Huckleberry Picking in Eastern Idaho
Whether you're new to the area and may have never heard of this delicious fruit or you've been living in Idaho your whole life and have finally decided to give the huckleberry a try, there is something about Idaho's delightful huckleberries that will have you coming back for more! Some enjoy huckleberry treats, ice cream, pastries, pancake syrup, hot cocoa mixes, or simply using the berries to top off a great dish. Whatever you enjoy most about this delectable fruit you're in for a treat with all that is to be found in Eastern Idaho!
Eastern Idaho’s prized berry.
As summer comes to an end, the lush forests covering Idaho’s vast mountain ranges start to bring about one of the most anticipated season of the year for Idahoans; huckleberry season. From the months of mid-June through August, these sweet yet slightly tart berries are gathered and enjoyed as a staple by almost everyone in the state. Huckleberry picking has been a long-standing tradition, and every year continues to bring out outdoor enthusiasts and adventurers alike.
Considering going huckleberry picking?
Huckleberry picking can be a fun day trip activity or even a weekend event, however, the tricky part is finding them. One might consider starting at some trails along Teton Pass or Big Hole Mountains as they tend to offer some of the best scenic views and berry picking hotspots! The season has since passed, though there's always next year and preparing can make for a more pleasant trip. Especially when you know where to find these wonderful berries ahead of time. It doesn't hurt to ask around. Many locals will gladly point you in the right direction if they know where to go.
Huckleberries or blueberries?
Idaho is home to several native huckleberry species, all belonging to the genus: Vaccinium Myrtillus. The most common and most popular is the "Black", or "Thin-Leaved" Huckleberry. Berries appear purple with hints of red hues and can be identified by their distinct leaves. However, they can be commonly mistaken for a blueberry due to similar shape and size. This species prefers to grow in moist, cool forested environments at mid to upper elevations starting at 2,000 feet to about 11,000 feet. As the season continues, berries at higher elevations will begin to ripen. Idaho makes for the ideal cultivating grounds as huckleberries need an insulating cover of snow to survive the cold winter months.
What to look for...
Huckleberry plants can range in size from 20 inches to a max of around 6 feet. Idaho’ s native species tops out somewhere around 3 feet.
A distinct feature of huckleberry plants is the bell-shaped flowers that can range from shades of red to soft tones of pink. They will usually have five petals and measure about ¼ inch long.
Commonly mistaken for blueberries, huckleberries may appear dark blue with tiny stems on the end.
To avoid making this mistake you want to search for a dominantly purple-hued berry and stay clear from any red berries as those are probably fool’s huckleberries or unripe berries.
Try dusting off the berry and observing it in the natural sunlight to double-check. Don’t see any berries? Check under the leaves as the berries like to hide under the shade of the leafy plant. You might be surprised at how many are hiding there!
If you’re having a hard time finding any berries, look for leaves ovate in shape; rounded at the base with a pointed tip, with a length two to three times as long as the width. The leaves themselves will usually appear a spring green and have small toothed points outlining the delicate leaves.
What to bring…
Huckleberry picking has traditionally been done by hand, due to a lack of technology being developed to cultivate them. Over the years, however, some folks have constructed raking devices* that supposedly collect more berries by making the sifting process faster.
Some stores carry similar contraptions in the shape of a rectangular box with stiff wires on the underside that are used to rake the berries off the plant. While this might make the harvesting process quicker, sorting will have to be done in order to separate the leaves from berries. Keep in mind, this makes for a high probability of damaging the delicate berries along the way.
There are pros and cons to each method, but the most important thing to keep in mind is treating the plants with respect. Damaging the branches and twigs can cause the plant harm and will kill off the native huckleberry population, leading to fewer berries next year. The suggested items to bring are easily portable lightweight containers like; 1-gallon buckets or a hydro flask. Just remember there is usually hiking involved, so don’t pack too heavy.
Looking to get the most out of the huckleberry season?
Head on over to Victor’s Emporium, featured on the Food Network; an all in one fishing, soda fountain and souvenir store; known for serving renowned Huckleberry milkshakes! Quality down to the last detail: these shakes are made with ice cream from Farr Candy Co.; located in Idaho Falls; fresh huckleberries from local growers, topped off with whipped cream, and a straw big enough for berries to pass through, it is sure to be an unforgettable experience. A little known fact is that Victor is also the state capital for huckleberries. Don’t forget to check out local farmers’ markets, as the season tends to fly by, and the berries tend to sell out fast!
Just a few markets in Eastern Idaho to get you started with Huckleberry items(it's best to call first) include:
Idaho Falls Farmers Market
Pier View Market
Rexburg’s Farmers Market.
There's going to be many more locations that carry Huckleberry items. Surprisingly gas stations are another great destination for locating some of the favorites than many love and enjoy.
While very popular in the state of Idaho, there aren’t many events that go on in the eastern region; when it comes to celebrating these delectable berries. However, in mid-August, the town of Donnally hosts a festival dedicated to the state’s delicious berries for an entire weekend! Enjoy everything from a Huckleberry trot through the historic town of Rosebury, to a parade that takes place in downtown Donnelly. Not to mention the abundance of activities, contests, and over 40 food and craft vendors!