Morel Festivals of Midwest
It’s soon to be 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 Illinois’s Midwest Morel Festival in Ottawa, Illinois concentrate on mushroom picking education through their Morel University classes, 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.
Where: Mansfield Village – Parke County, Indiana
When I was a young lad my mother’s first brand new car was a 1967 VW Transport. My earliest memory is traveling with my parents and seven kids and two dogs to go to family reunions in Crawford County, Indiana. My older sisters would lead the singing, “We’re going, we’re going, we’re going to Marengo, Indiana, We’re going, we’re going we’re going to Marengo, Indiana!” was the constant refrain.
Always from Chicago we’d hit 65 to Indy and then 37 south and turn left toward English, Indiana, the county seat. Each summer we’d take a few extra hours, often to my fathers chagrin, to travel Parke County and hit the many covered bridges on the way back after a long weekend of too much food and too much play down on the farm.
This festival pairs the best family entertainment, a judged car show, and mushroom hunting. There’s nothing better for a spring weekend than to roll into town and put up for a decent show of oldies music, good beer, and decent food, all while checking out the best in central Indiana’s antique cars. One thing you won’t find here is a guided hunt. There’ll be people to tell you where to go (whether you believe them or not is up to you) but there are prizes for every category.
Don’t miss the daylong Morel Auction on the steps of the Red Barn beginning promptly at 10:00 am on Main Street. Yeah, seriously, the Old Red Barn in Downtown is a feature and important part of this community. Hit it up, hang out and let this mushroom fest connect with you and your family.
And of course I would be remiss if I didn’t recommend that you and yours would travel the county and see each of the 31 different covered bridges.
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, a canoe and kayak 6 mile run and a mushroom photography show. Daniel Spicer won last years men’s 5k race, Ashley Hood-Morley snagged the women’s best time fir the Fungus 5k footrace.
The Mountain Morel Festival is the only known to have a beauty and talent pageant, from 6 months to 21 years, boys and girls.
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, 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.
The Ottawa, Illinois Midwest Morel Fest has been the place to be since 1996, and Ottawa is it’s third home, originally begun in Magnolia, Illinois for ten years it had a great run. The Henry, Illinois Chamber of Commerce organized it for several years until the economic downturn, and now the fine folks in Ottawa do the hard work of organizing it.
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.
This years festival is a one day spectacular beginning at 7:30 am for registration, 8:30 Morel University “How to hunt Morels” class. Guided hunts and the Championship Hunt beginning at 9:00 am, prizes awarded at 2:00. Beer tasting begins at 12:30, the annual Morel Auction kicks off at 1:00pm
Tom Nauman, the fests founder tells me, “Last year was a fantastic success, morels started a couple weeks early and stuck around a couple weeks after the fest, 2016 was such a huge success. With the warm winter it seems we’ve got the perfect weekend picked and we’re anticipating a lot of repeat attendees so sign up early!”
The 2016 Illinois State Morel Mushroom Hunting Championship awards were presented to: Largest Morel went to Randy Dedecker (length plus girth at 12.5 inches) and the Grand Champion with the most found was Randy Dedecker, again, as usual. Lisa Walner, the woman’s champion snagged 17 morels.
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.
The new home for the fest is Catalpa Grove, five miles due west of Wyoming on route 17. The Rock Island Trail abuts the Catalpa Grove, and the and the Spoon River flows through the grounds, but don’t tell anyone, this might just be the best kept secret for small mouth bass fishing, according to the locals.
Duke Frisby, the Stark County Morel Fest founder is a stalwart in the Morel Mushroom hunting community in Central Illinois – The history of how this festival got started is really the method to get things done anywhere – whether it be a small community or large. – during a meeting with county officials regarding putting in new canoe ramps to further recreation and tourism the county decided to send it to die in the Road Department. During the same meeting and without skipping a beat Duke decided to punt and get some yardage for his community, he suggested that the county host a Morel Mushroom Festival to bring in tourists, and spur the local economy. They bit the bait and it’s been nine years of very successful Stark County Morel Festivals.
Duke Frisby told me via secured communications that a group of rabble rousers from Missouri way are going to hit the low Montana plains and score a several hundred pounds of morels between them, at least 100 pounds of which are coming back to the auction and a morel fry up at the Festival.
The Catalpa Grove Inn will be the Morel Auction Headquarters beginning at 2:00 pm, with space for overflow bidders sheltered outside it should be a full house. Rumor is that there will be a poker run that culminates at the Inn if the weather is right, so bid early and bid often! 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 4th through the 6th. 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.”
In its 37th year the festival that began as a sidewalk sale in 1980, promises to add more food vendors to feed the over 5,000 expected attendees. Apparently the Society for Creative Anachronism also attends this festival.
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 Mesick Chamber of Commerce concludes that Mesick is the Mushroom Capital of the Midwest, as well as being a small town with a big heart. I do know that they run a heck of a parade!
This Festival has too many activities to list, the days are packed whether you want to spend time on rides and games with the kids or want to sneak away into the woods, it’s got something for everyone.
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 bused 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 seventh year as the sole mushroom vendor. This fest has not only cooking demonstrations but a tasting and cooking competition,” says Harris.
Ashleigh and Ken Harris, her co-owner of MMM, lost their retail shop in 2016 due to an electrical fire and have since focused on wholesale to restaurants across Michigan of both foraged and cultivated mushroom and wild foods. They’ll be opening their retail shop in 2017 and again feature prepared foods, pizzas and ready to go soups and compound butters. The entire mushroom community is anxiously awaiting their new store, myself especially because she owes me a pound of compound butter.
The Musconda, Wisconsin morel festival, in it’s 34th 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 west 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.
This is a semi-private event, ticketed event – part camping trip, part music and food festival, part certification course. Located north of Duluth, Minnesota this trip is sponsored by Gentleman Forager, a company that specializes in full day and weekend forays throughout Minnesota.
The chefs the Gentleman Forager wholesale to come out and lead cooking demonstrations and cook most the meals. Local musicians set up and put on professional shows. The location is the real star though, and if you’ve ever wanted to see “God’s Country,” look no further.
This is certainly an a-typical morel mushroom event, camping, guided mushroom foraging, chef driven meals, certifications, and a slight edge of roughing it, this may not be for everyone, but if you’ve got the steel, then you should check it out.
Sometimes there are lesser events that don’t really include a festival. If you’re in the area, they’re really worth checking out, though may not be a family destination. These I list below.
Pere Marquette Morel Festival is at one of Illinois most beautiful State Parks, with a lodge built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s in the Arts and Crafts style. Arts and craft vendors will be selling attractive handmade merchandise, and I predict there will be plenty of “backroom” morel sales in the parking lot.
This will be a great day for people from Saint Louis to Peoria. If the season is early it’ll blow away other festivals with large blondes, if it’s late then your practically guaranteed to go home with the great black morels that blanket the area!
Come for the festival, and stay in the lodge! You can rent a cabin, stay in the “Modern Wing” (circa 1988) or the Historic Wing which has the best views. With phenomenal fried chicken dinners the lodge’s restaurant is a mandatory stop after a day of morel hunting. Stop by the lodge’s winery (yes, the State Park Lodge has its own winery!) for a tasting and bring a few bottles home. You can rent a boat, a bicycle or even a horse!
This festival includes prizes for the smallest, largest and most gathered during the great hunt that kicks off at 1:00 pm. Don’t blink because you might miss this one, it starts at 11:00 and and ends at 3:00 pm. Prizes include a nights stay in the lodge!
On Saturday, May 3rd, 2014, Brown County State Park will celebrate the 8th Annual Morel Mushroom Sale & Festival! Cooking demonstrations, kid’s coloring tents, and prizes for the largest morel.
There will be a noon cooking demonstration, morel sale at 1:00 pm, as well as local musical acts. 3:30 pm is the largest, smallest and most prize awards.
Unfortunately, as of this writing, the “Simply Music, Simply Morels Festival” is not being organized for 2017. We’ll update you as soon as new information is known.
Beautiful Brown County is about 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. The people in Brown County will welcome you and make you feel like you belong. Brown County is home to Brown County State Park, Yellow Wood State Forest as well as parts of the Hoosier National Forest.
With the emphasis on education the fest has in the past booked great mushroom hunters to lead forays, Folks like Leon Shernoff of Mushroom, the Journal, Eric Osborne of Magnificent Mushrooms, Andy Methven co-author of 100 Cool Mushrooms and UI Mycologist, and Thomas “The Mushroom King” Weipert from Lewiston, Montana comingto to lead forays, cooking demonstrations and giving lectures on tree identification. Rob Poe (me) spoke in 2015, with Dave Gold of Odd Produce in Chicago about how to make a living foraging ethically full time.
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