Did you know you can harvest a Christmas tree from the National Forest? You can! And in Michigan, the permit is only $5, making this a more affordable alternative to many traditional Christmas tree farms in addition to an amazing family adventure.
This is one of my FAVORITE family holiday traditions! We love the adventure of hunting for our Christmas tree in the natural woods! We pack hot chocolate and marshmallows, and make an afternoon out of it!
To be clear, my Christmas tree does NOT look like the $50 version many of us are used to buying from a tree lot. It’s hard to find a small, bushy tree (remember, we’re talking about a natural forest here), but I LOVE the entire experience and wouldn’t trade it for the world.
By harvesting a tree from the National Forest, I’m contributing to the overall forest health. As highlighted on recreation.gov, “Christmas tree permits are a unique opportunity for citizens to help thin densely populated stands of small-diameter trees – the perfect size for a Christmas tree.”
Ready to plan your hunt?
For a great day of family fun while hunting for a Christmas tree hunt in a National Forest near you, I recommend the following preparations:
- Plan to spend the whole day, don’t rush. One year, we tried to cram our Christmas tree hunt into an afternoon and ended up hunting well into twilight and hauling our tree out of the woods in the dark! Don’t get me wrong, we still had an amazing time, but I would have enjoyed it even more if we’d had more time for our fireside picnic. And, especially if this is your first time… it will take longer than you think.
- Pack a picnic. We love to bring snacks, hot cocoa, and s’mores supplies. Especially if it’s cold, we sometimes build a little campfire to warm our fingers and toes (of course, we make sure to build it in a safe spot and extinguish the fire completely before we leave). We try to move slowly through the adventure, making time to enjoy the woods before cutting our tree and coming home.
- Review the maps provided by your local organization to make sure you know where you are, and more importantly are not allowed to cut a tree. Be a good citizen and pay attention to private property signs. In Michigan, small parcels of private property and National Forest land are often intermingled. It’s also helpful to review aerial maps (on google) ahead of time to look for heavily forested areas and to identify areas with conifers.
- Take some printed maps along on your adventure. Sometimes our day proceeds exactly according to plan, but more often than not we have to adjust our plans along the way. We regularly find ourselves without cell service at various points during our hunt and are always grateful to have printed maps. We have an atlas that covers the whole of southern Michigan. We also print maps from recreation.gov to make sure we have the most updated information. If you live in Michigan, here are some additional maps to reference:
- Brush up on your tree identification skills. Your National Forest may limit the specific types of trees you’re allowed to harvest for your Christmas tree. If you’re not 100% confident in your tree identification skills, bring a book along with you!
- Consider buying two permits. If you have enough space in your home, think about buying a second permit so the kids can select and bring home their own tree. Crafting a love of the forest and outdoor adventures is a key point to this adventure for Robbie and me. You should see the pride in my girls’ faces as the find the perfect tiny tree for their bedroom. They name the tree, they carefully carry her to the car, place her in their shared room, decorate her with their favorite ornaments (she’s so small, it really only takes a few lights/ornaments and you could easily use paper chains and other homemade decorations if you don’t have extras), and water her every day. I said “no” to a second tree for years and I’m so happy I finally realized how much extra fun it could add to our adventure.
- Get ready for a fun family adventure!
Ready to buy your permit? It’s a quick and easy process! Here are a few tips:
Visit Recreation.gov for more information and to buy your permit online. It’s really quite easy! The website will help you through the following steps.
Choose Your Forest
Determine which participating forest works best for your Christmas tree outing. Each forest will have specific guidelines and season dates for cutting a holiday tree.
Get the Details
Be safe and prepared. Carefully read the details and rules of your permit, and follow the Need to Know suggestions to prepare for your visit.
Buy a Permit
Purchase and print your permit so you’re ready to find your perfect holiday tree.
I can’t wait to hear about your experience harvesting a Christmas tree from a National Forest near you! Please share your experience, stories, and recommendations!
PS. Does this post feel familiar? It should! It was originally posted a couple of years ago. I’ve updated and republished it because it’s one of my favorite posts.