The Local newsletter is your free, daily guide to life in Colorado. For locals, by locals. Sign up today!
It was another wet and gray day in September as my partner, Jon, and I wandered with our hound dog off-trail through a conifer forest in a gulch not far from our house in Breckenridge. Earlier that morning, we’d ridden our bikes along the trails here and, even with our quick and focused pace, noticed an array of slimy, reddish caps, tucked in the kinnikinnick. We pedaled home, swapped click-clacky biking shoes for hiking boots, zipped on Gore-Tex rain jackets, and made a beeline back to the gulch.
I held a pocketknife and small mesh bag as we followed the trail past bright-red caps with white, gilled undersides. But those russulas weren’t what we came for. Our prize was more elusive.
As summer nears its end, lower temps and a little bit of precipitation spark a mycological frenzy in the forest. This time of year often has me placing my favorite midsummer activities on the backburner in favor of slow hikes in search of wild food.
After a few miles, we peeled off the trail where we saw moss tucked in the underbrush and began scanning in earnest. Aha! I spied a rust-colored cap emerging from the soil: a King Bolete, a delicious bycatch of the day’s forage. As I dusted off the mushroom before tossing it in my mesh bag, I heard Jon hoot from a nearby grove.
Sure enough, he’d discovered what we’d been searching for all summer: chanterelles, an elusive mushroom coveted for its unique earthy apricot flavor. He plucked one of the golden florets from the damp ground, and we examined the underside to ensure we weren’t being duped by a toxic lookalike. No true gills, just folds that ran down toward the stem—this was the real deal. We harvested a few of the vase-shaped ’shrooms and made our way home to cook them up and feast on our foraged treats.
Tips for Foraging Chanterelles
Chanterelles aren’t easy to come by in Colorado, but fall weather in the high country ups the odds. So does knowing where to look.
- Get high: Chanterelles tend to pop up around 9,000 feet and even grow as high as 11,000 feet in mild weather.
- Get low: Stick to the forest. These mushrooms have a symbiotic relationship with trees and other flora and don’t grow above timberline. Look for small, flat clearings in the trees and scan the moist, mossy edges.
Note: If you plan on filling your baskets, you’ll need a permit to forage on National Forest land. They’re free, easy to obtain online, and for personal, non-commercial use only. Steer clear of National Wilderness Areas; collecting mushrooms within those boundaries is typically not allowed. And, of course, always be certain you’ve positively identified a mushroom before eating it.
4 Go-Now Chanterelle Hot Spots in Colorado
There’s no straightforward guide to finding mushrooms, no “hike for two miles, hang a left at this junction to find a field of chanterelles” like a hiker’s guidebook. You’ve got to have a combination of patience, the right weather, knowledge, and, well, luck. To help you out on your fall forages, we’ve got a few areas to get you started on your search for a pot of gold.
There are plenty of miles of trail—about 9.6 of them each way—along Bard Creek near Empire and Georgetown. No one’s stopping you from tackling this whole out-and-back in a day, but remember that foraging is the antithesis of speed hiking: The slower you move, the better your chances of going home with a wild bounty.
Begin on the Empire side off of the eponymous trailhead (39.74321, -105.68584), where the thick pine forest could provide ripe foraging grounds before you even hit the trail. Follow the singletrack as it snakes southwest along Bard Creek. Good chanterelle habitat shouldn’t be hard to find here, so move slow and keep your eyes peeled.
Most folks that make the trek up Highway 285 this time of year do it for the leaf-peeping potential. Consider that a bonus as you head to your hunting grounds. (But don’t linger in the aspen stands too long; remember that chanterelles prefer conifer forests.) After you’ve soaked up your share of gold leaves, head to Geneva Creek in search of gold on the forest floor.
From the Geneva Creek trailhead (39.51107, -105.71077), pick up the Burning Bear Trail and follow it west into the pines. Linger here for the best chance at a harvest. If you start seeing the rusty caps of King Boletes (porcinis), you know you’re on the right track (and if you’ve got a proper identification, feel free to snag these tasty suckers, too). Porcinis and chanterelles favor similar habitats—but where Boletes often hide in the shade under pine branches or on hillsides in kinnikinnick, chanterelles like the flatter, damper, moss-caked edges and clearings.
If, like me, you’re a sucker for high-alpine views, you can get that, too, if you continue on the trail for a couple more miles. Turn back once you’ve had your fill of tundra and scan for more fungi on the way back if you’ve got the time.
If you’re willing to brave the miles along I-70 to get here, you’re likely to find great shroomin’. The hiking trail up to Shrine Pass is ripe for some of the best wildflower viewing in the area mid-summer, but as the season progresses and the rains come, the mycelium underground fruits with an abundance of fungi, including the occasional chanterelle.
You’re a little higher up here, so hit this one before the mercury drops and the flakes start flying. Spend some time close to the trailhead (39.54628, -106.24187) along the edges of Shrine Ridge Trail. There’s plenty of moisture here to feed the fruiting bodies, and great mushroom habitat just before you hit the steep part of the trail, about 1.5 miles in. Enjoy a nice hike to the pass (it’s only about four miles round-trip), and then spend some time along the forest roads in the area, wandering through the pines as you search for little yellow trumpets sprouting from the soil.
As fall snow dustings begin, stay below the snowline to keep your chances of scoring tasty fungi high. Head to the South Saint Vrain trailhead (40.0916527, -105.5319436) northwest of Boulder—the elevation of the South Saint Vrain Trail begins right around where chanterelles start to grow, just below 9,000 feet, and climbs from there. You’ll find opportunities along most of the trail to peel off and search; the best spots are likely in the conifer patches that line the creek.
On chillier days, start your hunt toward the beginning of your hike. On those fall days that feel a little more like summer, hike up a couple miles to begin your search in the cooler parts of the forest that mushrooms tend to love. If you find yourself on a fruitless forage (it happens to all of us sometimes), link up with the Brainard Lake trail for some alpine scenery to refresh your eyes and continue your hunt on the way back down to the trailhead.