Woman and young son sit on felled tree picking huckleberries and laughing.

Purple Gold: A Guide To Huckleberry Picking In Idaho

Huckleberry picking in Idaho is more than just a seasonal activity; it’s a cherished tradition that connects locals and visitors alike to the fertile beauty of the gem state. These small, sweet berries, often compared to blueberries but with a distinct tartness, grow wild in the mountainous areas of Idaho.

Every year, our family forages for huckleberries in the summer heat so we can stock up for the year. It might be one of my favorite summertime activities in Idaho. With all the glorious hikes and alpine lakes we have, it seems ridiculous that my most beloved memory is crouching down and hunting for bite-sized berries. And yet it is.

What can I say? I’m a food gal at heart, and I think it’s pure magic that every summer, the mountainsides of Idaho burn bright with purple gold.

If you’re interested in huckleberry picking and want to learn more about where to go and how to find them, I’ve created this complete guide to huckleberry picking in Idaho. In no time, you’ll be making your own huckleberry jam.

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A Lesson On Huckleberries In Idaho

Close up of huckleberries in a female hand.

Huckleberries can be found in different areas of the US, but in Idaho, the Mountain Huckleberry is the most common.

Mountain huckleberries are small and round and, when fully ripe, range in color from deep purple to nearly black. Their flavor is a delightful balance of sweet and tart, and I find it more intense and complex than the milder blueberry.

While the huckleberry is often compared to a blueberry, the comparisons aren’t completely warranted. Where blueberries offer a straightforward sweetness, huckleberries provide a more nuanced taste, combining the initial sweetness with a subtle tartness and an earthy undertone.

The other key difference between huckleberries and blueberries lies in their growing conditions. While blueberries can be cultivated in controlled environments, huckleberries flourish in the wild, particularly in the acidic, well-drained soils of Idaho’s forests. Huckleberries are finicky and have proven to be exceptionally difficult to domesticate. This makes huckleberry picking not just a harvest but a true foraging adventure.

Huckleberries are rich in antioxidants, packed with iron, and offer a healthy dose of vitamin C and potassium. They’re also the official state fruit of Idaho! You can learn more fun facts about Idaho here.

Historical Fact: For thousands of years, Native American tribes have gathered huckleberries for both food and medicinal purposes. The rituals of picking, preserving, and consuming these berries hold profound cultural and spiritual significance.

When To Pick Huckleberries In Idaho

Huckleberry picking season in Idaho typically spans from mid-July to mid-August. However, the exact timing can vary depending on the elevation and specific location, with higher altitudes sometimes extending the season into early September. These are general times, and every year will be different, depending on the mixture of rain and sun that Idaho gets that year. One year, we started picking in June!

The berries start ripening at lower elevations first and continue up throughout the season. If you’re getting a later start, go higher up the mountain!

Where To Find Huckleberries In Idaho

A mom and young son go off a hiking path to pick huckleberries.
A huckleberry bush right off a hiking trail.

Keeping huckleberry patch locations a closely guarded secret is part of the lore of huckleberry picking in Idaho. You definitely can’t open up a Reddit forum and say, “Hiya, strangers, can someone give me the exact coordinates of the best huckleberry patches in town?” Yeah, that’s not how it works.

Whether it’s warranted or not, locals in an area will not give up the goods. That being said, they’re not that hard to find once you know the areas where huckleberries thrive. Later, I will give you tips on places that advertise their huckleberries and even offer huckleberry tours.

Mountain huckleberries prefer the cool, moist environments found in the mountainous regions of Idaho. They typically grow at elevations ranging from 2,000 to 11,000 feet, with the most productive patches between 4,000 and 7,000 feet. These elevations provide the right balance of temperature, sunlight, and soil acidity that huckleberries need to flourish.

When searching for huckleberries, focus on sunny slopes and areas with partial shade in the mountains and clearings within the forest. Huckleberry shrubs are typically two to six feet and often grow in clusters, so once you find a good spot, you’re likely to see more nearby.

Northern Idaho

This is one of the easiest areas to find huckleberries. They’re everywhere! Some general areas to check out include:

  1. Sandpoint: The Selkirk Mountains surrounding Sandpoint offer numerous trails with plentiful huckleberries. Schweitzer Mountain Resort is a popular spot for summer huckleberry picking.
  2. Priest Lake: Known as the “huckleberry capital,” the areas around Priest Lake are rich with huckleberry bushes. The trails around this scenic lake are excellent for a day of picking.
  3. Coeur d’Alene National Forest: This forest near Couer d’Alene provides vast areas of suitable huckleberry habitat. Look for berries along the trails and forest roads.

Central Idaho

  1. Clearwater National Forest: This region, with its mix of dense forests and open meadows, offers prime huckleberry picking spots. Elevations here are ideal, and the forest is less crowded than some of the northern locations.
  2. Sawtooth National Forest: The Sawtooth Range is another hotspot, particularly around Stanley and the higher elevation trails. The rugged beauty of the area adds to the adventure of foraging.
  3. Payette National Forest: Located in west-central Idaho, the Payette National Forest is an excellent area for huckleberry picking. The forest’s diverse terrain and elevations provide ideal conditions for huckleberries. Look for patches around the higher elevations near McCall and the surrounding mountains.
  4. Boise National Forest: Near Boise, the Boise National Forest provides accessible huckleberry picking areas. The higher elevation regions around Idaho City are particularly known for their berries.

TIP: When picking huckleberries, it can be hard to see them when you are taller than the bush. If you crouch down and look below the leaves, you’ll see the pops of purple everywhere. They’re hiding from the sun!

Tours + Additional Tips for Finding Huckleberries

Picking huckleberries at Schweitzer.

If traipsing through the forest and achieving the glory of “discovering” a huckleberry patch isn’t your idea of fun, there are other options for those who want it a little easier.

Schweitzer Mountain: Every summer, Schweitzer, the biggest ski resort in Sandpoint, Idaho, offers huckleberry tours. These tours take you right to the patches, where you can pick to your heart’s content.

Also, If you’re visiting a state park in Idaho, like Priest Lake State Park, that has a visitors center and rangers, they’ll typically give you great tips on good spots to find huckleberries.

Insider Tip: Schweitzer is the only tour I know of in Idaho, but all the ski resorts in Idaho are perched high with the perfect elevation for huckleberries. Since they’re mostly privately owned companies that cater to visitors, you can visit the mountain in the summer and ask someone at the visitor center if there are trails that have huckleberries. They’ll probably lead you right to them.

Sustainable Huckleberry Picking Practices

A close up of a huckleberry bush with a container of huckleberries underneath it.
Hand-picking the berries is how to keep them thriving for years!

When picking huckleberries, it’s important to practice sustainability to ensure that these berries continue to thrive for future generations. Important things to know:

  • Harvest only ripe berries, leaving some for wildlife and for natural reseeding.
  • To avoid damaging the plants, use your hands to hand-pick the barriers rather than raking tools. Be mindful of the area you’re foraging in, and try to spread out your picking to avoid overharvesting in one spot.
  • It is against the law to uproot or harm huckleberry bushes.

Safety Tips When Picking Huckleberries

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When we pick huckleberries, we’re rarely venturing deep into the forest but instead 20-30 feet or so of a well-trodden hiking path. That being said, proper outdoor safety measures are always recommended when spending a day in the woods. Here are a few safety tips to keep in mind.

  • The bears love the huckleberries, too! Depending on where you are in Idaho, black bears and grizzly bears might be looking for tasty berries. Always make noise to deter wildlife while hiking or foraging, and bring bear spray with you. Make sure you know how to use bear spray before going out with it.
  • Always let someone know your plans, including where you’ll be and when you expect to return.
  • Fill up a reusable water bottle and bring more than you think you need.

What To Bring For A Huckleberry Picking Adventure

Mom holds toddler on her hip while picking huckleberries in Idaho.
You can see my setup includes long pants and a hands-free container.

Here are some essential things you’ll need to bring when foraging for huckleberries in Idaho.

Container for Berries: If you end up in a patch with other seasoned huckleberry pickers, you’ll notice that many like to use a container that they can loop onto their belt or pants for a hands-free experience. I do that and use a plastic water pitcher like this. It’s definitely helpful because, many times, the patches are on slopes, so it’s not so easy to place your bucket on the ground. That being said, a bucket works just as well!

Long Pants: I generally recommend long pants because you’ll be walking through brush, and it helps protect your skin from insect bites and branches.

Sunshirt: While sunblock is a good idea, we prefer to wear sunshirts like this one from Vapor Apparel over sunblock because they offer better protection and keep our bodies from getting too overheated.

Comfortable Walking Shoes: You might have to balance on slopes or climb through hills with brush, so you’ll want sturdy shoes with good traction.

Sunhat: You’ll want a sunhat when you’re sitting in direct sunlight and feeling the glaring burn of Idaho in August.

Sitting Pad: We’ve been huckleberry picking for years, and the hardest part is crouching down and burning out my thighs and back. Now I bring this portable, lightweight seating pad from Nemo Equipment. I plop it down and sit til I get to the next bush. Believe me, your foraging companions will be jealous of your cozy pad. You can compare prices for the seating pad on Amazon and NEMO.

Another good option for those who can’t comfortably sit on the ground is a hiking stool like this one. However, you’ll want flat ground for a stool, which isn’t always an option when huckleberry picking.

FAQs About Huckleberry Picking in Idaho

Young boy digs into a container filled with huckleberries.

“Do you need a permit for huckleberry picking in Idaho?”

No, you do not need a permit in Idaho for picking huckleberries on public lands.

“Are there any restrictions on how many huckleberries I can pick?”

There isn’t a strict rule per se, but it is recommended that you pick only what you need on public lands and national forests and leave some for wildlife and other foragers. However, it is illegal to pick huckleberries on public lands for commercial use.

“Can I pick huckleberries on private land?”

Unless you have permission from the landowner, you can not pick huckleberries on private land.

“What are the best ways to store and preserve huckleberries?”

To keep your huckleberries fresh, store them in the refrigerator as soon as possible after picking. When kept cold and dry, they can last up to two weeks. For longer storage, consider freezing them. Huckleberries also make excellent preserves, such as jams and jellies, which can be enjoyed year-round.

“Can I buy huckleberries at the store?”

If you’re not interested in foraging, you can often find huckleberries at the local farmers market or at an independent grocery store in the freezer section. I will warn you, huckleberries ARE NOT cheap. I’ve seen the price range from $20-$40 a pound.

You’re also bound to see a huckleberry dish at most locally owned restaurants in Idaho in the summertime, with huckleberry lemonade being a perennial favorite.

Huckleberry Picking In Idaho Conclusion

If you’re looking for fun community activities, many cities in Idaho celebrate the huckleberry harvest with festivals and events. Popular ones include the Donnely Huckleberry Festival and the Wallace Huckleberry Festival.

Who’s ready to go huckleberry picking? We’ll see you on the trail!

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