The excitement is palpable as we don our warmest winter gear — wool baselayers, waterproof snow pants, and our favorite insulated boots. We load the car with all the necessities for our adventure — cross country skis, an ancient toboggan, rope, a pruning saw, and a thermos of hot chocolate. Can you guess where we’re headed?
Into the Green Mountain National Forest to cut our 2019 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!
Our Christmas trees are always beautifully wild, fresh, and completely unique, just like us. They don’t look anything like farm-grown trees. Their boughs are spaced farther apart, which is perfect for hanging ornaments, and sometimes the front of the tree (the sunny side) is full and lush, while the backside is a little scraggly without many branches. It doesn’t matter. We love our wild Christmas trees!
How to Cut Your National Forest Christmas Tree
The USDA Forest Service implements a multi-use management plan to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of our national forests and grasslands. One of the ways that they achieve this is by making forest products, including Christmas trees available to the public.
Most, but not all national forests allow visitors to choose and cut their own Christmas tree. The first step is to buy a $5 permit issued by the US Forest Service. Contact your local forest district office to find out how to get a permit in your area. If you live close to your district office, you can simply stop by and pick up your permit. If your 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 the harvested tree before placing it in or on top of your vehicle.
- Bring a rope and tarp to move your tree from the harvest area to your vehicle.
Make Christmas Memories in Your National Forest
Finding the perfect national forest Christmas tree is an adventure that requires a bit of advanced planning. When we pick up our Christmas tree permit, we are usually given a map that highlights the best regions for finding suitable trees. The type of tree you choose will vary by your location, but in Vermont, we often choose a balsam fir or spruce tree.
Snow is guaranteed on our tree-hunting adventure in the mountains of Vermont, so we always pack skis, snowshoes, and sleds for our journey. After scouting many different locations over the years, we have a dedicated spot that we know and love, about a mile from the nearest road. A mile may not seem like a huge distance to trek through the woods after a tree, but remember that you will be dragging your tree back to your car.
Our first tip — plan your winter hike into the forest carefully. If the snow is deep, don’t hike as far. Trees must be 200 feet from trails, rivers, roads, and lakes, but in most cases, you will be able to find a tree within a reasonable distance from your car. If you have young children, bring a sled so that they can hop a ride if they are tired.
Here are a few more tips to make your adventure successful, memorable and fun:
- Scout for your perfect Christmas tree in the fall before the snow flies - If you live near a national forest, you likely adventure there all the time. Be on the lookout for your tree and tag it with a bit of ribbon of yarn so you can find it in the winter.
- Fetch your tree on a day when the ground is covered with snow but the trees aren’t - Easier said than done, but a snowy trail will make it easier to drag your tree back to the car. Snow-covered trees make it hard to choose because you don’t know what’s underneath all that snow!
- Don’t forget your permit! It must be attached to your tree before you put it on your car.
- Hot drinks are the best - After trekking into the forest and finding your tree, take a break and toast to the magic of the season with a thermos of hot chocolate.
Ready to make some beautiful memories in your national forest? You’ve still got time to cut your own wild tree in time for Christmas.