For the 50+ Traveler

Cutting your own Christmas tree can be a fun family tradition. And depending on where you live, it may even be as easy as a trip to your local national forest.

According to the American Christmas Tree Association, 77 percent of the U.S. households celebrating Christmas will have a Christmas tree. While 82 percent of those trees were artificial last year, that number stands poised to fall this year.

That’s because large numbers of Americans are now working at home due to COVID-19 and realize they will be home to regularly water a fresh-cut tree. They also increasingly realize that cutting a Christmas tree is an excuse to safely get the whole family out of the house and into the fresh air for a while -- and make some fun memories in the process.

“Getting a real tree involves the choosing, the hunting for it, the family outing,” Marsha Gray, executive director of the Christmas Tree Promotion Board, told the Associated Press. “It really is a memory maker. It’s a day you spend together, and it really becomes much bigger than the tree itself. It’s really making family memories, and people really seem to gravitate to that right now.”

Finding The Right Tree

Once you decide to cut your own Christmas tree, the next step is to figure out where you can -- legally -- cut your own tree. Finding that place may not prove to be as difficult as you may think.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, most national forests allow people to harvest the trees for personal use, including purposes such as firewood and Christmas trees. To cut down a tree, you simply need a Forest Service-issued permit, which ranges from $5 to $25, and varies by forest.

The service is popular, too.

“We sell more than 200,000 tree permits each year,” Babete Anderson, spokesperson for the Forest Service, told USA TODAY.

Before you start to think the practice will lead to the destruction of parts of national forests, keep in mind that the practice is actually good for the forests and has a role in sound forest management.

“The Christmas tree permit program is a tool used in thinning dense, unhealthy stands of trees,” the Forest Service said in a statement. “Forest health experts help identify areas where Christmas trees can be cut, opening up forage for wildlife and allowing the remaining trees to grow larger. This information is used to develop cutting area maps that visitors can use to locate their ideal Christmas tree.”

Buy Your Permit Online For Convenience and Safety

This year, the Forest Service even updated how it handles selling Christmas tree permits. In October, for added convenience as well as to provide an alternative to in-person transactions at offices where staffing may be limited due to COVID-19, the Forest Service moved permit sales to

That said, permits can still be purchased at local offices.

“Whether for the first time or carrying on a time-honored tradition, being able to secure a permit in advance, while learning important details of where and what to cut will simplify this process for visitors,” Rick DeLappe, Recreation One Stop ( program manager, said in a statement.

Pro Tip

While the Forest Service does require people cutting a tree for Christmas to have a Forest Service-issued permit, it also requires them to follow specific guidelines, which may vary from forest to forest.

Fortunately, the Forest Service provides guidelines for cutting a Christmas tree.

Now that you know how to legally cut a Christmas tree in a national forest, have fun making memories with your family.

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