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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.

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 Christmas tree cutting permit, and then you can choose and cut down your own Christmas tree in your National Forest. 

A boy dragging a Christmas tree through a snowy national forest
One of our many national forest Christmas trees

Christmas 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 they can cut themselves. 

A man poses next to a stand of Christmas trees in a snowy forest
Get outside and cut down your own Christmas tree!

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?

To obtain your Christmas tree cutting 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 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

A decorated Christmas tree in a small living room
Our sweet and spindly national forest Christmas tree

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 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!

A snowy sunset in the Green Mountain National Forest
The beautiful Green Mountain National Forest
Two young boys drag a Christmas tree through the national forest
Sometimes we ski our tree back to the car.

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 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

A field of snowy fir trees in the Green Mountain National Forest, where you can cut down your own wild Christmas Tree
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.

  • 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 Christmas tree?   I’d love to hear about your adventures in the comments below.

We love our National Forests! Here are some more great posts about our favorites!

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A boy is choosing a Christmas tree from the national forest
A snowy spruce forest in the National Forest. Caption reads: Cut Your Own National Forest Christmas Tree


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