Start a new tradition or continue a time-honored one by heading out to one of Washington's national forests to harvest your Christmas tree.
You'll need to buy a permit before you go. Permits are $5 per tree for most national forests in Washington, and $10 for the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Trees are available to cut until December 24.
Before you go...
Since you'll be cutting a tree and taking it home, you need to be sure you're on public land and cutting in an area designated for Christmas trees. You can find maps of where you can cut on recreation.gov, or on the Christmas tree permit page from your local forest.
- Olympic National Forest
- Mt. Baker Snoqualmie National Forest
- Gifford Pinchot National Forest
- Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest
- Colville National Forest
- Umatilla National Forest
If you prefer to talk to a person, call the ranger station closest to where you'd like to look for your tree. They can tell you which roads are snow-free, which are plowed and which are closed altogether. Or check their websites.
Most tree cutting areas are reached by narrow mountain roads, and you'll likely run into snow. High-clearance vehicles are often required for forest roads in the winter, along with tire chains and a shovel. Check the road conditions for the ranger district you plan on visiting before heading out.
Checklist for when you go
You've got your permit. You've picked a road your car can handle. Now you've got to prep yourself and your car for the day you get the tree.
- Check the avalanche hazard level for where you're heading before leaving home.
- Let someone at home know where you're headed.
- Have everyone in your group wear cold-weather gear, including boots, snowpants, gloves, hats and a warm coat. You can also carry snowshoes, which will allow you to explore further.
- Pack plenty of food, water and warm drinks for the trail.
- In your car:
- Extra clothing, blankets and food, as well as a flashlight and tire chains
- Tools to cut and fasten your tree
- A sharp saw
- A rope
- A tarp or sled (to drag the tree back to your vehicle. The tarp also works if you need to burrito the tree up to load it on your car)
- Tree netting or twine (to lash the branches down)
- Rope or bungees to attach the tree to your car (remember to secure your load)
- Leave early to maximize daylight hours in your search for the perfect tree. The sun sets around 4pm in December!
- Display the correct pass:
**When you park, point your car downhill, in case conditions change while you are out!
pick the perfect Tree
Hiking to find your perfect tree is fun, but there are a few extra factors to consider when harvesting from public land. Each forest has specific guidelines, so make sure to review the information that comes with your permit or to ask a ranger. Some general guidelines include:
- Pick a tree that is no more than 12 feet tall and under 6 inches in diameter (this makes it easier for you to wrangle, too).
- Try to find your tree in a tree-dense area.
- Search for your tree at least 150 feet from lakes, streams, ponds, or any wetland area.
- Avoid cutting near developed areas such as campsites or administrative buildings.
- Leave as short a stump as possible (you're aiming for under 6 inches off the ground).
- You can dig up a tree, too! Just remember to fill up the hole if you opt to dig out your tree.
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 Outdoors 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 Outdoors pass, head over to their website where you can print out your paper voucher today.