• WorldView
  • 4 Min Read
  • 16 Sep 2021

Fungi of the Pacific Northwest: Foraging on Harstine Island

A wild mushroom in a Pacific Northwest forest

Our Seattle-based expedition development team has crafted an exciting new 7-night journey that explores the wild side of their own backyard: Coastal Washington & the Salish Sea. Join us on these special October 2021 voyages for expert-led foraging experiences and much more, as we discover seldom-seen American wildness.

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Traversing the forests of the Pacific Northwest, particularly in Washington and Oregon, is a bit like stepping into a time capsule of emerald wonders. Here, the mostly undisturbed Old Growth Forests—carpeted in blankets of plush moss, fluffy ferns, and labyrinths of fallen logs—create an ecosystem ripe for a fungi kingdom. “Fungi are this weird life form that’s almost like a coral reef curled up in the forest floor,” says Adam DeLeo, who has been foraging mushrooms for almost a decade and is the owner of Adam’s Mushrooms in Tacoma, Washington. The diversity of the forest, much like a city, creates a unique environment and lots of opportunity for the fungi to flourish. And since mushrooms are about 90 percent water, they are fueled even further by the region’s renowned rainfall and humid, coastal air.  

What is Fungi?

The mushroom itself is actually the fruit of the fungi. Author Margaret Atwood once described it as “a brief apparition, a cloud flower,” because it’s the part you see, while the real organism lives underground “in the garden of the unseen world.” The seemingly endless mycelium networks of fungi threads that spread beneath the forest floor are what make the Pacific Northwest famous for mushroom foraging.



In a way, the mycelium is like the central nervous system that carries messages between trees, but its decomposing properties also work like composting fuel to keep the forest floor from turning into a landfill. What’s more, fungi are symbiotic organisms, meaning that just as the tree roots provide fungus with carbon to ensure it survives, mushrooms return the favor by providing nitrogen, phosphorus, and added moisture to trees.  

On our brand-new Exploring the Pacific Northwest: Jewels of the Salish Sea,  you’ll enter a verdant realm filled with fungi on a visit to Harstine Island. This 18-square-mile isle in the southern end of Puget Sound is filled with sinuous ravine trails home to black foxes and chatty Steller's jays as well as a state park prized for its quietude. Hiking here feels like entering nature’s jewel box and it's a welcome respite from the chaos of the past year. Many of the trails wind close to the sand dollar-scattered shoreline and the lullaby of the Salish Sea is always within earshot. If the tides cooperate, you can even hop to neighboring McMicken Island via the exposed sandbar. The hiking, while mildly hilly, is accessible to even novice trailblazers who will appreciate the ever-changing views. As you navigate the trail loop past photo-op-worthy bridges, the scenery alternates from dense undergrowth padding moss-dressed cedar and fir trees to a swathe of prehistoric sword ferns swaying in the breeze. All in all, it’s the quintessential Pacific Northwest forest experience.

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It’s also the ideal place to try your hand at foraging. Harstine Island State Park is a feast for the senses as the foray of fungi spans hundreds of different species—edible, medicinal, and curious varieties best left to the photographer’s lens. “It’s like an Easter egg hunt, except you’ll find a bounty of chanterelles and golden caps peeking through pine needles and hiding under leaves," says DeLeo, who will lead a foraging hike and bring pre-picked samples of the local harvest to help guests identify the turkey tails from the trumpets. Our onboard certified photography instructor will also join the excursion to give tips and tricks on macro-photography, no matter if you’re a pro with a DSLR or a fungi fan with a camera phone.

As guests set out on their own fungi-finding adventure, DeLeo points out that foraging is more than just mushroom picking. While searching for fungi, you’ll likely see often-ignored creatures like palm-sized black slugs, not to mention the purple marbles dangling on huckleberry bushes. The “wisdom to understand nature” goes hand-in-hand with foraging as ancestral wiring is activating our hunger-gather tendencies. “Whether we’re doing it consciously or unconsciously, this hunting for [natural] treasure creates an intimate connection to nature,” DeLeo says. “Foraging is a very holistic activity. You can be as deep or as surface-level as you want to be. In the end, the woods provide this relationship.”

Delve into the fantastic world of fungi—and much more—on our brand-new expedition to the San Juan Islands and the Salish Sea.