Colorado Morel Primer
It’s been a few years since I finished my Colorado Morel Series, and I think it’s time for a refresher in the form of a very condensed summary. The series has a ton of great info and can help you find your first morels, just look at the numbers! The articles in the series have over 40,000 total views and have helped tons of people find morels in Colorado! That said, I also know that some people don’t have the mindset to sit and consume about an hour’s worth of reading, let alone try to digest all of the info contained in one go! So, this series will be a primer; just the essentials to get you going. You can revisit the series later on if you want to dig into the details.
This article will cover the basic information someone should know about our morels, and then jump right into the seasons starting at the beginning, our low elevation yellows, and following the progression up the foothills and mountains into our living and burned conifer forests. Let’s get into it!
Like other states, Colorado has two ‘types’ of morels, yellow (or blonde) and black. These two types have different seasons and habitats but can sometimes cross over. As far as I’m aware we only have a single species of yellow morel, Morchella americana. We have a decent number of black morel species, around 6 or 7 including both burn and non-burn, though knowing their binomials isn’t super important as they’re hard to differentiate. You can find more info about those names in the full series if you like!
Unlike the typical morel seasons in the Midwest and Eastern states, our season can stretch for many months! In the ideal conditions, morels can fruit from April into September, as they did in 2021! They start in the lowest elevations and move their way up the mountains following the conditions they prefer. Also unlike those states, our morels are a little more finicky when it comes to fruiting. There's a trade-off, a potentially much longer season that may not even start if we don't get some rain.
Our yellow morel season is not usually as exciting as the "traditional morel states". The ideal habitat isn't nearly as common and, as mentioned above, their fruiting is pretty reliant on good spring conditions. Meaning moisture and steady temperatures. That said, I am still able to find some yellow morels every year that I look for them! Some years they are pretty abundant, and in others, it takes many outings just to find a few.
The season generally starts in mid to late April and goes through May or early June. The habitats to look for are riparian areas with cottonwood. That's the baseline, somewhere near a river with cottonwoods. Now, hot tip, I have also found yellow morels under ash, elm, and boxelder trees, so keep your eyes out for those as well. Most often I see them near cottonwoods though!
In my experience they're almost always close to the actual water, say within 150 feet or so. I do occasionally find them further from the water, but I think it's better to focus your search near the water in these habitats. For conditions, you'll be looking for soil temperatures around 50 degrees and no hotter than 60. If it's too warm you need to move up in elevation into the low elevation canyons with the same riparian cottonwood habitats.
This is where things get fun, at least in my opinion! Yellow morels are great and riparian areas are chock full of delicious edible plants, but I'm a mountain boy at heart. There's nothing better than the deep comforting smell of a pine forest just after a rainstorm, especially if there are mushrooms to be found!
We're going to start with the black morels that grow in the non-burned forests, often referred to as "natural". These can be hit or miss, some years I find hundreds, other years I find just a few. It seems like the recent dry winters and late freezes have made the natural black morels struggle a little, though there could be other factors at play as well.
I like to focus on mixed conifer forests between 6000 and 9000 feet for natural black morels. Generally, these forests are comprised of Douglas fir, lodgepole pine, subalpine fir, spruce, ponderosa, and aspen. A nice mix! Early in the season, I start on the north-facing slopes, but I check soil temps often! If the soil is a little too cool, below 50, I will adjust my elevation, or move to the east or south-facing slopes because these warm a little faster. Within these habitats be sure to focus on moisture holding features like moss, kinnikinnick, small drainages, edges of rocks, etc.
Finding natural black morels is really about covering ground until you find what they like, while still going slow enough that you can spot them. Remember, morels blend in like crazy, so take some time to scan an area before moving on. Go slow. I still miss morels on occasion and I've been picking them for many years.
In recent years these have been our most prevalent morels, unfortunately. At least there's a little silver lining to the intense fire seasons we've had.
Burn morels are the easiest type to pick large quantities of, because when they fruit they usually do so in large numbers! We have five or so species of burn morels, including the 'grey morel', Morchella tomentosa. These all, as the name would suggest, can be found in burned forests one to five years after the burn, and starting the year directly preceding the fire. Generally, the first year has the highest chance for large quantities and then it gradually decreases for three or four years.
The keyword in that previous section is 'forests'. There need to be trees in the burn for the morels to exist, so a burn like the Marshall Fire that was mostly grasslands would not be a good candidate for morels. That being said, not all burned forests are created equally, nor are all areas within a "good burn". I always start on the edges of the burned area where dead trees meet the living. I look for north-facing slopes and other areas that hold extra moisture. See the theme? Moisture is key for morels, and mushrooms in general!
That was somewhat of a lightning speed coverage for our morels, but it should get you started! You can always come back for the full series when you're looking to deepen your morel knowledge!
Here's a quick summary:
The best morel years are ones with regular rain and consistent temperatures.
Yellow morels are most often found in low elevation riparian areas with cottonwood trees starting around late April.
Black morels generally fruit in mixed conifer forests between 6000 and 9000ft starting around mid to late May.
Burn morels can fruit in 1 to 5-year-old burn areas that previously had trees. The edges of the burn and areas with moisture are best.
All of these morels and close to 100 more species of edible plants and mushrooms can be found on my Foraging Calendar! If you'd like to check it out you can find more info on my Patreon Page. Your support helps me create more articles just like this one! Thank you!