Tips for cutting a Christmas tree in Grand County

Local public lands offer plenty of opportunities to find a locally sourced evergreen

Tracy Ross
For Sky-Hi News
A pair of Grand County residents drag a freshly cut Christmas tree through the snow in this 2017 file photo.
Sky-Hi News file photo

It’s the time of year when millions of Americans will drive to parking lots across the country to procure an evergreen tree to fill their homes with the fragrant scent many associate with winter, skiing, caroling and sipping hot cocoa.

Christmas trees are grown on tree farms in all 50 states, including Hawaii and Alaska, but they also grow wild in two national forests around Grand County: Arapaho & Roosevelt and Medicine Bow-Routt national forests. Both forests have released information on how and where to get a tree for the holiday season.

Christmas tree cutting has been a treasured tradition on both forests for many decades, and tree-cutting regulations have been established to maintain a healthy forest environment and sustainable forest management program. Forest officials report that thousands of permits are sold annually.

To obtain a tree-cutting permit, visit and find the ranger district you’d like to cut a tree in. Purchasers are encouraged to carefully read the overview and need-to-know information prior buying their permit. A $2.50 processing fee is applied to each online transaction.

Each permit costs $10 and allows for the cutting of one tree on National Forest System lands, with a five-permit per household limit. Trees must be for personal use, not for resale, and permits from online sales must be printed and displayed on the dash of any would-be lumberjack’s vehicle. Tags purchased in person must be clearly displayed around the stem of the tree before leaving the cutting area.

Some areas of the both forests are off limits to tree cutting or may be difficult to access. Area-specific regulations are available online, and local ranger district offices are often open and able to provide additional information on the local region, including road status and area restrictions.

Tree cutting is allowed across the Sulphur Ranger District with the exception of closure areas, wilderness areas, areas within 1/4 mile of any highways, the Fraser Experimental Forest (accessed via CR 73/NFSR 160), the Winter Park Resort area, and the Berthoud Pass and James Peak Protection Area.

More specific information can be found on the Arapaho & Roosevelt National Forests website.

The Forest Service emphasizes that cutting trees is prohibited in all wilderness areas and developed recreation sites. Forest visitors are also reminded to pay attention to weather forecasts, avoid areas with beetle-killed or fire-weakened trees on high wind days, be aware of their surroundings, and check maps to know their location. Weather conditions can change quickly, and visitors are advised to be prepared by dressing appropriately and having your vehicle equipped adequately with a winter vehicle kit, which includes things like a first-aid kit, emergency blankets or sleeping bags, a flashlight, extra hats and gloves, an ax and shovel, a stove and fuel, and extra food.

Fourth graders with have an Every Kid Outdoors pass are also eligible for a free Christmas tree permit. That can be obtained by entering the pass or voucher number with the permit purchase. Fourth graders can get an Every Kid Outdoors pass at

Whitney McMurry, a spokesperson for the Arapaho & Roosevelt National Forest, also offered a few additional tree-procuring tips:

Get creative when choosing your tree

Know what species of tree you are interested in. If you want that classic Christmas tree look, go for a spruce or a fir. If you want something a little more unique, look for a pine tree. Also, get creative. Harvesting a tree from a national forest is not like getting a tree from a Christmas tree farm. No tree is perfect and sometimes wonky trees make a great Christmas tree that will bring lots of joy through the holidays.

Keep Christmas tree cutting safe

Avoid standing under dead or burned trees. Stay out of recently burned areas. Be sure to look up and be aware that a tree can fall at any time. While cutting, watch your head and step back to give the tree space as it falls.

Tips for traveling safely in winter
  1. Bring layers! The weather can change quickly. The ground will likely be snow-covered so wear appropriate footwear.
  2. Bring a shovel, tow straps, chains, jumper cables and other emergency supplies. Remember that you may not have cell service in the mountains
  3. Bring a map so that you have a reliable way of getting back to your car, especially if you plan on hiking further out.
  4. Give yourself plenty of time to find a tree. Try to be back at your vehicle by 3 p.m. to allow enough time to strap it to your vehicle before dark.

Keep the resource in mind

Don’t cut the top off a tree. Take the whole tree. Cut it as close to the ground as possible.

Try not to cut near other trees that have already been removed by other visitors. Do not cut within 75 feet of any road, trail or all bodies of water.

Some people choose a Christmas tree from a densely forested area to give the remaining trees more space to grow. Follow all road closures, and only cut in permitted cutting areas.

Watch for wildlife

Moose can be a concern — be sure to keep your dog on leash. Be aware of your surroundings.

Extend your Christmas tree’s life

During travel the base of the tree will dry out. Before placing the tree in its stand, be sure to give it a fresh cut at the base to prolong its life. Continue to provide fresh water.

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