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. But the changing season doesn’t need to be a downer. 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!
Below are resources to learn more about mushrooms and trails to try, but you don't need to be an expert to enjoy the treasure hunt for them in fall.
So as clouds roll in and the rain comes down, lace up your boots, throw on a waterproof coat and make a hot lunch. 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: a brief primer
Mushrooms are the “fruit” of mycelium, a single-cell-thick network of 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.
For great books and links to Washington's mushroom societies, scroll to the bottom of this page.
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 (making fall a wonderful time to get out and search for them).
Important note: 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.
Try one of the hikes below or share your own favorites for finding fungi in a Trip Report.
Sleepy Hollow Trail
Location: Hood Canal
Length: 16.6 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 200 feet
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 length. Recent trip reporters only had to go three miles in to see some great fungi.
Miller Peninsula - Thompson Spit
Location: Northern Coast
Length: 5.0 miles, roundtrip
Highest Point: 360 feet
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.
Sherman Peak Loop
Length: 7.8 miles roundtrip
Elevation gain: 800 feet
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.
Location: Mount St. Helens Area
Length: 4.5 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 860 feet
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.
Location: Mount Rainier Area
Length: 6.2 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 900 feet
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.
Location: Lewis River Region
Length: 13.8 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 635f feet
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
Location: Seattle-Tacoma Area
Length: 9 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: varies
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.
Camano Ridge Forest Preserve
Location: Whidbey Island
Length: 5.0 miles
Elevation Gain: 250 feet
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.
Scott Paul Trail
Location: Mount Baker Area
Length: 8 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 2000 feet
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.
Thornton Lakes and Trapper Peak
Location: North Cascades Highway
Length: 10.2 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 2900 feet
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.
Location: Highway 20
Length: 3.5 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 60 feet
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.
Location: Snoqualmie Pass
Length: 3.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 600 feet
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.
Location: Stevens Pass -- East
Length: 9.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 3200 feet
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.
Lake Janus and Grizzly Peak
Location: Stevens Pass -- East
Length: 16.5 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 2525 feet
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.
ELK CREEK FALLS
Location: Selkirk Mountains
Length: 2.1 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 300 feet
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.
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
- Puget Sound Mycological Society
- Kitsap Peninsula Mycological Society (KPMS), Bremerton, WA
- Northwest Mushroomers Association (NMA), Bellingham, WA
- Olympic Peninsula Mycological Society (OPMS), Chimacum, WA
- Palouse Mycological Association (PMA), Pullman, WA
- Snohomish County Mycological Society (SCMS), Everett, WA
- South Sound Mushroom Club Olympia, WA
- Southwest Washington Mycological Society (SWMS) Chehalis, WA
- Spokane Mushroom Club Spokane, WA
- Yakima Valley Mushroom Society Yakima, WA