Cut (or Transplant) Your Own Christmas Tree
Thinking you might want to turn your Christmas tree selection into an outdoor family adventure? Now you can. All of the national forests in Washington allow Christmas tree cutting with a permit through December 24. Use the following resources and tips to seek out and take home the perfect tree.
Where to go: call the ranger station and purchase your permit
Before you go, call the ranger station closest to where you'd like to look for your tree. They won't tell you exactly where to go, but they can tell you which roads are snow-free, which are plowed, and which are closed altogether. Knowing what you're getting into is especially important at this time of year, when conditions can change quickly.
The Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest has put out a fact sheet [PDF] that includes locations and extended hours for purchasing permits, rules and safety tips. You can also get a permit and map of locations to cut at Forest Service offices or at the Alderwood and downtown Seattle REI stores. The permit is $10 for a tree of up to 12 feet tall. (Depending on where you go to get a permit, they may or may not accept credit cards. See the fact sheet for details.)
Other forest locations and regulations. (These permits only cost $5):
- Olympic National Forest
- Gifford Pinchot National Forest
- Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest (includes maps)
- Colville National Forest
- Umatilla National Forest
Safety tips: what to pack and how to parkWhether you've chosen a plowed forest road or whether you've opted to drive as far as you can on an unplowed road, you'll want to be prepared. Here are a few tips:
- Check the avalanche hazard before leaving home.
- Let someone at home know where you're headed.
- Leave early to ensure you maximize daylight hours in your search for the perfect tree.
- Make sure your car is equipped for snowy conditions, with traction tires or chains and a shovel. When you park, point your car downhill, in case conditions change while you are out.
- Bring warm weather gear for everyone, including boots, snowpants, gloves, hats and a warm coat. Snowshoes work particularly well, and will allow you to explore further. Carry extra clothing, food and tools in your vehicle for those unexpected mishaps that may occur.
- To cut your tree, bring a good saw, a rope and a tarp or sled to drag the tree back to your vehicle.
- Display the right pass. Christmas tree permits may be placed on the driver’s side dashboard in lieu of a Northwest Forest Pass when parking at a trailheadIf you park at a Sno-Park, you will need to have a Sno-Park pass.
How to pick your tree and take it home
Each area has specific guidelines for choosing and taking home your family tree, so make sure to ask or review the information that comes with your permit. Some guidelines suggested by the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest include:
- The tree may be cut, or dug up and removed as a transplant. (The ground starts freezing as early as November.) Please fill in the hole created when digging up a live tree.
- Please remove the entire tree, not just the top. Leave no more than a 6-inch stump.
- If there are any live limbs still attached to the stump after the tree is felled, cut them from the stump.
- Try to pick a tree from among a group of trees, so one area does not become void of trees.
- Tree cutting is not allowed within developed campgrounds, administrative sites, designated wilderness areas or on state or private owned lands within the national forest.
- Tree cutting is not permitted within 150 feet of any stream, lakes, ponds or wetland areas.
Add on a hike or snowshoe
Consider adding a hike or snowshoe to your family outing.
Tell us about it!
If you go harvest your own tree, tell us about your adventure in a Trip Report or in the comments below.