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How to Cut a Christmas Tree in a National Forest

Tips on how to cut a Christmas Tree in a National Forest and how to get the proper permit.

blue christmas tree branch national forest

Ever dreamed of cutting down your own Christmas tree in a forest like the Griswalds in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation? It’s a dream of many. And it’s so much more exciting than simply going to a Christmas Tree lot and having one put on top of your car.

Did you know that you are allowed to cut your own Christmas Tree in our National Forests? Yep, it’s true!

And it’s so affordable!

If you have a National Forest near you, wherever you might live, you will definitely want to take advantage of the opportunity to cut your own Christmas tree in a forest.

Do You Need a Permit to Cut Down a Christmas Tree in a National Forest?

YES! You absolutely must get a Christmas tree cutting permit to legally cut down a tree in the forest.

Otherwise, it’s illegal to cut down a tree in a National Forest.

Christmas Tree Cutting Area Permit Ocala National Forest

Christmas tree permits are given from November through December. Usually the permitting process starts before Thanksgiving.

Each year the timeframe changes a bit. For 2018, Ocala National Forest started giving out permits around November 19. The permits end around Christmas.

How Do You Get a Christmas Tree Cutting Permit?

Getting a Christmas tree cutting permit was easy for us.

National Forest Christmas Tree Cutting Area Sign on road

Our closest National Forest is Ocala National Forest near Orlando, Florida. My experience is from working with Ocala National Forest. Your experience with a local National Forest could be different.

When I saw online that Ocala National Forest had given out Christmas tree cutting permits the year before, I called the Seminole Ranger District (the ranger station that does the permits) to ask a lot of questions.

They were very nice. And informed me that it’s easy to come into the ranger district and get your permit that day. However, the Seminole Ranger District is closed on weekends because of staffing. And we could only go on a weekend.

So we took advantage of getting a Christmas tree cutting permit by mail.

Getting a Christmas tree cutting permit by mail or at the ranger station requires the same information. As first time Christmas tree permit holders, we had to give them the following details:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Phone number
  • Driver’s license number
  • Vehicle make, model, year and color
  • License plate number
  • List of helpers cutting down the Christmas tree
  • Number of trees we wanted (5 was the limit)

For a mail in Christmas tree cutting permit, we sent in a check to the USDA Forest Service to the address that the Ranger District told us to send it to.

Christmas Tree Cutting Permit Ocala National Forest Map

In less than a week (including Thanksgiving Day and a weekend), we got our Christmas tree cutting permit package in the mail. We got the permit, instructions, and maps of where the designated Christmas tree cutting areas were in the forest.

Where Can You Cut Christmas trees in a National Forest?

While most National Forests allow you to come and cut a Christmas tree, you can’t just go anywhere in the forest to do it.

National Forests allow Christmas tree cutting only in very specific areas. Each year, the area changes.

There are designated Christmas tree cutting areas because the National Forest allows you to come in and help them manage the forest where it is needed. Cutting down a small tree actually helps the forest by allowing the larger trees to grow and thrive.

Christmas Tree Cutting National Forest Permit Sign

The National Forest knows how to manage the forests the best. Therefore, they will designate the areas that need thinning out.

How Much is a Christmas Tree Cutting Permit?

The good news is that cutting a Christmas tree in a National Forest is not only fun, but it’s also cheap!

Our Christmas tree cutting permit was $7 in 2018.

Christmas tree cutting permits generally cost $5-15 depending on where you live.

And you can get a pretty big tree for a very small price.

Tips For Cutting Your Christmas Tree in a Forest

One of the best parts of cutting a Christmas tree in the forest is that you can choose whatever tree you’d like wherever you’d like in the designated area. So you can get whatever you want!

However, with all of the fun and freedom comes some drawbacks, too.

family wearing winter clothes sitting in forest before cutting a Christmas tree

First and foremost, you’ve got to bring all of the tools to the tree to cut it down.

Then you’ve got to get it back to your vehicle!

couple loading a cut Christmas tree into a white truck in a national forest

While it might seem obvious, it’s really a serious issue that you need to consider. How far are you willing to walk with a saw, axe or chainsaw? And how heavy will the Christmas tree be to get it back to your vehicle?

Be sure to bring the following for cutting a tree in the forest:

  • Axe, saw, or chainsaw
  • Tarp for wrapping the tree and/or dragging it through the forest
  • Twine to wrap up the tree branches to get it out
  • Hand wipes to get pine sap off of your fingers

Christmas Tree Cutting Guidelines in a National Forest

These were the guidelines for Christmas tree cutting in a National Forest that we received at Ocala National Forest near Orlando:

  • Keep the Christmas tree cutting permit with you at all times.
  • Cut all stumps to six inches and below.
  • Do not cut only the top of the tree. You must take the entire tree.
  • Trees can be up to 12 feet tall
  • Display your Christmas tree cutting permit on the tree as you are driving out of the forest.

Here’s some more Christmas tree cutting guidelines from the National Forest Service:

How to Take Care of Your Christmas Tree

Cutting down a Christmas tree in the forest will give you a fresh Christmas tree that can last for a while.

You’ve just got to know how to take care of it properly.

  • First, if you are cutting a tree from a natural environment, you will have to be mindful of insects and creatures that could be hiding in the tree branches.

(If you’re thinking of the squirrel scene in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, I’m laughing along with you right now!)

But, it’s true. Using a natural insect killer (such as insecticidal soap or neem oil) would be a wise idea to kill bugs that could be dormant and hiding in the tree branches.

Let the insect spray work at least an hour, and then rinse the tree with a garden hose to knock off any bugs and debris.

  • Make a fresh cut straight across the trunk about 1/4 inch above from the original cut.
  • Immediately place the tree in a Christmas tree stand with water.
  • The tree could absorb a lot of water in the first day. Up to one gallon in the first day and up to a quart of water every day afterwards.
  • Water frequently to avoid needles from drooping and drying out.

christmas tree branches

Cutting A Christmas Tree in Ocala National Forest

Living in Orlando, we didn’t think we’d actually be able to go cut down a Christmas tree anywhere.

We were surprised when we found out that Ocala National Forest offers Christmas tree cutting in the forest.

Christmas Tree Cutting National Forest Sign

We knew we wouldn’t have traditional Christmas tree species to choose from like the rest of the country.

Sand Pine Christmas Tree

But we were surprised by what the Sand Pines looked like when we arrived in Ocala National Forest!

Sand Pine Trees Ocala National Forest Christmas Tree Cutting

Ocala National Forest Sand Pine Tree

Finding the designated Christmas tree cutting area in the National Forest was easy. The maps that Ocala National Forest provided were easy to understand and came with driving instructions.

Sand road on edge ofOcala National Forest Christmas Tree Cutting Area

The sand road was narrow with not a lot of places to park. I wouldn’t have wanted to bring a small car, but it probably would have been fine.

We immediately noticed that the forest was really overgrown and thick with underbrush. It’s a wild, natural forest so this makes complete sense. However, I feel that national forests further up north might not have as much underbrush and overgrowth as Ocala National Forest.

Sand Pine Tree and Saw Palmetto Ocala National Forest

There was lots of cactus, holly and scrub brush around the sand pine trees. Plus ant hills and mosquitoes.

Then it started to rain. And it was 80 degrees.

This WAS NOT your typical Christmas tree cutting experience!

After walking down the side roads surrounding the Christmas tree cutting area, we couldn’t spot any decent trees that we wanted to cut and that would be easy to get to.

Trying to go deep into the forest would have required a lot of protective gear against the cactus and underbrush.

Overall, we were not happy with trying to cut a Christmas tree in Ocala National Forest near Orlando. The trees were not a traditional Christmas tree species and would not have looked good in our home. While they look thick and full from afar, usually the tree was very thin and gangly up close. Several trees were usually growing in the same spot which gives the allusion of one thick, full Christmas tree.

Sand Pine Trees Ocala National Forest Christmas Tree Cutting Area

Plus, the serious underbrush and overgrowth is great for a forest and the animals that live there. But not for trying to chop down a tree and get it out of the forest.

Here’s what cutting a Christmas tree in Ocala National Forest looks like, and the tree that we finally settled on:

More Christmas Ideas

Once you’ve got the Christmas tree, there’s so much more to enjoy during the holidays.

Check out our Christmas DIY ideas for holiday themed gifts and beauty products:

If you’re shopping for Christmas gifts, here’s some great 2018 holiday gift guides:


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