NatureAmy

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Christmas Traditions: Christmas Tree Hunting in the National Forest

I’m starting a new mini-series on some of our favorite Christmas traditions.  I know… I know… it’s not even Thanksgiving yet, but I wanted to post this one early because it takes some preparation if you want to do something similar.

I love Christmas.  In fact, I am guilty of listening to Christmas music way before Thanksgiving every year – like even in the middle of summer if the mood strikes!  As a kid, we would often have a Christmas CD or cassette in the boom box by our pool.  Swimming and jingle bells, anyone?

I don’t decorate until after Thanksgiving is over, however.  I may be singing Christmas carols before Halloween, but there is no visible evidence until after we have finished the Thanksgiving dishes.  After that – it’s fair game!

Out come the decorations!

Out come the wreaths, lights, and garlands!

And it’s time for the hunt for the perfect Christmas tree!


Christmas Traditions: Christmas tree hunting in the National Forest. Only $10 for the permit! - NatureAmy.com

Addamay’s first Christmas tree trip at 6 months old.

We are not a fake Christmas tree family.  And we take our Christmas tree hunting seriously.

By hunting, I don’t mean searching the corner lot for the perfect tree.

And, by hunting I don’t mean cutting down our tree in the midst of a perfectly manicured tree farm.

By hunting I mean hunting for our tree in the National Forest with our United States Forest Service (USFS) Christmas Tree Permit and legal places to cut map!

Christmas Traditions: Christmas tree hunting in the National Forest. Only $10 for the permit! - NatureAmy.com

Finding the perfect tree for Christmas 2015


Until about 12 years ago, I didn’t know you could buy a permit to cut a tree in our local National Forest.  I don’t even remember how we first found out about it.  But in December of 2006, my hubby and I drove to our local USFS office and bought a $10 permit.  Then we drove up the hill in search of the perfect tree.

We’ve been doing the same thing every year since then!


We LOVE this Christmas tradition for many reasons.

  1. It gives us a great excuse to spend the day exploring nature.  It is about a 90 minute drive from our house to our favorite spot to find our tree.  Then we hike around and search for the perfect tree.  We bring a picnic lunch, a thermos full of hot cocoa, and plenty of Christmas music.  Sometimes there is snow (in California that is a big deal!)

    Christmas Traditions: Christmas tree hunting in the National Forest. Only $10 for the permit! - NatureAmy.com

    Searching for the perfect tree and enjoying the snow! We are in California, so sometimes this is all there is…

  2. It is cheap!  Christmas trees from the corner lot run anywhere from $15-$100+.  Cutting your own tree at a farm usually costs $50-$150.  But cutting a tree from the National Forest only costs $10 for the permit.  The first time you cut one, you will need to invest in a good saw – we like a pruning saw for the job, and some rope to tie down the tree.  It does take more time, and costs money for gas, but the memories and experiences are worth it.

    Christmas Traditions: Christmas tree hunting in the National Forest. Only $10 for the permit! - NatureAmy.com

    Taking a hot cocoa break

  3. Fresh trees last longer!  Cutting a tree yourself that you then water daily makes them last so much longer.  We try to get our tree on Thanksgiving weekend and usually don’t take it down until New Year’s Day.  And although we do lose some needles, we really don’t lose too many in that time!  The tree still looks and smells good in January!

    Christmas Traditions: Christmas tree hunting in the National Forest. Only $10 for the permit! - NatureAmy.com

    Clayton helps Daddy bring the tree to the car. Notice the bright pink permit attached.

  4. You can choose more “expensive” trees.  Red firs, often called Silvertips, are the most pricey trees at the Christmas Tree lot – at least they are at ours.  And they are absolutely lovely!  Once we found a good place to find some nice ones, we’ve been getting one every year.  That’s a savings of over $100 on a really nice tree.
  5. Extra boughs from the bottom part we cut off at home to fit the tree in the house (the tree always looks so tiny in the forest!) are wonderful for decorating!

If you live within driving distance of a National Forest, I encourage you to look into this tradition for yourself.  It is so much fun! Just Google to find out if you can cut a Christmas Tree near you.  Not every National Forest has this option – it is more common in areas with lower populations.  And it also depends a lot on what kinds of trees grow on USFS land near you.

Christmas Traditions: Christmas tree hunting in the National Forest. Only $10 for the permit! - NatureAmy.com

Tying the tree to the top of the car. Thankfully, we haven’t lost a tree (or a child), yet!

If you live near the Plumas National Forest in Northern California like we do, here is the link to buy your Christmas Tree Cutting permit.  Some forests allow other vendors to sell the permit, as well.  Our local forest used to do that, which was very convenient, but it doesn’t do that anymore.  I mailed in to get our permit a couple weeks ago and have already gotten the permit and map back in the mail.  Very efficient for government service!


Christmas Traditions: Christmas tree hunting in the National Forest. Only $10 for the permit! - NatureAmy.com

Our “perfect” Silvertip Fir Christmas Tree all decorated at home.

I’m so excited to head up the hill in a couple weeks in search of the perfect tree for Christmas 2016!  I will be sharing pictures when I do!signature

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4 Comments

  1. What a fun tradition! I read this and couldn’t help but think of National Lampoons Christmas Vacation:) I will look, but I doubt we have something similar here. It would be cool!

  2. Carolyn Hodges (Mom)

    November 12, 2016 at 4:24 pm

    When you were little and we lived at our Happy Hollow Ranch in Sonoma County our Christmas tree lot was our back yard. Having 65 acres of forest has its advantages. Our trees were notoriously tall and straggly but that gave us lots of room for decorations. Having a large living room gave us enough space for our gangly tree.
    Living in a smaller home in Reno NV limits our space and there are no Christmas trees in our backyard. The National Forest here does allow Christmas tree hunting but it can become a dangerous sport when the snow or mud make the dirt roads unpassable or slippery. So, if you do go Christmas tree hunting be careful and know where you are going and what kind of vehicle you will need. Check the weather at your destination and the snow levels. The beauty, aroma, and adventure of your own tree make it a memorable experience.

    • Amy

      November 13, 2016 at 3:44 pm

      Yes, it is a wise thing to check road conditions and weather before heading up to hunt for a tree! We had one year where the conditions were terrible and we were close to sliding off the road. Since then we have been very careful to check conditions up the hill, even when it looks beautiful at home!
      Wise words!

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