Adventure, hiking, Vermont, winter sports

Fall in Love with Your National Forest Christmas Tree

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Does your family celebrate Christmas with a decked-out, real, live Christmas tree? Picking out and cutting our Christmas tree has been one of our favorite traditions since our kids were babies, and for the past 10 years or so, we’ve been trekking into the woods to bring home our own national forest Christmas tree. We’re lucky to live right next to the Green Mountain National Forest in Vermont, and we were flabbergasted when someone told us we could cut our own national forest Christmas tree for just five bucks. Maybe this is common knowledge, but it was big news to me, so in case the rest of you holiday revelers don’t know this secret, here it is again –

For just $5, you can buy a national forest Christmas tree permit to choose and cut your own wild tree!

Did you know that most national forests allow you to choose and cut your own wild Christmas tree for $5? Here's what you need to know about scoring your own national forest Christmas tree.

Tree Cutting Details from the US Forest Service

The mission of the USDA Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. To achieve this mission, they strive to protect and manage national forests so they best demonstrate the sustainable multiple-use management concept. One of these awesome multi-use management plans is providing American families with Christmas trees.

Did you know that most national forests allow you to choose and cut your own wild Christmas tree for $5? Here's what you need to know about scoring your own national forest Christmas tree.

Most, but not all national forests allow visitors to choose and cut their own Christmas tree, but you must have a permit issued by the US Forest Service. The permit is attached to your tree when you transport it home. How do you get a Christmas tree permit? Simply contact your local forest district office. If you live close enough, you can stop by and pick up your permit. If the office isn’t local, you can ask them to mail it to you. Specific tree-cutting guidelines can vary from forest to forest, but here are some general guidelines for cutting your national forest Christmas Tree, taken directly from the US Forest Service website.

  • Your Christmas tree is for personal use only. It can not be sold.
  • You must have your permit on you when choosing, cutting, and transporting your tree.
  • Your forest district office will be able to give you a map and accessibility options, and they can direct you to specific areas for cutting your tree.
  • Always check weather conditions and dress properly for forest activities.
  • Tell someone you know where you are going and when you’ll return.
  • Check with local district offices before you cut dead or downed trees. Dead trees could provide animal habitat.
  • Don’t cut any trees that are within 200 feet of rivers, streams, lakes, trails, and roads. Check with the ranger district for the proper distance.
  • Select a tree with a trunk six inches or less in diameter, and prepare to cut the tree no more than six inches above ground level.
  • Never cut a tall tree just for the top.
  • Select a tree from overstocked areas and thickets. Watch restricted areas. Cut only one tree per tag.  
  • Attach your tree tag to harvested tree before placing in vehicle.
  • Bring a rope and tarp to move your tree from the harvest area to your vehicle.

What We Love About our National Forest Christmas Trees

Did you know that most national forests allow you to choose and cut your own wild Christmas tree for $5? Here's what you need to know about scoring your own national forest Christmas tree.

Sometimes we get Charlie Brown trees that look a little scrawny when we get them into the house. Sometimes the front of the tree (the sunny side) is full and lush, while the back side is a little scraggly without many branches – all the better to fit into the little corners of our little house. Our Christmas trees are always beautifully wild, fresh, and completely unique, just like us. We usually choose a balsam fir, but occasionally we find a pretty spruce. Just depends on the year. Either way, they fill our home with Christmas fragrance and holiday cheer.  The branches on our wild tree are spread farther apart than farm-raised trees, and there’s lots of room for ornaments. In fact, sometimes the ornaments take over the whole tree, but we love it anyway!

Did you know that most national forests allow you to choose and cut your own wild Christmas tree for $5? Here's what you need to know about scoring your own national forest Christmas tree.

Did you know that most national forests allow you to choose and cut your own wild Christmas tree for $5? Here's what you need to know about scoring your own national forest Christmas tree.

I know that most people put their tree up right after Thanksgiving, but we always wait until Christmas Eve, when we celebrate with lots of food, music, and tree decorating. Our tree lives with us until January 6th, and then it spends the rest of the winter in the back yard as a hiding spot for the winter song birds. Come March, our tree is nice and dry, and it’s ready to be burned in our backyard maple syrup evaporator.

Tips for Finding the Perfect National Forest Christmas Tree

Did you know that most national forests allow you to choose and cut your own wild Christmas tree for $5? Here's what you need to know about scoring your own national forest Christmas tree.

Finding the perfect tree is an adventure, whether you go to the local tree farm or your national forest. Here are some tips for making your tree cutting day the best ever.

  • Bring a saw, pruning shears, and lots of rope. A sled is really helpful if it’s snowy.
  • Don’t forget your permit.
  • Remember that hiking into the woods is easy — hiking out with your tree is not. We try not to hike, ski, or snowshoe farther than a mile looking for our perfect Christmas tree.
  • The best day is one where the ground is covered in snow, but the trees aren’t. This way you can drag your tree back to the car on a sled, and you can ski or snowshoe into the forest. Love.
  • Bring hot chocolate to drink next to your chosen tree before you cut it.
  • For the fullest trees, look for a clearing that gets a decent amount of sun.
  • To avoid arguments, let the kids choose the tree, and be happy with whatever they pick. They won’t be around forever you know.

Do you have any Christmas tree traditions in your family? How do you get outside when the whether is cold and snowy? I’d love to hear about your adventures in the comments below.

Did you know that most national forests allow you to choose and cut your own wild Christmas tree for $5? Here's what you need to know about scoring your own national forest Christmas tree.

This post is part of the incredibly awesome Photo Friday link-up at Pierced Wonderings. For some serious photo inspiration, please pop over for a visit by clicking the button below.

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14 Comments

  1. What a cool concept! I love that you can walk out into the forest and chop down your own tree. BTW, your tree looks fantastic! Happy holidays!

  2. Couldn’t help but think of Christmas Vacation while reading this. SQUIRREL!! Haha.
    Amanda recently posted…Celebrating a Disney Christmas with KidsMy Profile

  3. Great reminder! We did this years ago, and there was snow. 🙂

  4. I had no idea that you could get a permit to get a Christmas tree out of a national forest, thanks for the information! Looks like you had a fun time finding your tree.
    Sara Broers recently posted…Charming Lodging Near The Sea: Hofsas House Hotel In Carmel By The SeaMy Profile

  5. I had no idea, either, that you could do this. What a fun family outing!
    bettyl – NZ recently posted…south island scenesMy Profile

  6. LC

    Ah, we don’t have real trees anymore, it’s such a shame. Live in Australia though, so not really the climate for traditional Christmas activities.

  7. Who knew you could cut down a tree from a national forest? Thanks for sharing, Tara!

  8. That looks so much fun! Thanks for sharing! My house needs a christmas tree…
    http://littlewanderess.com

  9. Bob

    This is cool. We have a couple of National Forests near where I live. I’ll have to check this out. Thanks for the tip.

  10. Its truly amazing idea! I loved it & will try to do the same. Thanks for sharing Tara and Happy Christmas in advance!

  11. This is so cool! I didn’t know that you could do this. Our nearest national forest is in east Texas.

  12. Meg

    This is a popular tradition in CO – so much so that permits usually sell out by October! I always forget when it’s too late :(. But next year will be different! I’ve got a calendar reminder. Thanks for sharing!

  13. Such great information and helpful detail on how to go about doing this for the enjoyment of everyone in the family. Thank you for the post and the lovely photos as well.

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