Now is the time to indulge in Missouri’s favorite mushroom—the morel. In Reeds Spring, this festival brings together first-time and experienced foragers alike for a mushroom hunt in an Ozark canyon bottom, followed by a night of live music.

Chris Begley, who owns and operates Old Wilderness Canyon in Reeds Spring, Missouri, with his partner, Cassie Maddox, gives the countdown for the morel hunt to commence. Many repeat attendees have their favorite spots to search, and as soon as the festivities begin they make a beeline for them.
Photo courtesy of Old Wilderness Canyon

By Caroline Dohack

First-time and experienced foragers alike will find joy—by which we mean morels—at Old Wilderness Canyon’s Fungi Fest ‘24, to be held April 13, 2024. 

Cassie Maddox, who owns the homestead/education space/event venue/camping area in Reeds Spring, Missouri, with her partner, Chris Begley, said their little slice of the Ozarks is the perfect place to find these earthy treasures.

“We live in a canyon in a bottoms,” Maddox says. “There’s lots of water flow and sycamores. It’s an ideal place for morels.”

The couple started inviting others to the property to share in the abundance in 2019, and in the following years the event grew to include live music, vendors, and educational outreach. 

Maddox says many repeat visitors have their favorite spots to search, and as soon as the festivities begin they make a beeline for them. Newbies, on the other hand, often appreciate some expert guidance. That’s where Mike Snyder comes in. With his wife Cara, Snyder offers an array of “myco-education” services through their herb and mushroom farm, WildWise Botanicals in Edgar Springs, Missouri. 

“He’s a mushroom guru. In the beginning, he’ll have a talk about the mushrooms and what people should be looking for. He’ll be here all day. People swarm to him,” Maddox says. 

Mike Snyder, a member of the Missouri Mycological Society and owner of WildWise Botanicals, shares morel-foraging tips with Fungi Fest attendees. 
Photo courtesy of Old Wilderness Canyon

Other foraging experts, including Rachael West, founder of Eating the Ozarks, and Bo Brown, owner of First Earth Wilderness School, will be on hand to talk about cooking with wild foods and natural medicines. 

To ensure everyone gets a fair shake at taking home a good amount of morels, participants must purchase a 10×14-inch burlap bag, which Maddox—a talented graphic designer and screenprinter—creates herself.

Some years are especially fruitful for foragers at Old Wilderness Canyon, as evidenced by these two young foragers who pulled in the biggest haul at 2023’s event.
Photo courtesy of Old Wilderness Canyon

And then there are the Smurfs and the prizes they promise.

When drought conditions in 2022 threatened smaller morel yields, Maddox and Begley were determined that the show would go on. So Maddox went on eBay and ordered as many old McDonald’s Happy Meal Smurf toys as she could get. Then she partnered with area businesses to sponsor each Smurf with a prize, such as tickets for go-kart rides, mini golf rounds, zip lining, or cave tours. Begley hid the Smurfs around the property, and a new tradition was born.

Even after they’ve filled their bags and maybe snagged a Smurf, fungi fanatics don’t have to go home. Camping is available, and the musical lineup—a mix of rock, blues, and Ozark folk that so far includes commitments from The Hamburger Cows, Steve and Adie, Stoneshine, and Joey Holt and the Holt Boys—will play well into the night.

For more information, visit the Old Wilderness Canyon’s Facebook page or call (573) 822-6444. 

More Morels

  • The Brick District in Fulton, Missouri, will hold its annual Morels and Microbrews festival on Saturday, May 4, 2024. 

Garry Vaught, the owner of Beks in Fulton, created the Morels and Microbrews Festival as a part of the town’s revitalization plan in 2012. The one-day festival has increasingly gained popularity and welcomes thousands of visitors from all over the state.

“We have a fry tent, and we sell them,” Garry says. “We sell a quarter pound at a time, and then we also sell fresh morels that we gather.”

In the beginning, Garry gathered the morels on his own with the help of some friends around Callaway County, but now the festival has grown so large that other people contribute. Garry certifies the morels through the state of Missouri to ensure they are real morels, as is required when selling morels. They end up with three hundred to five hundred pounds of morels and always sell out (with the exception of one year when there was a torrential downpour.) There is also live music and domestic and craft beer vendors at the festival.

Although his restaurant keeps him busy, he still finds time to hunt some of his favorite mushrooms like hen of the woods and chanterelles. Garry has learned that tree identification helps him hunt mushrooms.

“When I walk through the woods, I just look for trees, and then I’ll look around the base of those trees,” he says. “That kind of narrows down the field of where I’m looking.”

Like many, Garry started out hunting morels in the Show-Me State with his family when he was young, and it’s a tradition he continues today.

“I just remember that being a very early part of my childhood,” he says.

  • For more than 40 years, the Friends of Farris has sponsored the Mushroom Festival in Richmond, Missouri. The three-day event celebrates the morel with a parade, carnival, car show, 5k race, and live performances as well as more than two hundred vendors, food trucks, and art displays. This year’s Mushroom Festival will be held May 2 – 4 this year. Keep an eye on the event’s  Facebook page for updates.

Featured photo courtesy of Old Wilderness Canyon

For hundreds more events, visit Missouri Life’s Event Calendar.