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 so excited when a friend 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 –
For just $5, you can buy a national forest Christmas tree permit to choose and cut your own wild 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.
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 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 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
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!
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
- 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 to harvest a Christmas tree 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.
- 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 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.
Helpful products for finding and bringing home your perfect National Forest Christmas Tree (click on the photo for more information)