Cut Your Own Christmas Tree

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One of our favorite winter traditions in cutting down our own Christmas tree. Except for two years (one was crazy windy, the other we were in Germany), Henry and I have wandered into the woods and cut down a tree every year we’ve been married.

We gone to different locations. We added two kids to the outing and lost two dogs. Sometimes we go with friends and sometimes it is just our family. It’s always special.

A trip into snowy woods to cut down a Christmas tree has become a tradition in our family. Choosing a place, digging the sleds out of the shed, packing the hot cocoa and snacks, donning gloves and hats—it is all part of the ritual that reminds us that the holiday season is here.

You can cut down your own Christmas treeThis year we hiked a little way up the George Lake Trail in the Absaroka Mountains. I wanted photos for our holiday card and this spot is quite scenic. We’ve gone to Suce Creek a bunch of times, but we think “our” meadow is pretty cut over. Too many tree-seekers in one spot.

While you can buy a tree at a lot, venturing into the woods for a fir or a spruce can be a rewarding way to spend a December day together. And the best part? You always come home with a prize.


That time in 2015 when we cut down our own Christmas tree.


See other Outdoor Winter Traditions here.


Family hiking in the snow to cut down a real Christmas treeHow Can I Get The Perfect Christmas Tree?

If you choose to embark on a cut-your-own-tree adventure, here’s what you need to know.

Get a permit from the Forest Service office near you. In our corner of Montana, permits are also available at Ace Hardware and other stores and gas stations.

Getting snow out of a child's bootsHow Much Does it Cost to Cut Your Own Christmas Tree?

A Christmas tree permit costs $5 and available in Nov. and Dec. You are limited to two trees per household. That’s substantially less than buying a tree!

Child cutting down a tree in the forestWhere Should I Cut Down a Christmas Tree?

Trees can be cut from anywhere on the National Forest except at campgrounds, trailheads or in plantations. You can get a map or handout with instructions when you purchase the permit.

Drinking hot cocoa while hunting for a real Christmas tree in the forestHow Tall Should My Christmas Tree Be?

Know how tall you want your tree to be before you go. When deciding on the height of your Christmas tree, first determine where it is going to go. Measure that height and take Christmas tree toppers and tree stand into consideration. We like our tree to come close to the ceiling, but not touch it. If you have super high ceilings, you may not want it ceiling-height.

Also, consider that you have to get the tree back to your house on the top of your car or in your truck bed.

In the forest, there isn’t a good reference point for height, so even a ten-foot tall tree looks short. We know that we want a tree about as tall as my husband.

funny family photo for Christmas cardWhere Should I Look For a Christmas Tree?

Choose a location that is open. Trees growing in groves often shed their lower branches; trees growing in the open have a more traditional Christmas tree shape. Ask Forest Service staff to suggest a meadow or clearing the distance from a trailhead that you want to hike or ski.

cutting down a Christmas treeHow Should You Cut a Real Christmas Tree?

Cut the tree 12 inches or less above the ground level. Remove snow around tree base if needed. Cut off live limbs remaining on the stump. You can always cut more off the bottom if needed; it’s poor tree-cutting etiquette to leave a tall stump.

Use a tarp or sled to pull the tree back to your vehicle.

Family photo in the snow with mountains in the backHow Do I Care For a Real Christmas Tree?

When you get your tree home, make a fresh cut on the butt to open up the pores that have been clogged by sap. Cut off at least one-half inch. The fresh-cut surface should be creamy-white, not yellow or brown. If you do not make a fresh cut, the tree will not be able to drink water. Put the tree in water as soon as possible.

Decorate and water daily to keep your tree fresh. Don’t let the water go below the tree’s base.

Keep your tree away from heating vents – the cooler the location, the better.

Christmas tree on top of a carHow Long Does a Real Christmas Tree Last?

Your Christmas tree should last 4-6 weeks if cared for properly. The good news is that when you cut your own tree, it should last longer than one from a tree lot since the cut is fresh.

How do you cut down a real Christmas tree from the forest? Come with us and we will show you how to: get a permit, cut the tree, and take care of it. How do you cut down a real Christmas tree from the forest? Come with us and we will show you how to: get a permit, cut the tree, and take care of it.

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