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Morels in California | Complete Guide & Map

California is considered one of the most biologically rich areas in the country, presenting prime opportunities for Morel Mushroom fruiting. Thanks to varied gradient, old-growth forests, volatile temperatures, and areas with plenty of rain, Morel Mushroom hunters have a lot to think about when foraging in the state. Worry not, as this guide will explain everything you need to know about finding Morel Mushrooms in California.

"Give someone a morel and they can eat for a day. Teach them to hunt morels and they can feast for a lifetime"

Quick Answers

  • Are There Morel Mushrooms in California?

  • What Types of Morel Mushrooms Grow in California?

  • Are There False Morels & Lookalikes in California?

  • When does the California Morel Season Start?

  • How To Find Morels in California

  • Morel Mushroom Hunting Laws & Regulations in California

  • Where to Buy Morel Mushrooms in California

Morels Mushrooms in California Cover Photo

Need to locate Morels immediately? Check out the California Morel Mushroom Map! Simply zoom into California or search your specific town.

1. Are there Morel Mushrooms in California?

Yes! Morel Mushrooms do grow in the state of California, but in some places more than others. Areas like downtown LA, Sacramento, and much of the Bay Area have been ravaged by human development and do not foster much life at all, including the prized morel. However, from the north, south, east, and west of the state, there is the potential to find Morel Mushrooms in undisturbed natural areas. If you do find some, make sure to bring a mesh foraging bag to allow morel spores to be released. You'll also need a knife & brush to harvest your mushrooms. This product on amazon has both a bag and tool!

Black Morel in California
Black Morel in California

2. What Types of Morels Grow in California?

When speaking of the "Morel Mushroom" many people have the impression that there is just one type that is edible. This is not the case. In California there are 4 types of popular edible morels, as well as a few dangerous lookalike species. Black Morels are most common, but the rest fruit with relative abundance as well. Note: Gray Morels are just juvenile Yellows, so they aren't really their own species, but we'll include them anyway..

Edible Morels in CA

  1. Black Morels (Including all burn morels)

  2. Gray Morels

  3. Yellow Morels

  4. Half-Free Morels

Reference: Mushrooms of California Field Guide

Keep in mind that not all of these morels fruit at the exact same time in California, or elsewhere. Gray comes first, then black, half-free, and yellow. Don't go out expecting to find them all at once.


3. Are There False Morels and Lookalikes in California?

This is an important question, especially for beginners. The answer is yes, there are false morels and lookalike species in the state of California that you must be aware of. The names of these are Verpas, Gyomitras, and Helvellas. They look almost identical to true morel mushrooms, but can cause severe gastronomical distress or be horribly toxic if ingested. For that reason, you must double check every mushroom that you find.

False Morel Species #1: Verpa Bohemica & Verpa Conica (Do not eat).

How can you tell if you found these? Well, both Verpas have their cap attached to the stem only at the top, with the sides hanging completely free from the stem. When these are split open, you will see a cottony material inside, whereas true morels are 100% hollow and empty.

Verpa Morel Lookalikes in CA
Notice the cap in the front mushroom - Hanging free from stem.

False Morel Species #2: Gyromitra Esculenta (Do not eat).

There are a few Gyromitra species that fruit around the same time as true morels in parts of Virginia the most common being Gyromitra Esculenta (false morel). These can be easily detected by noticing that they have wrinkles and folds rather than pits and ridges. Also, when cut open, these false morels are not hollow at all. If you are not sure, simply cut it open to see.

false morels in CA
Notice the wrinkles and lack of pits

False Morel Species #3: Helvella

Helvella Mushrooms look somewhat similar to the true Morel, but have distinct difference you can look out for. For example, they have free-hanging flaps with wrinkles and waves rather than pits and ridges. In addition to a somewhat similar structure to true Morels, Helvellas can fruit in multiple colors ranging from a pitch-black and beige to yellow ghostly whites. Refer to this image if you are ever unsure about what you found:

Helvella False Morel
Notice the waves and free-hanging cap.

4. When Does the California Morel Season Start?

The California Morel Mushroom seasons occur in the spring, when frosts are on decline and temps are on the rise. California is an ecologically diverse state though, so this variable per location.

Spring in colder northern California acts quite differently than in warmer, drier areas of the southwest. Generally though, the season begins about a week after the last frost, in areas where temps start hitting the mid 60's to low 70s. In Southern California, the seasons are less distinct and thus fruiting is much less predictable. SoCal folks are not in the best area, but they can still find Morel Mushroom fruiting around them on the Map.

To really pinpoint a date, you have to put on your meteorology hat and look for temperature projections. We like to look at this longterm weather forecasting tool on, which allows you to see a few months ahead. It isn't perfect though, but will serve as a resource closer to the spring. Temperature is a known factor in determining when a Morel species will start fruiting, so pay extra attention to this next part:

Morels are deceptive and predicting when they fruit in CA can really tough, even for the best mycologists in the world. Rather than looking at dates to predict season, it's best to look at temperatures. Generally, this is how temperatures work in association with each Morel type:

These numbers are based off of prior data & ultimately estimated based on our experience in the field.

  • Black Morel: Consistent days of 63-69 may trigger fruiting

  • Half-Free Morel: Consistent days of 61-68 may trigger fruiting

  • Gray Morel: Consistent days of 59-67 may trigger fruiting

  • Yellow Morel: Consistent days of 71-77 may trigger fruiting

  • Verpas, Gyomitras, Helvellas (False Morels): Follow a different life cycle and may be present the duration of morel season.

This all sounds pretty overwhelming, at least it did for me when starting to hunt morels years ago. Luckily, we've equipped our Morel Mushroom Map with data about temperatures during finds. Simply find your location in California, click a tag, and you can see what the temperature was in this location when the specific morel fruited. If you see that a Black Morel fruited in your town when temps were 68, you can use that as a starting point to estimate the start of the season!

Morel Mushroom Map California

5. How To Find Morels in California

Ahh, what a loaded question. Morels have evaded the understanding of scientists for so long because there are so many ecological factors contributing to their growth. However, through 100+ years of an American Morel Hunting tradition, some clearcut patterns have been uncovered. There are also some full-proof methods to finding morels like using Morel Mushroom Maps or signing up for guides tours and classes. Let's get more specific...

Tips to Finding Morels In the Wild By Yourself (Or in a non-guided group)

  • Look in the woods near leaf litter, pine needles, fallen fruit, branches, and areas with a lot of decomposing matter. Morels use that as their food source. They may also be present in mulch, gardens, and other places where there is organic matter for them to decompose as fuel.

  • Look near dead and dying trees like Ash, Walnut, and more.

  • Look near the base of dead trees at burn sites (areas where forest fires have occurred)

  • California has gradient in much of the state, which you can use to your advantage. Remember this: In higher altitudes, temps may be lower. In lower altitudes, temps may be higher. Use the gradient to find levels with optimal fruiting temperatures. Flat-landers don't get the benefit of this strategy, so use it wisely.

  • Look for areas that are very wet, as Morels require a lot of water to grow, (They are 90% water!)

  • Look for areas exposed to slightly more heat than others, or visa versa. If outside temps are in the lower range, an area with direct sunlight and warmth my be primed for fruiting. If temps are too high, look for shaded areas

  • Once you find one Morel, it is likely that more morels are nearby

  • Cover a lot of ground: In covering a lot of ground while applying other techniques, you increase your likelihood of a find.

  • Go to areas in California where you know Morels have fruited in the past. Morels spread spores (like mushroom seeds) via the wind and so areas with previous morels may ultimately be prime breeding grounds for new morels. The Morel Mushroom Map is perfect for seeing previous fruiting locations.

  • Be persistent: The best Morel Mushroom hunters do not give up easily. Some of the largest finds of my life occurred when thinking I was out of luck. Keep looking and you will find them if you follow the seasonal tips and patterns.

  • Go with multiple people. Whats better than one pair of eyes? Many pairs of eyes! Even though this sounds simple, going with friends has earned me innumerable morels I would not have found otherwise.

Morel in CA
Morel growing from leaf litter near a heavily wooded area.

6. Morel Hunting Regulations and Laws in California

In California, Morel Mushroom Foraging is legal in some areas, and prohibited in others. California has a constellation of rules on different types of managed land, so we can't make a statement about legality in the whole state. Thus, we recommend that you contact the California Natural Resources Agency to see what the specifications are for your exact location.

No matter where you end up foraging Morels in CA, we ask on behalf of, to please be a good steward. Treat the land well, and do not ruin natural areas for years to come. Otherwise, the tradition of Morel Hunting will fade and we'll lose the nature we love so dearly. To ensure that you do not the harm morel species in your area, we recommend using a mesh bag for collection, so spores can escape and germinate. If you use plastic, you are essentially killing off future morels in that area by blocking the spread of their spores.

7. Where To Buy Morels in California

Morel Mushrooms can be found for sale at farmers markets, local food stands, and specialty health stores during the spring and early summer. For more information on buying morels during the off-season, check out this guide.

Morel Mushrooms are bountiful in California, but pinpointing the seasons, understanding risks, and knowing how to find morels is a great undertaking. It is our hope that through this guide, you feel more educated and equipped with resources to improve your Morel hunting ability, or simply to get you started. If you want to help out the community, feel free to share your finds.

West Soast states share most of the same information about morels, with nuances about their regulations and ecology. For a look at morels in the Midwest or East Coast, check out our guide to Ohio, Maryland or Pennsylvania

Affiliate Disclosure: We make commissions on affiliate links in this article. However, we'll only provide links to products that we feel increase the value of the article and help you forage for morel Mushrooms.


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