Morel Festivals of Midwest
It’s spring in the Midwest and with spring comes urgent need to get to the woods and beat out the crowds for the coveted morel mushroom. With hundreds of thousands of morel enthusiasts competing for diminishing hunting grounds and urgently checking morel maps and forums to see if morels are fruiting locally, communities with prime hunting grounds are planning entertaining and educational festivals. Most festivals are replete with carnivals, parades, grand forays with prizes for the largest haul, and morel auctions there’s fun for the entire family. Simply put, Morels have an incredible, meaty flavor and are the most sought after mushroom in the US. Many folks begin hunting morels and then move on to other mushrooms, but most continue to only hunt this special fungi. If you’ve never hunted them, this is your opportunity to get out there and learn, while meeting professional foragers and learning from some of the best.
Some festivals, like the Brown County, Indiana Simply Music Simply Morel Festival have main stages and professional musicians playing late into the night, others like Wisconsin’s Musconda Morel Festival offer free rides back to your hotel for those that over indulge. All festivals stress the educational and recreational experience that a good day in the woods brings. Each festival is put together by dedicated folks who enjoy the outdoors and are committed to others having good experiences. Whether you’re a beginning morel hunter or a seasoned pro, there’s always something to learn and great folks to meet at these fantastic events. There have been countless books written on Morel Hunting, and I’m sure you’ll be able to find a few at each festival, but the real deep seated knowledge comes from doing and learning from some of the best is not only possible, but highly achievable by attending one of these fests. Please click the title of each festival to go directly to that festivals website.
Beautiful Brown County is less than an hour from Indianapolis and about four and a half hours from Chicago. Rolling hills and beautiful scenery of this driftless region, along with the abundance of recreational forest land make this a truly special part of the Midwest. Brown County is home to Brown County State Park, Yellow Wood State Forest as well as parts of the Hossier National Forest.
Randy Laverre began the Brown County Simply Music, Simply Morel Festival last year. He lives less than a mile from the Bill Monroe Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and attending the the Bluegrass Festival every year he decided that his passion of morel hunting deserved its own festival. Laverre began hunting morels when he was 13, his junior high friends dragged him out and taught him the knowledge to identify good morel spots, “What I really want to do is impart knowledge to people, I want them to learn something that will stick with them for the rest of their lives.” he says.
With the emphasis on education the fest has booked great mushroom hunters to lead forays, Folks like Leon Shernoff of Mushroom, the Journal, Alex “The Mad Russian” Babich from Mushroom Gear, Chris Matherly from Georgia, and Thomas “The Mushroom King” Weipert from Lewiston, Montana will be coming to lead forays, cooking demonstrations and giving lectures on tree identification.
Randy Laverre says that the real focus of the festival will be teaching the children. He’s been bringing his kids into the woods since they learned to walk. His eight year old son is better than he is at spotting morels, and his four year old daughter is just picking up the hobby. “The kids have their own foray, and kids 12 and under get in free all weekend.” says Laverre.
The Championship Foray was won last year by an outsider, which brings hope to us out of towners this year, Cameron Humfleep from Kentucky went home with first prize. Word is that Humfleep will be prowling the woods of Brown County again this year, so the challenge is on.
Nestled on a peninsula of land surrounded by the Natural Bridge Resort State Park, Irvine is about 30 miles South/Southwest of Lexington, Kentucky. The Mountain Mushroom Festival features about 100 booths of arts and crafts and vendors. A parade, and carnival will also be ongoing, a 5k fun run, mushroom auction, tractor show, antique car show and cake decoration demonstration and contest are in the works.
Setting itself apart from other festivals an agate and mineral hunt is scheduled for the Mountain Mushroom Festival has and a mushroom photography show.
On the banks of the Illinois River about an hour and a half from Chicago and about a fifteen minute drive from Starved Rock State Park and it’s famous lodge, the Midwest Morel Fest will be a large draw, featuring a “Learn to Hunt” Guided Foray by Morel University on Friday, and the Championship Foray on Saturday. The Fest also features a morel museum, a home made craft fair and tours of the local and beautiful Reddick Mansion.
Sure to delight will be the home brew beer tasting and home brew seminar during their Morel Mash Up a silent auction and of course, the Morel Auction.
The Midwest Morel Fest Championship Foray has a $500.00 grand prize, sure to get those heavy hunters out, but anyone can come across a honey hole and walk away with a weeks pay.
This one day Morel Festival is actually set for the first Saturday in May every year, by county decree. This festival is is halfway between Moline and Davenport, Illinois and features a morel auction and the usual round up of excellent middle American festival fare such as pork chops and sausage sandwiches as well as a round up of kids activities like ring toss and hay rides.
In previous years the Lions Club hosted a Biscuits and Gravy Breakfast, as of press time we were unable to find confirmation on the biscuits.
“The Mushroom Capital of the World” Morel Festival kicks off May 1st through the 3rd. Attracting upwards of 5,000 people it features a kids hay ride, grand parade, carnival and a 5k run, the festival is in it’s 24th year. Organizer Natalie Lamar, a fourth generation morel hunter says, “The morel season kicks off next week, I find it a little odd that there have been morels found to the north, usually they’re fruiting here first, but with a few cool nights and warms days we’ll see a fantastic crop.”
Last year the festival was nearly canceled due to a surprise six inch snow storm, but the grand foray went on and was won by a local. Lamar says “Locals usually win every year, they know all the good spots.” This year will also feature a pig roast as part of the annual golf tournament, known as the Deuce Classic, a largest morel contest and Mister and Miss Competition for kids under 10.
Also in it’s second year the Iowa Morel Fest is located on the confluence of the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers. This is one of my favorite spots in the Upper Midwest. Across the Mississippi in Wisconsin is the Wyalusing State Park, with camp sites that overlook a 400 foot bluff, and as astronomy club with stargazing on Saturday nights. At the State Park you can rent canoes to explore the channel islands, or in McGregor you can rent motorized boats for the day. Just north of McGregor is the Effigy Mounds National Monument, a sacred place to many Native Americans.
“Brian Klein won the Championship Foray last year, and this year is going to be leading forays to teach others his secrets,” says festival organizer Carl Hexom, “What I’m looking forward to the most is the eyes of the children as they pick their first monster morel on the free guided kid’s hunt.”
Featured lecturers and foray guides include Tom Volk, mycologist with University of Wisconsin, La Cross, Thomas “Mushroom King” Weipert, and local Brian Klein. Carl Hexom is also owner of Crazy Carls Silver Dollar Saloon, music venue for the festival. “We’ve got great bands, from Minitellica to 88 M.P.H to make sure everyone enjoys the weekend.” This festival is sure to be one of the more interesting morel festivals.
Hexom predicts that this will be a banner year for morels, and over 1,000 people will be traveling to enjoy the Iowa Morel Festival, his hope is that folks will learn new skills and come back year after year.
The Mesick Morel Festival lies just outside the Manistee National Forest and Mesick is located about 15 miles south of Traverse City, Michigan . The Fest features a flea market, an antique car show and three days of carnivals – moms ride free with kids on Mother’s Day. This fest also features a magic show, beer tent and horse pull. Sponsored by the local Lions Club the Mesick Fest also features a Softball Tournament, a 5k run, Grand Parade and a carnival. After Saturday’s Parade there will be a “Mud Bog Competition” in which 4 WD racers will compete in a mud track race.
The Lewiston Morel Mushroom Festival is a one day event with morning guided forays, mushrooms tastings, an arts and craft show as well as an outdoor equipment show featuring archery, hunting and equipment. Lewiston is in Eastern Michigan in the Center of Grayling State Forest, about 30 miles north of Huron National Forest. The Grayling State Forest is home to some of the largest morels found.
Up the glove in Michigan, spot on Lake Charlevoix the Boyne City Morel Fest is in the heart of Michigan’s Morel Country. A Carnival Midway is set up for the fest, with Music Friday and Saturday Night. The Grand Championship Foray is on Saturday, on private grounds, with participants bussed over to the undisclosed location.
“I’ve been going since I was a youngster,” says Ashleigh Harris of Michigan Mushroom Marketplace, “And this is the fourth year as the sole mushroom vendor.” This fest has not only cooking demonstrations but a tasting and cooking competition, says Harris, who also sells prepared foods such as mushroom soups and compound butters made in a commercial kitchen and sold at Farmer’s Markets with her co-owner husband Ken, and soon at their wild mushroom specialty store in Petoskey, Michigan, which opens this summer.
The Musconda, Wisconsin morel festival, in it’s 32nd year, the festival is sponsored by the local American Legion. The Town of Musconda is nestled in state forests on the Wisconsin river halfway between Madison and Prairie du Chien, and attracts folks as far away as Chicago and the Quad Cities attracting about 3,000 people. The prime morel spots east of Lake Michigan happen to be right around Musconda.
Cinda Johnson is one of the folks that help organize the fest, Cinda says shes been coming to the festival for over 20 years, “I love being outdoors in the woods, I love the possibility of finding that honey spot.” As usual she says, “the mainstage music will be at the firehouse, but this year they’re having a DJ at Mushroom Head Quarters.”
The festival funds the local American Legion Hall’s activities, including local little league teams. Last year poor weather put the entire festival in doubt, but at the last minute local hunters came in from the woods with enough morels that the Hall was able to sell hundreds of one pound baskets fresh from the hunt.
Now with almost every weekend over the next month and a half booked, all I can say is, have fun! And save some for me!
Feel free to contact me to add your festival to the list
Since it’s Morel time, it’s time to readdress what’s edible and what isn’t, and how we refer to mushrooms. This piece addresses the usage of common names, especially the two mushrooms that often fruit while morels are fruiting – The Verpa sp. and the Gyromitra sp. Click to view.