Where to Find Huckleberries

Finding huckleberries is one of the elusive problems of newbies to wild huckleberry picking. Hiking across miles of rough mountain terrain to find the juicy little gems can really be a challenge.

Having heard this question more than once, Malcolm Dell, aka. Mr. Huckleberry, shares with us his best answer to this nagging issue.

Here are his thoughts ….

Finding Huckleberry Patches

How Do I Find Huckleberry Patches to Pick?

By Malcolm Dell

“One of the most common questions I get is, “Where can I go to find huckleberries to pick?”

Of course, that is a tough question, one that might get you in a fist fight — or attract vague answers like, “No Telum Ridge” or somewhere “between Canada and Nevada”!

Favorite huckleberry pickin’ spots are probably a more closely guarded secret than favorite trophy elk hunting, or trout fly-fishing, locations. And of course, huckleberry hounds are more prone to exaggeration about the size and numbers in their favorite patch, than anglers about their favorite hole, if you can believe that!”

Most species of western huckleberries in the Pacific Northwest – Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and even Alaska and northern California in the US, and Alberta and British Columbia in Canada, grow exclusively in rich, mid- to high-elevation forest zones. Closer to the sea coasts, they will grow lower, even much lower, in elevation – including right on the seashore, but still in forested zones.

Finding Huckleberry Patches
Finding Huckleberry Patches

Best Tactics to Find Huckleberry Patches

…. Malcolm Continues …

“When trying to find good huckleberry picking country, there ARE some general things you can do. Here are some of the tactics I recommend:

1) Try to find people you know well who are avid huckleberry hounds, and might trust you enough to take you out. This is the best way but could end up destroying a friendship, so be careful! Most people will not be shy about telling you NO!, but might also make alternative suggestions about where to go (to pick berries, I mean …).

2) Ask around in your social groups, church, school, workplace, or even the grocery store, for good “general” locations … be careful not to pin people down for specifics … unless you can duck fast!

3) Augment the general location information you got, by contacting the local ranger district of the US Forest Service, or state forestry agency. Ask them for suggestions about finding huckleberries, and the best areas and appropriate access roads to traverse. Buying one of their maps is often a good idea.

4) Spend some time looking at pictures of huckleberry bushes and habitat (like some of the photos on the International Wild Huckleberry website) so you will know what huckleberry country and bushes look like when you drive over the top of them.

5) Keep your ear to the wind, until you begin hearing reports about huckleberries being ripe (usually July, August, and well into September, depending upon elevation, winter snow depth, and if the spring weather came early or late).

6) Make your exploratory trips on the weekend, when more berry pickers will be out and about. Drive around until you find vehicles parked along the side of the road, with no one around. If you are in good huckleberry habitat, this probably indicates they are out picking!

7) Drive a little ways, until you see some huckleberry plants (check out photos on the Wild Huckleberry site, so you know what to look for), and start hiking around. Don’t be afraid to hoof it for a ways (but be careful not to get lost!). Most people pick close to the road, and above the road, so hiking downhill or a considerable distance uphill, might allow you to locate YOUR OWN secret patch, on “No Telum Mountain!”.

Most huckleberry species (not all) prefer openings, from full sunlight to partial shade. So, when driving around, look for brushy, old clearcuts, burns, or heavily logged areas. Trees of various sizes might be popping up, but in good huckleberry habitat, do not form a solid or dense canopy. Generally, the tree cover should be light to sporadic.

University research indicates that our huckleberries here in Idaho and Montana, will grow and produce well up to 30% shade, and are mostly gone or seriously declining by 60% shade. I have found very productive patches in 100% sunlight, although in hot, dry years, the berries completely in the open tend to dry up fast, and are generally smaller. In cooler, wetter years, they can be fantastic in full sun. But generally, a little bit of shade tends to create more berries, and good berry size.

Huckleberries often share habitat with other, often taller, brush species. Over time, young trees and brush such as maple, willow, alder, and mountain-ash, will take over and shade out the hucks … but in the meantime, you might get five, ten, twenty (or more) years of good picking before the huckleberry plants seriously decline.

When you find a good general area, make a mental note about current logging operations or burns (or combinations, where the forestry agency or company burned after logging). Unfortunately, many agencies SPRAY their clearcuts after logging, to aid in the replanting of conifers, which completely wipes out the huckleberries.

However, where they do not herbicide the forest, within five to ten years these areas often start producing berries. Since you may need to replace your existing favorite patch someday – as the vegetation changes, keep a map or mental note of locations, and enjoy your purple huckleberries patches for years to come!”