Your Guide to Mushroom Foraging In + Around the Vail Valley

The biggest “threat” of getting into mushroom foraging may not be poisonous species; the most common risk that seems to come with foraging involves its addictive nature.

HAWK’S WINGS Sarcodon imbricatus

Photos courtesy of Kristen Blizzard — HAWK’S WINGS Sarcodon imbricatus

Kristen and Trent Blizzard began foraging for mushrooms in the Vail Valley about 10 years ago, and these days, their “addiction” has taken them into the forests of Wisconsin and the Pacific Northwest. They even wrote a book, published in 2020, titled Wild Mushrooms: A Cookbook and Foraging Guide, which provides “everything you need to know to make mushrooming a lifestyle choice, from finding and storing to preserving and preparing common and unusual species,” according to the book description.

“This obsession has totally taken root, and it grows,” Kristen Blizzard believes. “It feels like, in a way, some sort of DNA switch flips on, igniting an ancestral hunter-gatherer gene. Part of it is about the hunt, and part of it is the thrill of being outside and seeing the connectedness in nature, and all of it turns into this passion. This long-lost genetic code is driving you to become a person who collects food and pre-serves it for the long winter, and at the same time, it’s a treasure hunt, like an Easter egg hunt for adults.”

The itch can begin with finding and identifying your first mushroom in the forest, or it can nip you when you find an amazing stash.

Kristen Blizzard was exposed to foraging through Walking Mountain Science Center, then met Trent, who had peripheral experience through friends. The couple attended the Telluride Mushroom Festival and began foraging together, and then “had one of those days where you hit the motherload, and it kinda creeps in and takes over and becomes an obsession,” Kristen Blizzard shares.

Of course, sometimes, learning from friends involves rites of passage. Trent Blizzard’s friend took him on a 10-mile hike in the Glenwood area, only to return to the car and say, “Let’s check here.” Sure enough, they found a massive amount of mushrooms about 500 feet away. Trent called Kristen, and they continued to hunt for several hours.

“There’s a chemical dopamine response that triggers your brain, and you want to find it again and again,” says Trent Blizzard.

KRISTEN AND TRENT BIZZARD holding morels found in a local burn (Morchella species), they refer tothem as "burn morels."

KRISTEN AND TRENT BIZZARD holding morels found in a local burn (Morchella species), they refer to
them as “burn morels.”

And oftentimes, mushrooms are like little tricksters in the forest. You may hunt all day for them only to find them close to where you started or simply at the end of the day.

Krista Schoenberg and her husband also got hooked their second year of for-aging; her inspiration began working at Beano’s Cabin under a chef that foraged for all kinds of edibles in the forest. Then, she and her husband got hooked when they found a field of mushrooms so abundant that they filled their backpack, which was so heavy and full they had to take turns carrying it down the trail.

Schoenberg loves exploring the forest floor, slowly meandering, a method of “wandering and taking it all in,” she says.


According to Kristen and Trent Blizzard, that’s like saying you don’t like fish.

“There’s definitely as much diversity in mushrooms as there is in fish,” Trent Blizzard says. “They all taste so different, and they’re full of protein, vitamins and minerals. They’re a very healthy part of the diet.”

Chanterelles have a fruity taste, porcinis offer a very earthy taste, saffron milk caps have a mildly nutty, woodsy flavor, hawk’s wings are the most “mushroomy” of the bunch and puffballs, while mild and delicious, absorb the flavors around them like tofu does, Kristen Blizzard explains.

And, as the Blizzard’s point out in their book, “One of the best things about cooking wild mushrooms is that every time you open your dried caches, their unique aroma recalls your foraging experience, creating an immediate and visceral connection back to the forest. There is no finer way to appreciate food.”

“For anyone saying they don’t like mush-rooms, they’re missing out on a whole world of foodie adventure,” Kristen Blizzard says.

“It takes time, but the more you go out and pay attention to the terrain and altitude and specific trees [the more you find],” she says. “Porcinis are my favorite; they’ve got such a fantastic flavor, and they’re so cute when you find them in the forest, because there’s usually a little moss around them. The minute you find one, it’s like this addiction to keep looking and see what you’re going to find.”

So, how do you find mushrooms?

In Eagle County, most grow above 10,500 feet in and around mixed conifer forest openings and edges, with the exception of blonde morels, which grow in springtime under cottonwood trees in riparian areas. However, Kristen Blizzard says morels are a bit elusive in Colorado. Although, they do grow prolifically in old wildfire scars one year after the wildfire, as long as the area receives average rainfall. For example, the 2021 Sylvan wildfire in Eagle produced hundreds of pounds of morels, she says.

As the season progresses, black morels grow alongside conifers and aspens at higher elevations.

From mid-July through September (and sometimes into early October), mush-rooms like porcini, chanterelle, oyster, hawk’s wing, saffron milk cap, shrimp russula and puffballs emerge above10,000 feet.

Of these eight edible mushrooms (including morels) that grow locally, porcini tends to be king.

“It’s one of the most widely loved mushrooms, with its pleasant, earthly flavor,” Trent Blizzard says, contrasting them with another popular mushroom, the morel, which offers a “totally different textural experience with beefy ridges and pits that hold a lot of sauces,” he adds.

About 40 species of chanterelles grow worldwide, but only one stands out in Colorado, perhaps due to our more arid climate; the mushrooms have a fruity, apricot taste, so the Blizzards make apricot jam with them and serve it with baked brie; it also pairs well with pork, they say.

Similarly, hawk’s wings are only considered edible in the Rocky Mountains. Everywhere else, they’re bitter.

“If I had to pick one to be the state mushroom, hawk’s wing would be it,” explains Trent Blizzard. “Think of it as a beginner mushroom (because it’s easy to identify). The top looks like a hawk’s wing, and the bottom, instead of pores like the porcini, or gills, has teeth; it looks like a shag carpet on the bottom.”

The saffron milk cap is unique in that it lactates a milky substance when it’s cut.

Shrimp russula actually smells a bit fishy, like shrimp, and it’s a little harder to identify for newbies, because look-alikes also grow in the forest.

Puff balls are common in Eagle County but not as desirable to eat as others, Trent Blizzard reveals.

Lobster mushrooms are another edible mushroom, with a dense texture and a nutty, sweet smell reminiscent of steamed lobster. However, they’re found mostly on the Front Range near ponderosa pines.

“You can go in three directions in the Vail Valley — north, south and east; it’s all full of mushrooms,” says Trent Blizzard.

Friends ask the Blizzards if they’re afraid of dying from poisonous mush-rooms, and while they caution foragers to do their homework, they say once you learn a lot, identifying poisonous mushrooms is like distinguishing between a brown trout and a rainbow trout.

While mushrooms in other areas of the United States, such as the Pacific North-west and Midwest, can kill you, “You’d be hard-pressed to die from a mushroom in the Vail Valley,” Trend Blizzard shares. “There are a lot more plants in the forest that can hurt you than mushrooms.”

“At the same time,” Kristen Blizzard says, “the disclaimer around mushroom hunting is: do not eat anything you can’t identify 100%.”

PORCINISBoletus rubriceps

PORCINIS Boletus rubriceps

Foragers like the Blizzards spent years going out with knowledgeable friends, attending mushroom festivals, joining mycological societies (there’s one in Denver and an emerging one in Glenwood) and learning about various mushrooms.

“We started with two species, then five, then 12 mushrooms, and now, we know of maybe 50 edible mushrooms,” Kristen Blizzard says. “Start slowly, and make sure you put in the time to increase your learning curve.”

“It’s an onion with a lot of layers. The more you learn, the more you grow,” Trent Blizzard says, explaining how there are medicinal mushrooms, as well as the science of mycology and the symbiotic relationship of mushrooms and trees (for example, mushrooms extract moisture and nutrients out of the soil and give it back to the tree, while the tree provides sugars for the mushroom). “It’s a pretty big world once you start investigating it. Your curiosity has many avenues to go down, and it’s a diverse community.”

Indeed, foraging draws people from all kinds of backgrounds, and “We all get along,” Kristen Blizzard says.

“You find people who are scientists, citizen scientists, foodies or those interested in the medicinal and psychoactive(aspects),” she adds. “There are a lot of angles that bring people in, and then you kind of expand from there.