We tromp through the snow somewhere along Rampart Range Road on the sunniest December day in the forecast. The kids’ Santa hats bob as they run ahead. We don’t go far. We’re not looking for the biggest Christmas tree. It won’t be stately or perfectly shaped, but it doesn’t matter.
Snow angels are made. Snowball fights break out. I inevitably end up with a face-full of snow as we wrestle and roll. After briefly comparing a few conifers, we take turns sawing through the trunk and snapping photos. Then we take hold of each end and carry our evergreen quarry out by hand.
Soon it will stand again, dressed in classic white lights, but first we stop in Woodland Park for hot chocolates for the road home. Sometimes the best holiday traditions just happen because they are where you want to be, together, year after year.
How to Get Your Christmas Tree Permit
Christmas tree permits for the Pike and San Isabel National Forest go on sale Nov. 26, 2021, with cutting dates through Dec. 15, 2021. Fees are $20 per tree, with a limit of five per household.
Fourth-graders with an Every Kid Outdoors pass are eligible for a free Christmas tree (along with free access to all National Parks!).
This year’s cutting area includes land north of Divide and northwest of Woodland Park, but not off of Rampart Range Road near Lovell Gulch. You can download a map with your permit.
All Christmas tree permits must be purchased online at recreation.gov.
What to Know Before You Cut Your Own Christmas Tree
- Make sure you print and display your permit on the dash of your vehicle while cutting your tree.
- Bring a hand saw to cut your own Christmas tree. Chainsaws or power saws are not allowed.
- A few other helpful tools you may want to bring are gloves, boots, tarp and ropes. A tape measure can be handy to make sure that stately tree will actually fit inside your home.
How Big Can You Go When You Cut Your Own Christmas Tree?
- Forest Service guidelines allow you to cut a tree up to 15 feet tall or 6 inches in diameter at ground level. Plus, remember that you have to carry and transport that evergreen bad boy—so make sure it fits in your house.
- Choose a tree from a densely forested area to give the remaining trees room to grow larger and promote healthy forest growth.
- Cut the whole tree at the base. No tree topping is allowed.
- Remember that forest service roads may not be plowed. Four-wheel drive or snow chains may be needed.
- Plan for winter weather and be prepared for conditions to change quickly.
Find all of the official guidelines and purchase tree permits at recreation.gov.