Did you know that you can cut your own Christmas tree in a national forest?
Not only is it possible, but it’s easy and fun for the whole family — not to mention that it beats going to a tree lot.
So every year, like clockwork, my husband and I head to our nearest national forest (in Oregon) to cut down a Christmas tree. It’s something we look forward to every year because we enjoy the tradition so much.
Cutting a Christmas Tree in a National Forest
If you’re interested in cutting a Christmas tree from your nearest national forest, there’s a few things you need to know before you go.
This helpful guide will cover:
- How to get a Christmas Tree cutting permit
- Rules for cutting a Christmas Tree in a national forest
- Christmas Tree cutting tips
- Essential Christmas Tree cutting gear
- Varieties of Christmas Trees
- Getting your Christmas Tree home and keeping it fresh
- Disposing of your Christmas Tree
- Real Christmas Tree vs fake Christmas Tree (what’s better for the environment?)
How to get a Christmas Tree cutting permit
The best part about cutting your own tree? Permits are only $5. That’s right. You can cut your own national forest Christmas tree or just $5. What’s more, households can purchase up to 5 permits per year.
- Permits are available for sale at authorized shops, think ACE Hardware, local fishing shops, convenience stores and the like. Since we’re last minute folks, this is the route we typically go.
- To find an authorized local shop that sells Christmas tree permits simply google “where to buy Christmas tree permit for ‘X’ National Forest.” And viola!
Christmas tree cutting permits are sold mid-November – December 25th.
Rules for cutting a Christmas Tree in national forest
To maintain the livelihood of our beautiful forests, there are some rules you need to adhere to when cutting a Christmas tree. Rules vary from forest to forest, so check before you go.
The forest we frequent has the following rules:
- The tree must be less than 12 feet tall and have a trunk 6-inches or less in diameter.
- Never cut a tree that is within 200 feet of a river, stream, lake, trail or road.
- Cut your tree no more than 6 inches above ground level.
- Tree must be 8 feet from a tree of similar size. Cutting a tree from a densely forested area allows remaining trees more room to grow.
- U-cut Christmas trees are for personal use only and cannot be sold for profit.
P.S. If you’re interested in recreating the photo above, these are the lights we used. They’re inexpensive and battery operated!
U-Cut Christmas Tree Tips
Cell service is unreliable (often unavailable) in the forest
- We always let someone know where we plan to go, just in case something happens. And knowing us, it’s more like when something happens. ????
Check the road conditions prior to departure
- This is especially true if you’re going to a higher elevation because there may be snow. Roads may not be plowed, so carry chains, shovels and a tow chain with you.
Check the weather before you go
- Just because the roads are clear doesn’t mean the weather is playing nice. Once, while picking our tree, it was raining/snowing the entire time! We were trying to keep from freezing and couldn’t feel our fingers or toes!
Leave earlier than you think you’ll need to
- We all know that the winter months grace us with shorter days. In Oregon, it gets dark around 4:15pm – brutal. We strive to leave our home around 11am to ensure enough daylight.
Have a FULL tank of gas and bring chains with you
- Probably doesn’t need too much of an explanation, huh?
Essential Christmas Tree Cutting Gear
Your success is my success. Let’s cover the things you need to pack before you head out.
- This is the handsaw we use (it’s inexpensive and works well). If you’d like something more handy, I suggest this one.
Tarp for your car
- Hiking to the tree is easy but bringing it down gets tough! A tarp or sled will make it easier for you to get the tree to the car. This multi-use tarp gets the job done nicely.
- Pruning shears are great for unwelcome low-hanging branches. This is the sturdy pair we’ve used for three years now. We never go Christmas tree cutting without it!
- After you cut down your Christmas tree, you’ll need to attach it to your car’s roof. Here’s the handy kit we use year after year, highly recommend.
- As mentioned earlier, your Christmas tree may not exceed 12′. I suggest measuring the height of your ceilings before leaving home to ensure you get the right-sized tree for your house.
- As my friend jokes, trees are always taller in the forest. Every year, we always accidentally bring home too tall of a tree (while sticking to the 12′ cut off).
- These gloves are a game changer. I once tried to be fashionable (I know, I’m laughing, too) and wore red leather gloves. Big mistake — I was freezing! High quality insulated gloves are a must.
- This jacket (well-reviewed and inexpensive!) is also a game changer. This isn’t the time to be fashionable, my friend! Keeping warm is the name of the game.
- Believe me on this one, don’t leave the house without these pants. Like the insulated coat mentioned above, snow pants are great because they keep you dry and warm – allowing your indecisive mind to linger past any point of reason.
- These warm snow boots fit the bill. Your toes will be toasty and warm as you trek from one tree to the next. We usually spend an hour comparing trees and have learned to never leave the house without our snow boots.
Snacks and a warm drink
- You’re probably thinking to yourself, what is this? An episode of Man vs. Wild? Well, it might very well be! Come prepared and you’ll have a grand time!
Varieties of Christmas Trees in National Forests
Goodness, with so many varieties to choose from I hardly know where to begin!
The variety of trees vary on the forest you visit. In my neck of the woods, these are the most common varieties.
- The noble fir is easily my favorite. It looks majestic, the bluish/green hue is striking and the needles don’t shed. Win-win!
- Balsam fir is the most fragrant of the Christmas tree varieties.
- The Douglas fir is the most popular Christmas tree in the US. It’s very full looking but be warned – it browns faster than other firs, even if properly cared for.
Getting your Christmas Tree home and keeping it fresh
This is the fun part! Attach the permit to your Christmas tree before placing it on you car — and just like that – you’re set to go!
To preserve the freshness of your tree, cut the tree a bit longer than you need (by 6″ – 12”) so that you can make a fresh cut before putting it in water. Replenish water regularly and mist the tree daily.
Disposing of your National Forest Christmas Tree
I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time letting go of Christmas trees. Heck, some years I wish I could plant it in the backyard. But then I remember we don’t have a backyard (and you can’t plant cut trees).
Goodness, what are you my therapist? Back to the tree – There’s essentially 5 options for disposing your tree.
Curb-side pick up for recycling.
- This is what we do because it’s the easiest. Most cities offer Christmas tree pick up 2 weeks after Christmas. The tree will be turned into mulch, which may even be available to you for pick up, free of charge.
Call a nonprofit and ask them to pick it up.
- Mostly, folks rely on the trusty boy scouts who ask for a nominal donation around $5 – $10.
Drop it off at a recycling facility (like Home Depot).
- Not as convenient as the first two options, but hey! To each their own. Home Depot offers tree drop off, free of charge. You can also check your specific county for drop off locations, most are free.
Yard waste pick up.
- Some communities provide specific yard waste pickup services along with normal garbage pickup services. If the stress of the holidays has you itching to swing an axe – this is your time to shine. Take it out on the tree to ensure it fits in the yard waste container. Plus, you’ll burn calories, too – winning!
- Recycle the tree yourself. This is great if you have a backyard. Out of sight, out of mind – right? Stick the tree in a corner you don’t normally look at and allow nature to take care of the rest.
Real Christmas Trees vs. fake Christmas Trees (What’s better for the environment?)
Round of applause for everyone’s favorite answer … it depends. This is a great question that merits conversation. Based on personal research, I argue that real trees are better for the environment because they “return to the earth” – per se.
Most Christmas trees on farms take 7 years to grow to 4 – 5 feet tall. While the trees grow they provide clean air and greatly benefit the environment. Real Christmas trees are biodegradable and, when recycled properly, can be used to create bark chips and mulch. Or birdhouses, or just tossed in the neighbor’s yard. Go crazy.
On the other hand, fake trees leave a massive carbon footprint. Most fake trees are mass produced and made of plastic. I would guess a fake tree should be kept for 10 years to offset the carbon footprint. Afterward, the tree will get tossed into a landfill where it will remain for centuries.
At the end of the day, it’s a matter of personal choice. There’s no wrong way to get a tree into your home. These are merely my observations and why I prefer to get a real Christmas tree. Oh, and the smell!
Cut your own Christmas tree in a national forest in 5 easy steps:
Just in case you missed the novel above, here’s a quick recap for you.
- Buy a $5 permit from a forest service office or online
- Find a forest near you that allows cutting Christmas trees
- Pick the perfect tree for you and cut it down per the rules
- Attach a permit to tree and tie it down to the car
- Bring your happy little tree home and decorate it!
I hope this guide to cutting a Christmas tree on a national forest is helpful to you. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below.
Enjoy your trip!
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