Mushroom hunting is a wholesome outdoor activity that families can enjoy no matter how much money you do or don’t have.
It’s a relatively simple outing that requires little in the way of special equipment.
Children may seem to lose interest until that moment they find their first chicken of the woods. The fire in them will burn to find more.
Teach them how to prepare it when you are back home or back at your campsite. Imagine their eyes when they find out that it really does taste like chicken and they found it in the woods!
Let’s talk about mushrooms today; specifically, mushroom hunting in the great state of Michigan. I’ll go over reasons you want to go mushroom hunting in Michigan, the types of mushrooms you can find, and even what times of the year they grow. Let’s go!
Types of Mushrooms Found in Michigan
Michigan is known for morels, a highly sought-after variety of mushrooms that have a very characteristic look.
Some people compare them to a brain on a stem. There are yellow morels and black morels. They are shaped much the same and vary in color.
Below is a chart printed by the Michigan Record-Eagle on September 18, 2019.
It shows the species available and the months in which they are often found. You can find the article and edition online here. As you can see, September is an awesome mushroom hunting month in Michigan.
If you start packing right now, you can get there in time!
The chart uses scientific names, but a quick Google search will show you the popular names and give you loads of photos to compare to your finds.
Remember that you want to be more than 100% sure about mushrooms before you eat them.
When it doubt, even slight doubt, seek help from park rangers, friends who are experts, online mushroom hunting groups, and locals.
How to Prepare Your Finds
Every mushroom has its own distinct flavor.
I’ll stick my neck out on the chopping block and say that morels are not my favorite mushroom.
They’re good, but I like them best cooked in butter with herbs and served over meat–like a juicy steak with mashed potatoes.
Other people love them battered and fried.
Chanterelles are one of my favorite mushrooms because they have a fruity flavor with a hint of nut.
They are wonderful when cooked and tossed in an alfredo sauce, added to an omelet, or just served on the side as a vegetable. Even in the bag, they’ll smell slightly like an apricot.
Oyster mushrooms make the best cream of mushroom soup you’ve ever eaten and if you find a hodgepodge of mushrooms, you can chop them all up and make cream of mushroom soup with them.
I like to start with a roux base, with butter and flour. Then, I slowly add my heavy cream to that mix and let it thicken.
I add mushrooms that I’ve already tossed in a skillet with some butter, salt, and pepper.
Just gently soften them up and then combine into the cream mixture. Once it is all combined, add whatever herbs and spices that you’d like. Some people add Worcestershire sauce and beef base to give their soup a more robust flavor.
I prefer my food to be simpler, usually.
Chicken of the Woods growing on rotting wood. Often found in clumps/groups and will continue growing back in the same places up to 3 or 4 years.
Chicken of the woods can be found in Michigan, especially on rotting wood.
You’ll find it on standing trees–an indication it is rotting inside–or on trees lying on the ground.
Everyone loves this mushroom because it has a unique consistency and flavor of chicken.
You can freeze them and make chicken patties, fried chicken ‘tenders’ and anything else you’d usually make with chicken.
Just batter it and fry it like chicken.
Stir fry it in teriyaki and veggies if you feel fancy.
Mushroom Hunting Must-Haves in Michigan
A common joke is that the state bird of Michigan is the mosquito. Now, you might think this is me joking.
I assure you that I have my serious face on.
This is the only state (and I lived in Florida for over fifteen years) where mosquitoes left welts on my arms the size of quarters.
I think you know where I’m going with this.
Pack it, buy it, and have backup for when you get there; use plenty of it.
I’m an environmentalist and hate using poisons and toxins on my skin, but in Michigan, I will use the sprays with Deet because the ticks and mosquitoes are both very bad.
Dress appropriately. Don’t go into the woods or traipsing along riverbanks in flip flops.
There are water moccasins in Michigan.
Typically, they shy away from people, but if you step on one, you really want boots on. Move slow and allow snakes time to slither away and they usually will get out of your way happily.
Trust me, bites are rare–but why push your luck?
Wear boots and have your children dress appropriately, as well. Teach them how to be in the woods safely.
The occasional timber rattler might be around, but they tend to be reclusive, shun human contact, and as far as rattlesnakes go, they are fairly mellow. They’re far more relaxed than the southern species of rattlesnakes. Late in the fall, they’ll be in the ground trying to stay warm.
It might be warm one minute and chilly the next.
Layer your clothes.
Take a basket or cheesecloth to carry your mushroom finds in. You’ll want a good pocketknife to free your finds from tree trunks or the ground.
Make sure you’ve got your phone to take photos of any mushrooms you’re unsure of. Get close-ups of the cap’s top and underside. Get shots of the exact location you’ve found it in.
The more photos you take of all angles, including the surroundings, the better the odds are that an online mushroom hunting group will give you an accurate identification.
You don’t need anything fancy.
Take the things you’d normally take for a hike in the woods–water, a watch, your phone, set your GPS to track your location so you can find your way out, etc.
Extra Tips for Mushroom Hunting in Michigan
Here are a few tips for hunting, especially if you’ve got young children.
- Make it a little competition for the kids to find the most mushrooms. My parents used to have little prizes…one for the biggest mushroom, one for the smallest, one for the ugliest mushroom, etc. Prizes could be anything from a Tootsie Roll to a quarter.
- Make sure you pack appropriately so the kids and you have pants, shoes, bags, gloves, and anything else you might need. I suggest parents handle the pocketknife.
- Use your mushrooms within 24 hours so they are fresh. If you plan on just cooking one night at a campsite while on vacation, take only what you need for that one meal. Teach children why it’s ethical to only take what we need from nature and leave some for the next person.
- Take plenty of water when you are out. Always have some extra. You never know when you are going to need it. Kids can carry a little water if you get them their own little backpacks. Don’t overload them and make it all part of the fun–you’re explorers. Children are naturally good at looking for things and it keeps their brains engaged in what you’re doing. As I mentioned above, you may need to toss in some treats, like an extra smores at tonight’s campfire for everyone who finds a mushroom today.
- Add a soft-bristled toothbrush to your bag so you can gently brush dirt from your finds before adding them to your bag for safekeeping. Don’t wet your mushrooms, they’ll get mushy faster. Brush them off and only wipe them off or wash them right before cooking. Brushing them gently will allow you to keep them up to 48 hours, but the sooner you prepare them, the better.
- Keep your hunts short if you’ve got kids with you. Finding mushrooms is hard. Sometimes it is a wash. Plan for ways to keep the kids engaged when there are no mushrooms. Perhaps surprise them with a swimming spot at the end of your hunt/hike through the woods? This way, you can get them interested in hunting along the way, but it isn’t the primary focus for them.
- Teach children to not touch anything until you tell them they can. So many plants are toxic and cause rashes. Some mushrooms are poisonous too. Ensure that they are old enough to understand to never put anything in their mouth until you tell them it is safe. The younger you instill these things in them, the better. I know three-year-olds that can pick out select plants because they’ve been taught.
Reasons to Try Mushroom Hunting in Michigan
Michigan is divided into two unique sections–an upper and a lower peninsula. The state sprawls around the Great Lakes region. Visitors can cross Lake Michigan over the Mackinac Bridge and look out over the water to Mackinac Island (both pronounced Mackinaw) as they leave one peninsula for the other.
Some mushrooms might be found more commonly on the lower peninsula while others are more common in the upper peninsula, near Canada.
Mushrooms thrive in wooded areas near water, especially running water. Michigan is home to an estimated 20,167,228 acres of forest land. It’s literally a mushroomer’s paradise.
Mackinac Island is accessible by hydrofoil boats and is free of motorized vehicles except for a fire truck and an ambulance.
It’s a very unique place to visit.
The Grand Hotel is the world’s longest of all wooden hotels. A few hours away, on the upper peninsula, you can visit the Sleeping Bear Dunes–sand dunes that look like a bear sleeping on its side. These dunes overlook the waters of the Great Lakes.
The diversity of Michigan’s ecosystems combine to create an incredible mushrooming hunting experience from the lower to the upper peninsulas.
The biodiversity creates the perfect conditions for more than twenty different species of edible mushrooms to grow and thrive.
Michigan is an outdoor person’s paradise and offers festivals and year-round activities for any family. There is ample opportunity to squeeze in some time for outdoor fun in the way of mushroom hunting in Michigan.
A little research on the ole interwebs should give you some great ideas where you can look. Cabin rentals will give you a few nights in a wooded area with the family to check out this great hobby and incorporate it into a hike.
**Caution: make certain that you are hunting on land that allows you to gather/forage and remove plant life from the area. Some state parks and national parks explicitly forbid this. Always know the local laws so you are harvesting ethically.
Mushroom hunting is something that adds value to your life in many ways. It gets you moving and gets you outdoors, helping improve your health. It provides food for your table and teaches you the value of the environment around you. These are wonderful lessons for children and adults alike.
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