It’s hard to think of a better introduction to foraging than the search for the wild blackberry. Widely available and easy for all to identify, wild blackberries are a real treat.
So where can you find wild blackberries? Look for disturbed areas with adequate access to light. Trails, roadsides, and lands recently cleared from logging or natural disasters like tornadoes are all great starting points.
While it might be easy to find a trail with blackberries, there are some nuances to take into account if you’re looking for buckets of berries. Continue reading to find exactly what you need to be on the lookout for.
What Kinds of Disturbed Landscapes have Wild Blackberries
Before we dive into the fine details of finding a good blackberry spot, understand this important point: while wild blackberries are very prevalent, they do not exist in every kind of soil or habitat. It’s possible that you may need to try a few different areas before you find your first wild blackberries.
Also, I’ll be spending most of this post going over satellite images from Google Maps. I’ll include some photos from the field, but I find that a little scouting in advance with satellite images can payoff in a big way, if you know what you’re doing. This type of scouting can save you a lot of time and effort by eliminating sub-optimal locations without having to hike as much.
Trails Through Established Woods with Enough Light Access
While established forests won’t typically have the volume of wild blackberries that a recently cleared land has, there are still many good opportunities. The main reason I want to cover trails through established woods first is this: ease of access. Almost everybody has access to trails that run through a mature forest; not everybody will be “lucky” enough to find land that has recently been cleared.
So, we’re just looking for trails that run through the woods? Sounds easy, right?
Somewhat. There are some nuances to keep in mind, and these can save you a lot of wasted effort. When you’re looking for wild blackberries in a mature forest, you should always be thinking about light availability, as that will have the largest impact on your search. Wild blackberries need a good amount of light to thrive, and if they’re completely blocked out by a thick canopy with only a narrow trail, they won’t stand a chance.
One of the factors that can have the largest impact is the species of trees dominating the forest canopy. Blackberries need sunlight during the summer months to produce fruit, and certain trees produce especially dense shade. Anyone that’s walked through a forest with a canopy dominated by maple trees can appreciate how densely shaded the forest floor can be in mid-summer. As little light makes it down, blackberries likely wouldn’t have enough light in that forest, trail or not.
The other main factor to consider is the width of the trail. Generally speaking, wider trails and trails with openings will allow more light to hit the forest edge, and wild blackberries thrive on disturbed edges. It’s easiest to demonstrate this with screenshots of satellite images from Google Maps. I’ve kept the zoom at the same level for all of the screenshots in this post.
Here’s a trail running through a mature forest with a decently wide opening:
You can see that the opening isn’t always very wide, but there are spots where a good amount of sunlight could reach the South-facing side of the trail (all of the screenshots have North on the top). If I recall correctly, this part of the trail had blackberries consistently on the North edge.
On the other hand, the trail in the screenshot below is rather narrow:
I don’t recall having much luck when I hiked through this section of the forest. The trail opening is simply too narrow to allow a decent amount of light to hit that North edge of the trail.
The other thing to look for when checking out satellite photos of trails is for there to be clear openings alongside the trail. The below screenshot is a great example of what you should be looking for:
Notice the large opening alongside the trail devoid of large trees. This was a great spot to pick wild blackberries, as you can see that the opening gets plenty of sunlight.
Trails Through Recently Disturbed Lands
For most berry-pickers, finding trails that run through recently disturbed lands is a real sweet spot. First things first, finding disturbed land means that there’s sunlight everywhere where blackberries need it most. Secondly, finding trails that run through disturbed lands means that there likely will be easy picking all up and down the trail.
For quick reference, here’s a great example of a recently disturbed land with a trail:
The North-edge of that trail is completely clear of large trees, and has great access to sunlight. Picking a large amount of wild blackberries was as simple as walking along the trail.
The real jackpot is when you can find trails that cut through the middle of a patch of disturbed land. Here’s why this is valuable: if both sides of the trail are lacking tall trees and there are wild blackberries present, then there is a good chance that you’ll be able to pick from both sides of the trail.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: both sides of this trail is land that was cleared around 13 years ago.
There are barely any mature trees present, and therefore sunlight and blackberries are in every direction. The other benefit from this is that this trail has a noticeably longer harvest duration.
This makes sense if you think about it: there are blackberries along this trail with a variety of levels of light access. The plants with the best light (the plants on the North-edge of the trail) will ripen soonest, but the plants with less life will still ripen, only a bit later. This in some ways extends the harvest, as not all of the blackberries are ripening at the same time.
That might sound complicated, but it isn’t too bad once you get used to thinking about things like the orientation of the sun.
Going Off Trail Through Disturbed Lands
For the truly adventurous, searching for blackberries while wandering through recently disturbed lands without trails always guarantees an interesting time.
First, it’s entirely possible that once you get off-trail you’ll be literally surrounded by delicious wild blackberries. Here’s a screenshot of an area I found that had blackberries growing in every direction:
Everywhere I walked, I had wild blackberries popping up all over. The tiny dark dots you see are small pine trees that were established after this land was leveled by a tornado.
While picking was fun in this spot, there are two key things to keep in mind:
- walking through dense 4 to 5 foot tall thorny bramble can be a nightmare
- you’re absolutely begging to the stung by bees or wasps
It didn’t take me more than 15 minutes wandering through thick bramble to learn both of those lessons. Still fun though. Just proceed with caution if you decide to wander off trail.
How to Find Disturbed Lands
Alright, so we’ve established that finding forests recently disturbed by logging or natural disasters is the key to finding the best wild blackberry spots.
What’s the best way to go about finding these disturbed lands? For most people, the easiest thing will be to look over satellite imagery of nearby areas with a lot of accessible public land. This can be a helpful approach when looking at close-up images, as well as zoomed out imagery.
For example, by zooming out far enough we can clearly see the scar that a tornado left more than a decade ago in Northern Wisconsin:
Not all of this screenshot is public land, but enough of it is the Nicolet National Forest and this gives me a great starting point.
Another option is to use an app like OnXMaps, which is a mapping application that is designed to show which parcels of land are publicly owned and therefore potentially open to activities like foraging. While the app is primarily meant for hunters, there are a million ways foragers could use this tool.
Their tool has many available layers of information, but one of the most helpful is the layer that shows where the Forest Service has logged in the last 15 years or so. Not all logging activity is equally interesting for us, but the app provides information on when the logging occurred and the extent of the logging.
Things to Keep In Mind While Picking Blackberries
Before we wrap up this post, I think it would be helpful to quickly cover a few things to think about before you head out to the woods to start picking wild blackberries.
Dress Appropriately for the Weather
As much as I love blackberry picking, one of the downfalls is the fact that it peaks in the hottest months of the year. This shouldn’t stop you from getting your fill of free and delicious blackberries, but you may want to make a few adjustments before heading out.
First, it may be a good idea to do most of your collecting in the early morning or the evening. At these times the sun will be lower in the sky but there still will be enough light to get a good haul.
Second, if you easily burn it might be a good idea to use any or all of the following ideas:
- Find a wide-brimmed hat that casts shade on as much of your face as possible
- Wear long-sleeves and pants
- Apply sunblock to any exposed skin
Yes, wearing these layers in the peak of summer will heat you up, but it may well be worth it if it saves your skin from any additional exposure.
Related to that and equally important: remember to bring lots of water along on your trip. I try to fill up our stainless water bottles before we head out, and I generally prefer to have a spare gallon of water in the trunk just in case.
Protect Yourself from the Thorns
Unfortunately, the thorns on wild blackberries are no joke. Take them seriously, and this is yet another reason why it’s a good idea to wear long sleeve shirts and pants when out picking. The layer of clothing will help limit how many thorns contact your skin.
It’s difficult to imagine a day picking wild blackberries when you don’t come home with a few new cuts, but covering your skin with clothing helps. I find that materials like denim and cotton do a better job against thorns than synthetic fabrics, but anything is better than nothing.
And don’t wear anything that can’t take a little abuse, as the thorns will likely do some minor damage to your clothes. As such, this is a great opportunity to visit a local thrift store to pick up some gently used clothing that’s great for foraging.
I hope that you managed to pick up a few interesting facts or ideas when reading this article. I’ve always loved picking berries and it’s been such an interesting journey when trying to find these hidden gems in the wild.
If you got value from this article and want to learn more, you can check out this article: When to Pick Wild Blackberries. In this piece I go into greater depth about timing the wild blackberry picking season just right.