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Cut Down Your Own Christmas Tree in Your National Forest

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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.

Several spruce trees covered with snow in the national forest.

We’re lucky to live right next to the Green Mountain National Forest in Vermont, and we were so excited when a friend told us we could cut our own wild Christmas tree in the National Forest 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 –

For just $5, you can buy a Christmas tree permit online, and then you can choose and cut down your own Christmas tree in your National Forest. 

Christmas Tree Cutting Details from the US Forest Service

Eric dragging our wild Christmas tree out of the national forest.
Get outside and cut down your own wild Christmas tree!

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 their 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 they can cut themselves. 

Most, but not all national forests will allow you to choose and cut down your own Christmas tree, but you must have a permit issued by the US Forest Service. The Christmas tree cutting permit is attached to your tree when you transport it home.

How do you get a Christmas Tree Cutting Permit from Your National Forest?

Rowan dragging our wild Christmas tree out of the Green Mountain National Forest.

Obtaining your Christmas Tree permit from the National Forest Service is easier than it’s ever been! All you have to do is head over to Recreation.gov and search for ‘tree permit’ and the name of your local national forest.

In certain areas, cutting down national forest Christmas trees is really popular, and the permits sell out, so if you know you’re going to get a wild Christmas tree from the national forest, get your permit early! Note to Vermonters – there isn’t much demand in our national forest, so you should be fine getting a permit at the last minute.

National Forest Christmas Tree Permit Guidelines

Skiing back to the car with our National Forest Christmas Tree.
Skiing back to the car with our Christmas tree!

Specific tree-cutting guidelines can vary from forest to forest, but here are some general guidelines for cutting down your own Christmas tree in your national forest, 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 Christmas tree cutting 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 down your Christmas tree.
  • Always check weather conditions and dress properly for winter activities in your national forest.
  • 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 down your tree no more than six inches above ground level.
  • Never cut a tall tree just for the top.
  • Select a Christmas tree from overstocked areas and thickets. Watch restricted areas. Cut only one Christmas tree per tag.  
  • Attach your Christmas tree cutting permit 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

Eric standing next to our perfect wild Christmas tree.
One of the many Christmas Trees we have known and loved.

Sometimes we get Charlie Brown Christmas 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 backside 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 unique, just like us.

We usually choose a balsam fir for our Christmas Tree, but occasionally we find a pretty spruce tree. 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!

A small tree in the Green Mountain National Forest, Vermont.
We’ve got our eye on this little tree for a future Christmas Tree. It’s so cute!

I know that most people put their Christmas tree up right after Thanksgiving, but we always wait until Christmas Eve, when we celebrate with lots of food, music, and tree decorating.

Our Christmas 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 songbirds. 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

The beautiful Green Mountain National Forest covered with snow.
Finding the perfect National Forest Christmas tree

Finding the perfect wild Christmas 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.

  • Wear layers and bring a backpack to keep the extras in. Merino wool is amazing stuff and it makes the perfect base layer for winter. Not only does it keep you warm and wick away moisture, but it never smells funky!
  • Bring a saw, pruning shears, and lots of rope. A sled is really helpful if it’s snowy.
  • Don’t forget your Christmas tree cutting permit.
  • Remember that hiking into the woods is easy — hiking out with your Christmas tree is not. We try not to hike, ski, or snowshoe no farther than a mile looking for our perfect Christmas tree.
  • The best day to cut down your own Christmas tree is one when 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. 
  • Bring hot chocolate to drink next to your chosen tree before you cut it. Or, better yet, whip up one of our favorite hot drinks for winter adventures
  • To find the fullest Christmas trees, look for a clearing that gets a decent amount of sun.
  • To avoid arguments, let the kids choose the Christmas tree, and be happy with whatever they pick. They won’t be around forever you know.

Do you cut down your own wild Christmas tree?  I’d love to hear about your adventures in the comments below.


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A winter scene showing a spruce forest covered with snow. Text overlay: Cut Down Your Own National Forest Christmas Tree.

 

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