and snacks. Cold, hungry kids (and adults) will not be happy harvesters.

4. If you find a new mushroom that you are not sure of its edibility, never put it in with your edible mushrooms and use caution how you handle it. Teach kids to ask before they touch an unfamiliar mushroom. Use gloves and a separate knife (if cutting the mushroom) and store it in a separate bag for later identification. If you truly plan on trying to identify the mushroom, you want to get as much of the whole mushroom (any “roots”, bulb, stem, and cap) and note what it was growing on. The spores from a very poisonous mushroom can contaminate your edible mushrooms so you want to be as careful as possible when handling suspect items. If in doubt, toss it out.

Grays Harbor Mushroom
In moss and next to decomposing trees, some of the best mushrooms can be found. Photo credit: Terresa Taylor

5. Tell someone where you are going and have a map/compass/GPS. Walkie-talkies are handy, just make sure all responsible members of your mushroom party how to use them. Keep all members of your party within line of sight (especially young kids). Cell phones do not always work in the woods and various terrain can make travel and communication difficult. It is easy to wander off picking mushrooms and suddenly not know where you are and it would be so sad to lose a harvester to wanderlust.

Once you do find your quota of mushrooms, you may be in need a good recipe. For those looking for an amazing meal, we highly suggest trying your hand at making Terresa’s Wild Mushroom Pasta.

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