Pick Your Own Christmas Tree in a National Forest This Year

Nov 2, 2022 | News

Pick Your Own Christmas Tree in a National Forest This Year

You’ll need a Recreation.gov account, a saw, and a little bit of holiday spirit.

By Andrew Marshall

The winter holidays are quickly approaching, and the U.S. Forest Service is here to help you get ready. For the third season in a row, the agency is selling Christmas tree permits through Recreation.gov. Permits for participating national forests went live on October 13, but don’t worry—it’s not too late to get one in most locations.

The arrangement is mutually beneficial for all involved. Although prices vary by forest—from $5 to $20, plus service fees and tax—a permit is almost certainly cheaper than buying a tree off the lot. 

The harvest areas are chosen by forestry experts with intimate knowledge of their local woods. Harvesting Christmas tree-sized saplings helps thin the forests, making them healthier and less prone to destructive fires, which are becoming more widespread in the western U.S. The resulting open spaces also provide more food for wildlife. 

Fun for the Whole Family

But harvesting a tree is about more than cold logic. Tramping into the forest to find a tree is a magical experience and is a great way to create deep connections with your local public land.   Randy Moore, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service chief, knows this well.

“Many families are discovering their local forest for the first time to bring home their special holiday tree,” said Moore in a press release from the Forest Service. “These experiences help connect people to their local national forest and become treasured memories.”

Recreation.gov user Lynn G. agrees. “This was our first year cutting down our own tree, and we weren’t entirely sure what to expect. Our children (ages 5 and 10) had a blast and have already asked to do this again next year,” she wrote. 

In that kid-friendly vein, the National Park Service and Forest Service offer the Every Kid Outdoors Pass. If you have a fourth-grader (or equivalent age, roughly 8- to 10-year-olds), your family is eligible for the pass, which among its other benefits comes with a free holiday tree permit voucher.

If your family already has the Every Kid Outdoors Pass, simply enter the pass or voucher number during checkout at Recreation.gov. The site also offers a printable tree ornament that children can color and hang to commemorate the occasion.

Child sitting on the roof of a car with mom standing next to a freshly cut Christmas tree.
Photo courtesy of Recreation.gov

How to Score a U.S. Forest Service Christmas Tree Permit

We reached out to the Forest Service for some advice on navigating the tree permit system. Janelle Smith, a spokesperson for Recreation.gov, recommends the following steps:

  1. Log in to your existing Recreation.gov account, or create a new account (it’s free).
  2. Find your local forest through the search tool or on the map and follow the prompts from there.
  3. Don’t forget to carefully review and verify the need-to-know information prior to making your purchase.

Still confused? Here’s an in-depth how-to that walks you through the process.

Find and follow your local national forest’s Facebook page. As Smith points out, “Permits will be made available in or after mid-October. Some forests will continue to sell permits at their local offices and through cooperating vendors. Some popular areas offer a set number of permits, while others make permits available to all who apply.”

Following along on social media is a great way to snag a permit as soon as they go on sale.

U.S. Forest Service Christmas Tree Permit Locations

Not all national forests participate in the program, but the largest concentration of participating national forests is in the Pacific Northwest and the states of Colorado, Idaho, and Montana. California and Arizona are also well-represented. Use this alphabetical list by state to see if there’s a 2022 permit available in a forest near you.

  • Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, Arizona
  • Coconino National Forest, Arizona
  • Kaibab National Forest, Arizona
  • Prescott National Forest, Arizona
  • Tonto National Forest, Arizona 
  • Eldorado National Forest, California
  • Klamath National Forest, California
  • Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, California/Nevada
  • Mendocino National Forest, California
  • Modoc National Forest, California
  • Plumas National Forest, California
  • Sequoia National Forest, California
  • Shasta Trinity National Forest, California
  • Six Rivers National Forest, California
  • Tahoe National Forest, California
  • Arapaho & Roosevelt National Forests, Colorado
  • Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forest, Colorado
  • Pike and San Isabel National Forest, Colorado
  • Rio Grande National Forest, Colorado
  • San Juan National Forest, Colorado
  • White River National Forest, Colorado
  • Ocala National Forest, Florida
  • Boise National Forest, Idaho
  • Caribou-Targhee National Forest, Idaho
  • Idaho Panhandle National Forests, Idaho
  • Nez Perce Clearwater National Forest, Idaho
  • Payette National Forest, Idaho
  • Salmon-Challis National Forest, Idaho
  • Sawtooth National Forest, Idaho
  • Shawnee National Forest, Illinois
  • Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan
  • Huron-Manistee National Forest, Michigan
  • Ottawa National Forest, Michigan
  • Chippewa National Forest, Minnesota
  • Superior National Forest, Minnesota
  • Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, Montana
  • ​​Bitterroot National Forest, Montana
  • Custer Gallatin National Forest, Montana
  • Flathead National Forest, Montana
  • Helana-Lewis and Clark National Forest, Montana
  • Kootenai National Forest, Montana
  • Lolo National Forest, Montana
  • Nebraska National Forests and Grasslands, Nebraska
  • Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Nevada
  • White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire
  • Carson National Forest, New Mexico
  • Cibola National Forest and Grasslands, New Mexico
  • Gila National Forest, New Mexico
  • Lincoln National Forest, New Mexico
  • Santa Fe National Forest, New Mexico
  • Deschutes National Forest, Oregon
  • Fremont-Winema National Forest, Oregon
  • Malheur National Forest, Oregon
  • Mt. Hood National Forest, Oregon
  • Ochoco National Forest, Oregon
  • Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, Oregon
  • Siuslaw National Forest, Oregon
  • Umpqua National Forest, Oregon
  • Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, Oregon
  • Willamette National Forest, Oregon
  • Black Hills National Forest, South Dakota
  • Ashley National Forest, Utah
  • Dixie National Forest, Utah
  • Fishlake National Forest, Utah
  • Manti-La Sal National Forest, Utah
  • Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, Utah
  • Green Mountain National Forest, Vermont
  • Colville National Forest, Washington
  • Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington
  • Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington
  • Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, Washington
  • Olympic National Forest, Washington
  • Umatilla National Forest, Washington
  • Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia
  • Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, Wisconsin
  • Bighorn National Forest, Wyoming
  • Bridger-Teton National Forest, Wyoming
  • Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest & Thunder Basin National Grassland, Wyoming
  • Shoshone National Forest, Wyoming
Person pulling harvested Christmas tree along snowy path with assistance of snow poles
Photo: Andrew Marshall

Getting Your Tree

Once you’ve secured your permit, you have a bit of research to do before setting off into the woods. Follow the standard hiking safety protocols: Let someone know where you’re going; include an estimated return time; bring navigational equipment, food, and water; and make sure your vehicle can safely access your target area.

“It is important to remember that visitors will need to print the permit and display it on the dash of their vehicle on the day of their visit to cut their trees,” said Rick DeLappe, Recreation.gov program manager. 

Here are additional tree-cutting tips from Recreation.gov.

  • Measure the space in your house so you can pick the right size tree once you’re in the forest.
  • Check road and forest conditions and prepare for adverse weather.
  • Make sure you’re in a designated cutting area, or follow guidelines for locations where tree cutting is allowed. Avoid venturing onto private property.
  • Choose a tree in an overcrowded stand to help thin the area.
  • Cut your tree close to the ground; the stump you leave behind should be about 6 inches.
  • Bring a rope and tarp to move your tree from the cutting area to your vehicle.
  • Secure your tree to your vehicle to ensure it remains in place for your trip home.

Now all you have to do is pour the eggnog, throw on some music, and bring out the decorations.