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Mushrooms: Weird, Wonderful and Worth a Hike

Washington has one of the most expansive and diverse selection of mushrooms in the world, and their wild wonder can turn a grey day on trail into a wonderland. So lace up your boots, throw on a waterproof coat and direct your gaze to the miniature world at your feet.

As the days get shorter, traveling to high-mountain trailheads eats up valuable light, and those epic hikes of summer become memories to motivate you through the winter months. Autumn brings the opportunity to explore more easily-accessible locations like river valleys, your local park, even your own backyard for those weird, fascinating organisms — mushrooms!

Rather than gazing out over a sea of peaks, direct your gaze to the miniature world at your feet, and see how many different kinds of mushrooms you can spot on your next hike.

Mushrooms on a dead tree.
Mushrooms on a fallen log at Big Tree Ridge. Photo by Maddy. 

Mushrooms: a brief primer

Mushrooms are the “fruit” of mycelium, a network of a single-cell threads that lies just under your feet. When you kick up loose material from the forest floor on a hike (or dig it up on a work party) and you see what looks like a thick, white spiderweb, that’s mycelium. It creates a symbiotic relationship with the trees and other organic matter around it, and when it gets enough nutrients (or conditions are just right), up pops a mushroom.

Where to find fabulous fungi? Just about everywhere

Mycelium can be found almost anywhere, which means mushrooms can pop up on almost any hike. Washington has one of the most expansive and diverse selection of mushrooms in the world. Many mushrooms require water to make their final push through the soil, which makes fall a wonderful time to get out and search for them. Try one of the hikes below or share your own favorites for finding fungi in a Trip Report.

    WTA Pro Tip: It may go without saying, but don't pick a mushroom unless you are well-versed in the the ethics, risks, best-practice and regulations of foraging them.


      Olympic Peninsula

      Sleepy Hollow Trail

      Location: Hood Canal
      Mileage: 16.6 miles, roundtrip
      Elevation Gain: 200 feet

      sleepy hollow_happiestwhenhiking.jpeg
      Frosty fungi on the Sleepy Hollow trail. Photos by Happiest when hiking.

      The 16+ mile Sleepy Hollow trail is excellent for mushroom hunting because you can turn around at any point; no need to commit to the whole Mileage. Recent trip reporters only had to go three miles in to see some great fungi.

      > Plan your visit using WTA's Hiking Guide


      Miller Peninsula - Thompson Spit

      Location: Northern Coast
      Mileage: 5.0 miles, roundtrip
      Highest Point: 360 feet

      miller peninsula thompson spit_littlefoot.jpeg
      Mushrooms at Miller Peninsula. Photo by littlefoot.

      A recently-established state park, Miller Peninsula a pretty trail (built partly by WTA volunteers!) to help you check out this area. This wooded walk enters a lush ravine lined with remnant old-growth and gives way to an isolated beach with views of Protection Island.

      > Plan your visiting using WTA's Hiking Guide


      Sherman Peak Loop

      Location: Olympia
      Mileage: 7.8 miles roundtrip
      Elevation gain: 800 feet

      capitol state forest_ehiker.jpeg
      Little mycena on a rotting log on the Sherman Creek Loop. Photo by ehiker.

      Amazing old-growth forest combined with easy hiking and a shelter at Camp Handy make this an ideal hike for wet weather. Be sure to take your guide to Northwest mushrooms; many species can be easily spotted from the trail.

      > Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide


      South Cascades

      Norway Pass

      Location: Mount St. Helens Area
      Mileage
      : 4.5 miles, roundtrip
      Elevation Gain: 860 feet

      norway pass_solohiker.jpeg
      Norway Pass is fairly exposed, but look close and you can see some incredible mushrooms. Photo by Solohiker35.

      Hike through the destructive force and the restorative power of nature on this hike in the blast zone of Mount St. Helens’ 1980 eruption. The rocky ash and treeless areas are testaments to the devastation caused by the explosion, while wildflowers and shrubs signal the return of vegetation to the denuded landscape. Take a look under logs and in shrubbery for mushrooms.

      > Plan your visit using WTA's Hiking Guide


      Paul Peak

      Location: Mount Rainier Area
      Mileage:
      6.2 miles, roundtrip
      Elevation Gain: 900 feet

      paul peak_ehiker.jpeg
      Trailside growths. Photo by ehiker.

      Paul Peak is a quiet summit at a popular national park. Take it slow on this trail, and look down. There are lots of mushrooms to be seen, and if the views afield are good, so much the better.

      > Plan your visit using WTA's Hiking Guide


      Siouxon Creek

      Location: Lewis River Region
      Mileage: 13.8 miles, roundtrip
      Elevation Gain: 635f feet

      siouxon_susan saul.jpeg
      Mushrooms on a log near a waterfall on Siouxon Creek. Photo by Susan Saul.

      The Siouxon Creek Trail is a lovely creekside ramble in three parts. The first few miles are a quiet walk through a classic fern-dotted, mossy forest. In the second section, hikers find Siouxon Creek and fellow waterfall seekers, and the final miles offer more solitude and small narrow canyons with more waterfalls to enjoy.

      > Plan your visit using WTA's Hiking Guide


      Puget Sound and Islands

      Dockton Forest

      Location: Seattle-Tacoma Area
      Mileage: 9 miles, roundtrip
      Elevation Gain: varies

      dockton forest_ehiker.jpeg
      Lush mushrooms in Dockton Forest. Photo by ehiker.

      Dockton Forest and Natural Area, along with the adjacent Dockton Park, is 152 acres of working forest, saltwater shoreline and natural park lands located on the south-central part of Maury Island. In fall, mushrooms pop up everywhere, in abundance and in variety. Note: Although this is a great area to view mushrooms, it's not an ideal site for foraging. Lingering heavy metals from the Tacoma Smelter Plume are in high concentration here.

      > Plan your visit using WTA's Hiking Guide


      Camano Ridge Forest Preserve

      Location: Whidbey Island
      Mileage: 5.0 miles
      Elevation Gain: 250 feet

      camano ridge_geezerhiker.jpeg
      Ghost pipes at Camano Forest Preserve. Photo by geezerhiker.

      The trail at Camano Forest Preserve winds through a typical evergreen forest with plenty of sword ferns, and maple trees that are lovely in autumn. As a bonus, there are lots of mushrooms to be found here, too.

      > Plan your visit using WTA's Hiking Guide


      Anacortes Community Forest Lands

      Location: Bellingham Area
      Mileage: varies
      Elevation Gain: varies

      anacortes community forest_ehiker.jpeg

      There are a myriad of hiking options in the Anacortes Community Forest Lands, and most of the trails here have little fungi gems along the way. Pick from all our suggested routes, or build your own!

      > Plan your hike using WTA's Hiking Guide


      North Cascades

      Scott Paul Trail

      Location: Mount Baker Area
      Mileage: 8 miles, roundtrip
      Elevation Gain: 2000 feet

      scott paul_longfoot.jpeg
      Photo by longfoot.

      Take a rugged loop hike to the base of Mount Baker or a rugged alternate route to Park Butte: take your pick. Along the way, soak in sweeping views of the North Cascades, gaze at Koma Kulshan’s glistening glaciers, munch on an inexhaustible supply of berries, and marvel at old-growth western hemlock forest.

      > Plan your hike using WTA's Hiking Guide


      Thornton Lakes and Trapper Peak

      Location: North Cascades Highway
      Mileage:
      10.2 miles, roundtrip
      Elevation Gain:
      2900 feet

      A single mushroom poking through fallen leaves.
      A solitary mushroom on the Trail to Trapper Peak. Photo by CJ44. 

      While the higher elevation keeps this very popular North Cascades trail from being a year-round fungal destination, it can be a mushroom paradise. In 2014, trip reporter ehiker called it "mushroom heaven" reported seeing many different varieties from tiny mycena to giant boletus. There is a restriction on picking mushrooms in this area, so make sure to just feast on the fungi with your eyes.

      > Plan your hike using WTA's Hiking Guide


      Sourdough Creek

      Location: Highway 20
      Mileage: 3.5 miles, roundtrip
      Elevation Gain:
      60 feet

      lobster mushroom_muledeer.jpeg
      Look for early fall fungi along the trail. Photo by Muledeer.

      Diablo Lake is always a good spot to stop and take in the North Cascades. If you want to extend your stop into a hike, check out the Sourdough Creek Trail. This short and moderate trail traverses through lush, mossy forest and leads you up to the Sourdough Creek waterfalls. With wildlife, mountain and lake views and plenty of rest stops, this trail is perfect for all ages.

      > Plan your hike using WTA's Hiking Guide


      Central Cascades

      Lodge Lake

      Location: Snoqualmie Pass
      Mileage: 3.0 miles, roundtrip
      Elevation Gain: 600 feet

      A cluster of mushrooms.
      A cluster of mushrooms on the Lodge Lake Trail. Photo by Shelby Pothier. 

      Named fittingly for its proximity to the Snoqualmie Pass ski lodge, Lodge Lake offers a beautiful, leisurely hike. The trail begins under tree cover but shortly opens up into the vast, wildflower-covered ski hill passing underneath the chairlifts. Make sure to take the opportunity to admire the towering peaks across the way on the north side of I-90.

      > Plan your visit using WTA's Hiking Guide


      Schaefer Lake

      Location: Stevens Pass -- East
      Mileage: 9.0 miles, roundtrip
      Elevation Gain: 3200 feet

      schaefer lake_lucy.jpeg
      Purple and green trailside. Photo by Lucy.

      The relative solitude here is because accessing Schaefer Lake requires either a ford of the Chiwawa River or a crossing on a natural log bridge, which, depending on the season, may or may not be available. By fall, the river ford should be manageable, but check trip reports just in case.

      > Plan your visit using WTA's Hiking Guide


      Lake Janus and Grizzly Peak

      Location: Stevens Pass -- East
      Mileage: 16.5 miles, roundtrip
      Elevation Gain: 2525 feet

      muledeer.jpeg
      Purple buds on a trailside log. Photo by Muledeer.

      Stroll north on the Pacific Crest Trail to tranquil Lake Janus and neighboring Grizzly Peak. This trail offers panoramas of the Central Cascades’ finest peaks and undulating meadows blanketed with wildflowers as far as the eye can see.

      > Plan your visit using WTA's Hiking Guide


      Eastern Washington

      ELK CREEK FALLS

      Location: Selkirk Mountains
      Mileage:
       2.1 miles, roundtrip
      Elevation Gain:
       300 feet

      Search for fall mushrooms along the trails and shoreline of Lake Sullivan. Photo along Elk Creek by TheMarmot

      The northeast corner of the state is surprisingly wet, often racking up as many inches of rain in the year as some spots along the western crest of the Cascades. Poke around the trails surrounding spectacular Lake Sullivan, including this waterfall wonder, to see what kind of fungi all that rain serves up in fall.

      > Plan your visit using WTA's Hiking Guide

      Salmo-Priest Loop 

      Location: Selkirk Mountains
      Mileage:
       19 miles, roundtrip
      Elevation Gain:
       3,400 feet

      Very bright little mushroom.
      Mushrooms and moss go together nicely. Photo by Bundocker. 

      Hike through the very northeastern corner of Washington on this multiday loop. This is high country, so plan your trip in the early fall before too much snow falls. 

      > Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide 


      Recommended Reading about Mushrooms

      • All that the Rain Promises and More… By David Arora
        A great beginners mushroom field guide
      • A Field Guide to Edible Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest by Daniel Winkler
        Light weight but packed with field info, this book has all the good edibles at a glance. Plus, it categorizes the level of mushroom identification in order to identify level of risk for safe identification. 
      • Mushroom by Nicholas Money
        A brief cultural, natural, and scientific history of mushrooms.
      • Mycophilia by Eugenia Bone
        A first-person account of Bone’s infatuation with mushrooms, from casual gatherer to member of the New York Mycological Society
      • The Mushroom Hunters by Langdon Cook

      Mycological Societies in Washington