Ahh, the huckleberry. Montana's most cherished fruit (and our official state fruit to boot). Perhaps you've never heard of it, or perhaps your hands are stained purple at this very moment from snacking on your freezer's huck stash. Regardless of your experience with this delightful fruit, we are here to tell you all there is to know about huckleberries in Missoula: what they are, where to find them, and all of our favorite local huckleberry products to try in Missoula.
Please be familiar with the huckleberry when compared to other native berries. We advise all visitors who are interested in foraging in Missoula to come prepared having studied the Montana Native Plants field guide.
The huckleberry is a fruit native to the northwest that can be found in Montana as well as Idaho, Wyoming, and Washington. This small berry grows on mountainous bushes and is smaller than a blueberry, and darker in color as well. The darker the berry the sweeter: the red berries will be tarter and the dark purples will be sweet and juicy. Fun fact: huckleberries are only found in the wild and have never been cultivated. The bushes cannot be transplanted and therefore the only way to enjoy hucks is to pick them, or purchase from someone who has. For this reason, huckleberries are more expensive than other berries, but trust us when we say that it is worth it.
Huckleberries ripen in the late summer depending on conditions, so huckleberry season can start as early as late July and can last into early September. However, since this is such a popular foraging activity in Missoula, once huck season opens, the local bushes will be picked over quickly! If you are interested in foraging for these berries, come prepared with buckets or bags to collect and remember that these berries are small, so don't be disheartened if you leave with a small amount. Just remember, any amount is worth it.
Huckleberries thrive on mountainsides between 2,000 and 11,000 feet in elevation, and oftentimes steep mountainsides at that. Missoula sits at 3,200 feet above sea level, making the mountains around town the perfect location to forage. The trails around Snowbowl, Missoula's local ski hill, are popular for huckleberry picking, as well as areas up Pattee Canyon and many areas in the Bitterroot Valley. Locals know their favorite spots and are hesitant to share as competition for huckleberry picking can be intense!
If you would rather skip the hiking and would rather purchase huckleberries instead, you are in luck. Many booths at the farmers markets have fresh and frozen huckleberries for you to try.
The better question is where can you not find huckleberry products in Missoula? The list is really endless, but here are some of our favorites: