The process requires a bit of planning.

By Cailey Rizzo
November 30, 2020
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Nothing says the holidays are here more like the day the Christmas tree comes home. And while you can head down to the nearest plant nursery and simply pick and purchase one, many national forests around the country are open for adventurers who want to chop down their own.

But the process requires a bit of planning. 

First: check the rules of the forest. While most national forests will allow you to chop down your own tree, not all do — and the penalties for cutting down a tree without permission can be harsh. 

In forests that allow Christmas tree chopping, you must procure a permit before you can even approach a tree. The rules for acquiring your permit are different in each national forest. In Colorado’s Rio Grande National Forest, you can apply for your “free use authorization” to cut down trees at a nearby retail shop or download a form online. To chop down a tree in California’s Tahoe National Forest, you purchase your permit online at a cost of $10 per tree. Some offices sell out of permits, so it’s best to apply in advance. 

San Juan National Forest in Colorado.
| Credit: Joe Sohm/Visions of America via Getty

After obtaining your permit, check with the forest district office for specific information about dates, maps, times, and accessibility for cutting down trees. National forests may limit the amount of trees you can chop. (Trees are only for home use. No tree collected from the forest may be resold to the public.)  

You should also check with the office for information about cutting dead or downed trees (they may be animal habitat) and how far away to stay from main roads, campgrounds, rivers, lakes, and streams in the forests. 

The tree you end up selecting to take home should have a trunk six inches or less in diameter and you should cut it from no more than six inches above the ground. You must bring your own rope and tarp to wrap up your felled tree and carry it to your vehicle (as well as your own axe or saw). 

The Forest Service also reminds visitors to “check the local forest for the latest warnings, such as fire or road closure” and to “always check weather conditions for proper dress attire in the forests,” along with other safety reminders.  

Cailey Rizzo is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure, currently based in Brooklyn. You can find her on Twitter, on Instagram, or at caileyrizzo.com.