How To: Cut Your Own Christmas Tree in Our National Forests

Harvesting a Christmas tree in our national forests: what you need to know this holiday season.
Gabrielle Orsi Gabrielle Orsi
Foothills Branch Leader & Super Volunteer
November 19, 2020

Did you know that our national forests issue permits each year to harvest your own Christmas tree? In years past, permits were issued at ranger stations but, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you will now be able to purchase your Christmas tree permit online at recreation.gov. Search by state or browse the list of national forests to find the most convenient location for you.

In November 2018, I led a Foothills Mountaineers snowshoe hike where our group purchased Christmas tree permits and ventured forth in search of Christmas trees south of I-90, near exit 47. Guided by the map from the North Bend ranger station, we found some informal paths packed in the snow by other tree seekers. In November, snowshoes weren't truly necessary, as it turned out but boots and microspikes certainly were!

Following the US Forest Service's guidelines about the kinds of trees that the permit allows you to cut - not more than 15 feet tall, not within 150 feet of any body of water - we found some suitable trees after a bit of bushwhacking. Wild trees that compete for sunlight in a dense forest generally aren't as full and bushy as trees you find at a Christmas tree farm, so look for trees growing in more open areas.

Since we were off-trail we had to navigate with care to retrace our steps. Adding to the challenge: hauling out the trees we harvested and working with sharp tools!  

Since our Mountaineers Christmas tree hunt in 2018, I have been hiking and trail running with Christmas trees in mind: keeping an eye out for good candidates in the right locations that aren't too deep in the woods.

Permit and Harvest Info

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Christmas Tree permits will be available for purchase starting around October 15, 2020. Permit sales dates and the harvest timeline vary by individual forests. You'll also find maps  guiding you to where tree cutting is allowed at recreation.gov

  • The season for harvesting your tree in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest runs from November 12-December 31, 2020.
  • The cost is $10 per tree, with a maximum of 5 trees per household.
  • Find the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest Christmas tree permit, maps, and more information about Christmas tree harvesting here

If you're in the Seattle area, the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest along the I-90 corridor is easily accessible for your Christmas tree quest.

 Suggested gear list & TIPS

  • Work gloves, a tarp, bungee cords (if putting tree on car roof), a saw, and a backpack to carry your 10 essentials.
  • Pants and long sleeves are very helpful since you'll be bushwhacking.
  • A waterproof jacket is a must since you will get wet! The trees and bushes shed snow as you are bushwhacking and cutting down your tree.
  • Navigation: we tracked our wanderings with the Gaia smartphone app and used (and removed) fluorescent surveyor tape to mark our route away from the beaten path so we'd stay orientated and to mark potential trees.