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Let's Get Out There: Harvesting Christmas trees on national forest land

Looking for a different experience when choosing a Christmas tree this year? The U.S. Forest Service has a permit system allowing you to find a tree in the forest.

LEWIS COUNTY, Wash. — In this week's Let's Get Out There, we head to the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, where a U.S. Forest Service program allows you to pick your own Christmas tree in designated places.

The calendar has flipped to December which means many are looking for the perfect Christmas tree. At Oldman Pass Sno-Park in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest (GPNF), you can do more than recreate, and that’s a good thing, because there’s no snow yet.

“There's really something for everybody out here,” said Gala Miller, public affairs officer for GPNF.

Eventually, the parking lot will fill with people looking to enjoy the sledding hill and trails for snowmobiling and cross-country skiing. But before the snow comes, we’re on the hunt for something else.

Credit: Jon Goodwin, KGW

“This time of year, a lot of people are thinking about getting a Christmas tree and there are certainly options closer to home,” said Miller. “But if you are feeling adventurous, and want a little family outing, coming out onto national forest lands to harvest your own Christmas tree is a really fun thing to do.”

To some, this sounds like a great idea. Before you get to cutting, make sure you’re prepared.

“If you would like to harvest your own tree, you will need to get a permit. They are only $5 per tree. You can have five up to five trees per person,” Miller said.

Credit: National Forest Foundation

Permits are available at Forest Service offices, certain local vendors, and online through recreation.gov. If the price compared to traditional Christmas tree farms has you attention, Miller says forest roads aren't plowed every day so be ready.

“Make sure you have prepared for winter conditions and winter driving. So bring some extra warm clothing, extra food. A pair of chains or traction device, and maybe a flashlight and a blanket. And never forget to bring a map.”

Credit: Gifford Pinchot National Forest/Avenza Maps

You’ll get a map showing where you can and can’t harvest a tree when you buy a permit, and it can be found on the website as well. Bring tools, gloves, and if you plan on going to higher elevations to find a noble fir or silver fir, you may want to bring a tarp so you can drag the tree back to our car. The Forest Service has specific instructions on how and where to cut a tree, and Miller suggests if you make the trip, enjoy the experience because there are no guarantees on what you’ll find.

“Just remember when trees grow out on in the National Forest, they may not look exactly like the trees that you purchased back home in the Christmas tree lot,” she said. “These trees may look a little bit more Charlie Brown-scraggly, but I think most people, if they put some time into it will find a tree that is perfect for them.”

For "know before you go" information like road conditions, you can contact your local Forest Service office. More criteria including maps, allowed tree height, and harvesting requirements can be found here: 

GPNF Christmas Tree Harvest Info

GPNF Special Forest Products Map via Avenza Maps (free)

Let's Get Out there airs once a week on KGW's 4 p.m. newscast and The Good Stuff, which airs Monday-Thursday at 7 p.m. We're including viewer photos for this series. You can text your photos to 503-226-5088 or post them on the KGW Facebook page.

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