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Harvest Your Own Christmas Tree in the National Forest

Posted by Rachel Wendling at Dec 07, 2017 01:00 PM |

Head to a National Forest this season to for your very own Christmas tree. Available to cut with a permit from now until December 24, harvesting Christmas trees is a unique way to experience your public lands.

December 2020: The US Forest Service has moved Christmas tree permit purchases to Read more about the updated process along with our tips on preparing for your outing and how to get your permits.

Looking for a way to get outside while ticking a box of your holiday checklist? Head out to one of Washington's National Forests this season to cut down your very own Christmas tree. Trees are available to cut with a permit until December 24, leaving you plenty of time to plan your adventure.

Atop Teanaway Ridge in the Okanogon-Wenatchee National Forest. Photo by PNWdvm.

Where to go

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. Be sure to pick up your tree permit at your local Forest Service district ranger office before you harvest your tree. Permits are $5 for most National Forests in Washington, and $10 for the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

Forest locations:

Got a fourth grader? Your tree is free!

If you are the family of a fourth grade student, you have the opportunity to cut down your tree for free, thanks to the Every Kid in a Park initiative. Not only will families be granted a free tree permit with your Every Kid pass, your child will also receive a free, specially designed ornament from the U.S. Forest Service, which they can color, sign, and hang on their new tree. If you have yet to claim your Every Kid in a Park pass, head over to their website where you can print out your paper voucher today.

    Picking your tree

    Each area has specific guidelines for choosing and taking home your 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:

    • Search for your tree at least 150 feet from lakes, streams, ponds, or any wetland area
    • Avoid encroaching on any developed areas such as campsites or administrative buildings
    • Make sure to keep your tree below 12 feet in height, and under 6 inches in diameter
    • Try to find your tree in a crowded area, so one area does not become void of trees
    • Leave as short of a stump as possible, at least under 6 inches off the ground
    • Trees may be cut or dug up. Just remember to fill up the hole if you opt to dig out your tree
    Winter on Silver Star
    Exploring Silver Star in the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest. Photo by Lauren Dawkins.

    Be prepared

    Knowing what you're getting into is especially important at this time of year, when conditions can change quickly. Most trees are reached by narrow mountain roads, and snow is coming to the mountains. High-clearance vehicles are often required for forest roads along with tire chains and a shovel. Check weather and road conditions before you go.

    • Check the avalanche hazard level before leaving home.
    • Let someone at home know where you're headed.
    • Leave early to 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 any unexpected mishaps that may occur.
    • 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 trailhead. If you park at a Sno-Park, you will need to have a Sno-Park pass.
    • Carry a shovel, flashlight, tire chains, matches and blankets in your vehicle.
    • Bring along plenty of food and warm drinks.


      Netting / Transportation

      Any advice on extraction from the forest and mounting to car? I can't seem to find tree netting anywhere. Tie downs maybe? Not sure!

      Posted by:

      Pawpy on Dec 01, 2016 12:08 AM

      We Managed

      Used twine to lash the branches down, then burrito'd it up in a tarp and secured that with static line. Mounted on Buick with paracord. What an adventure!

      Posted by:

      Pawpy on Dec 04, 2016 08:07 PM