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What Are the Rules for Foraging in U.S. National Parks?

If you spend time outdoors, you’ve probably heard of the “Leave No Trace” rules or seen a sign that reads, “Take only photographs, leave only footprints.” These ethics make foraging in national parks a complicated topic. 

Many National Park Service (NPS) areas ask you to stay on the trail and leave everything exactly where it is. However, this is not true across the board. By doing some homework, you’ll find some areas that allow foraging in U.S. National Parks.

Rules for Foraging in U.S. National Parks

The official NPS rule allows each park to set the rules for foraging within its boundaries. Some more fragile ecosystems, like Joshua Tree National Park, do not allow foraging. The protected area is too delicate to have its millions of visitors each year leaving with plants in hand. However, other parks with thick wooded areas, like New River Gorge in West Virginia or Shenandoah in Virginia, allow foraging of plants and fruit. These parks are also a handful of areas where visitors can forage for mushrooms

In some instances, especially for mushrooms, you may need to request a permit in order to forage, because some species are very dangerous.

A Boletus mushroom flourishes in the forest floor. (Source: Getty Images)

Start Foraging for Mushrooms and Berries

Overall, 75% of U.S. National Parks do allow foraging. What varies is what you can take and how much of it. These strict rules are in place to protect the parks for all visitors, so reaching out to a park for the specific rules is a great way to check on what’s allowed. If you can’t find the particular details beforehand, you can always speak with a park ranger once you arrive at your destination.

Finally, once you know you’re in the clear to forage, research the plants and fungi available within that park. For instance, some mushrooms are easy to find and a great place to start, but deadly mushrooms are also found in North America. Knowing the difference is critical. 

Are you new to foraging? Here are some online classes to get started.

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