WENATCHEE — The spring was tough on NCW’s wild berry crop, but there may be hope yet.
Meanwhile, the west side might be having its best berry crop in years. That’s anecdotal, of course, since nobody weighs in with their buckets as they exit state or federal forest land, or takes out a permit to fill up one Nalgene bottle with the fruits of the trail. But after a couple of withered summers, berrying appears to be back.
“Two years ago we had a very cold, late summer,” said Susan Elderkin, communications and outreach director with Washington Trails Association. “And last year, once summer came, it was okay — but that was in about August.”
The berry season statewide is peaking right about now, Elderkin said, although veteran berry-hunters can game the system by hunting at altitude. Big-leaf huckleberries sprout between 3,500 and 5,000 feet, but above that, the Cascade huckleberry takes hold.
Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest spokeswoman Robin DeMario said the local berry output doesn’t appear huge, given high heat in spring followed by dry conditions. The Naches District appears particularly berry-parched, she said.
“You have to go very high up in elevation there, or up toward Mount Adams for berries,” DeMario said.
Locals like hunting around Stevens Pass and Lake Wenatchee, not to mention spots like Merritt Lake, Fish Lake, Spider Meadows and the Enchantments. Their prime targets are huckleberries, often growing in open areas like clearcuts, old burns or forest road shoulders, but many will take blueberries, elderberries and wild blackberries as well.
On NCW treks in past years, some berry-hunters have reported gathering gallons in a single hike. (On land managed by the state Department of Natural Resources, the allowed limit is three gallons of a single species of berry per person each year.)
In the Wenatchee River Ranger District, DeMario recommends parking off-road near the intersection of Smithbrook and Little Wenatchee Road, then searching for berries on foot past the treefalls that block Little Wenatchee Road.
Traditionally good areas for huck-hunting include Mission Ridge and Beehive Reservoir near Wenatchee; Rainy Creek, Chiwawa River, Little Wenatchee River, Meadow Creek and Pole Ridge near Lake Wenatchee; Holden and Martin Ridge at Lake Chelan; and Larch Lakes Trail near Entiat.
But adventurous berryers can also range far afield, to places like the Shedroof Divide in the Colville National Forest and Blanca Lake in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
While picking, watch out for baneberries — stalk-growing clusters of poisonous red or white berries. Hard to confuse those with a huckleberry or elderberry, but still.
“It’s so rare that you can go out and forage and get to eat your harvest, just out in the woods,” Elderkin said. “There’s a real appeal to that. I have an 8-year-old, and that’s how I get him up the trail — there’s berries along the way.”