If you love having a living Christmas tree, you already know that prices have been rising steadily for years. After all, it’s not uncommon to spend between $50 and $120 for a living tree.
There is another option, however, which is considerably cheaper. Plus, it’s a way for you and your family or friends to “make memories” and build or continue traditions.
The US Forest Service began selling Christmas tree permits through the Recreation.gov website 2 years ago, making it easier to find and purchase permits. The Forest Service is continuing the practice this year and this week began offering Christmas tree permits in select national forests. Christmas tree permits in other National Forests will be available early next month.
The good news is that while the cost of the permit varies from national forest to national forest, it is often $15 or less per tree. And, of course, going to cut your own Christmas tree is fun.
“Every tree found, cut and brought home creates a new story,” Forest Service Chief Randy Moore said last year. “These stories become the memories and traditions we carry on for generations and further connect families to their local forests.”
First of all, if you thought that people cutting down their own Christmas trees would be harmful to national forests, it’s not. Instead, harvesting Christmas trees is actually good for forests and plays a role in sound forest management. Indeed, the permit system helps to thin densely populated stands of small diameter trees.
First, local foresters identify areas of a national forest that will benefit from tree thinning and tend to be the ideal size for Christmas trees. When people buy Christmas tree permits and remove trees from these areas, it helps other trees grow and also opens up areas that provide forage for wildlife.
How to Buy Christmas Tree Permits
Once you decide to cut your own Christmas tree, the next step is to figure out where you can legally cut your own tree. Finding this place is not as difficult as one might think.
Your first step is to visit the Recreation.gov website.
On the site, you will use a search tool to find the participating forest that suits you best. It is important to note that each forest will have specific guidelines, cutting area maps, and seasonal dates for cutting a holiday tree.
Then you will buy your permit online. Don’t forget to print your permit to display it on the dashboard of your vehicle when you go to cut your tree.
Cut your own Christmas tree
You can find Forest Service tips and advice on cutting your own Christmas tree here.
For example, in general, “the tree you choose should be at least 200 feet from major roads, recreation sites, and campgrounds, and kept away from areas along streams, rivers, lakes and wetlands,” the Forest Service explains. “Check with the district ranger for the proper distance.”
You will also want to select a tree with a trunk 6 inches or less in diameter and be prepared to cut the tree no more than 6 inches above ground level.
Above all, never cut a large tree just for the top.
And of course, don’t forget a rope and a tarp to move your tree from the harvest area to your vehicle.
Follow the guidelines of your local forest
It’s important to note that guidelines — such as when you can purchase a Christmas tree permit, when you can cut your own tree, and even where you can cut your tree — vary from national forest to national forest.
For example, a Christmas tree permit for Arizona’s Kaibab National Forest states that although permits are already on sale, cutting a Christmas tree with a permit is not permitted until Tuesday, November 1. These permits cost $15 per tree.
Meanwhile, a Christmas tree permit for Shawnee National Forest in Illinois also explains that permits are already on sale, but cutting trees in the forest is not permitted until Monday, November 14. . These permits cost $5 per tree with a limit of one tree per permit.
Finally, Christmas tree permits for the Hiawatha National Forest in Michigan cannot yet be purchased. These permits, which cost $5 per tree, will go on sale Nov. 10 at 10 a.m. EST.
You can find an index of national forests here. You can also search the Recreation.gov website by state or forest name to find more information about the forest where you want to cut your own Christmas tree as well as important felling guidelines.
If you’re starting to plan a trip over the holidays, be sure to check out our vacation travel content, including: