It’s the dead of summer in eastern Idaho and it’s a great time for picking huckleberries

Picking huckleberries at Kelly Canyon | Photos: Bill Schiess,

Purple fingers and purple tongues are the evidence of people who have been out in the forest looking for the purple “gold.” The huckleberry pickers are hitting the forest in droves as this year’s crop is abundant for those who are willing to walk a little way from their cars.

“Last week, part of our family went huckleberrying and it seemed like every place where there was room enough to park had several cars parked there,” said one happy picker. “My brother and his family came up from Utah and we all picked over three gallons. It was great, but my back is still sore.”

The Kelly Canyon ski hill through the mountains to Moody Meadows was packed last Saturday as cars were parked along all the forest roads and people were getting their ‘berry fix.” After picking a gallon of the juicy berries, I drove some of the forest roads observing vehicles from Colorado, Utah, Washington, California, Montana and Arizona, but most of the cars were from Bonneville, Madison, Jefferson and Fremont Counties.

As the huckleberry patches get filled with pickers, the huckleberry wars begin on social media. Everyone has their favorite patch – close to a road, of course – and someone beats the “owner” there and we read that their patch has been “stolen.” It can be quite funny. This is a great year for berry picking and there are plenty of “nice” berries without fighting over them.

I try to avoid things like that and have found that I have a lot more fun out in the woods where only I and the animals are fighting over berries. There are a couple of things that I like to do. I like to be in the berry patch by 6 a.m. and leave before 11 and I try to walk at least a quarter of a mile from my truck before picking a berry.

The early morning usually ensures that I will be picking alone and that the berries are firm before the heat changes them into a glob of mush. They are so firm you can actually hear them snap off the stem. Occasionally, other pickers will ride an ATV into the patch or hike in and I can simply slip out the back of the patch to another one in another swale. On my favorite north-facing slope, I have nine patches GPS’ed and have only picked in two of them this year.

Last year, the Forest Service issued a news release about picking these delicious berries. It reminded us that they are for personal use and they do not issue commercial permits for picking and selling of the berries. They also recommended that the bushes are fragile and picking should be done with care and by hand only.

“Raking can inhibit the quantity and quality of berries the following year and wastes berries,” the Forest Service said in the news release. “The rakes often remove all the leaves and when the plant doesn’t have leaves to produce and store energy, it decreases the productivity of the plant the following year. Any methods that damage or destroy the bushes are illegal and may result in a fine for damaging natural resources.”

Since I am getting older and my family doesn’t trust my survival skills as much as they used to, I took some family members and friends to show them my favorite patch. We started late – 7:30 – and the kids got tired quickly. When the novelty wore off, we left earlier than planned, but at least they will know where to start looking if I don’t show up one evening.

No, I am not worried they will steal all the berries and if you get there before I do, welcome to my favorite patch. The patch over the ridge probably has more and bigger berries. In fact, my wife thinks we need a few more. As soon as this heatwave is gone, I will go see what it is like. By then, it will be dark longer and I can sleep in until 6:30.