A Guide to Cutting Down Your Own Christmas Tree in the Northern California Wilderness

It’s that time of year again. With the holiday season upon us in Northern California, it’s time to knock the dust off your Christmas decorations and begin preparing for America’s favorite holiday.

The centerpiece for any Christmas-decorated home is a tree, a time-honored tradition that is all that much better if you cut it down yourself. While going to a tree farm is a suitable option for anyone looking for a quick fix, there’s nothing like heading out into the NorCal wilderness to find the perfect tree for your home.

In NorCal, the National Forests provide permits for Christmas trees during the holiday season, and with one you can choose your own amidst a vast and wild forest. The permits are only $10 but get them soon before they sell out. Here’s a map of the National Forests in California for reference:

Remember, permits do not authorize cutting on private land. Please be respectful of private property. Follow the maps and be sure you are on the forest. The maps are part of the permit and are required to be in your possession when searching for and bringing home your tree.

Here’s a list (click to be directed to their resources) to where you can get your permit and cut down your Christmas tree in the National Forests of NorCal:

Shasta-Trinity National Forest

Mendocino National Forest

Klamath National Forest

Six Rivers National Forest

Modoc National Forest

Lassen National Forest

Plumas National Forest

Tahoe National Forest

El Dorado National Forest

Here are some helpful tips for your tree cutting adventure:

  • Do not cut on private land or in Wilderness areas. 
  • Do not cut in active timber sales. 
  • Do not cut trees within 100 feet of the outer edge of a designated road
  • Do not cut trees within 100 feet of an administrative site, developed recreation area, campsite, or day use facility
  • When cutting in the Shasta Zone, of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, be aware of an area closed to cutting that is identified on a supplement to the Shasta Zone East Half Christmas Tree Cutting Map. The supplement is part of the permit.
  • When cutting in the Shasta Zone, of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, do not cut within plantations. Not all plantations are signed, it is the permittee’s responsibility to ensure they are not cutting in a plantation.
  • When cutting in the Weaverville area, do not cut the Giant Sequoia trees located at Slate Creek, Tannery Gulch Campground, Mule Creek Station, or on Guy Covington Road. These trees were planted for roadside beautification in the early 1960’s.

Selecting Your Tree

  • There is a limitation on the size you are permitted to cut. See below to help you measure and choose a tree that meets your permit’s guidelines. 
  • Stump height: 12 inches maximum, remove all live branches from stump.
  • Stump diameter: 6 inches maximum measured at ground level.
  • Take the whole tree, do not remove only the tree top.
  • If there is snow on the ground, remove it from around the stump. This will help you accurately measure the stump and tree height.

How to Plan Your Trip

  • You must print and bring your Christmas Tree Permit with you. Shasta-Trinity National Forest Christmas Tree cutting maps are available at Forest offices, during normal business hours, and can be downloaded from the forest website or on the Avenza app.
  • Before you leave home be sure to measure the space where you plan to place the tree in your home (height and width), and measure the space in your vehicle where you will be transporting the tree.
  • Cell service may be spotty or unavailable. Be sure someone knows where you are and when to expect you back. Check the latest weather conditions, forest warnings and road closures before you leave on your trip. Bring a map with you. Don’t rely on GPS because it may not be up-to-date with forest service roads. Dress warmly and take extra dry clothes. Expect winter weather, including cold temperatures, snow and winds. Bring plenty of food and water with you as well as an overnight survival kit in case you become stranded. Start your day early. Be sure to find your tree and leave the woods before dark.
  • Roads may not be plowed. Carry tire chains, shovel(s) and a tow chain. Be sure your vehicle has a full tank of gas. Bring a spare key and give it to someone else in your party. Don’t get locked out of your car! Park in areas so that traffic can get by safely, and do not block gates.

Helpful Cutting Tips

  • Carefully carry your tree out of the woods, dragging the tree will rub off needles and bark. 
  • If the tree is too big to transport inside of your vehicle, and must be transported outside the vehicle, wrap it in canvas to prevent wind damage. 
  • Once home, cut the bottom of the trunk off and place the freshly cut trunk in a bucket of water. Replenish water. 
  • If storing your tree outside for a few days before putting it in the house, keep it in an area protected from the wind, such as the north or east side of your house or under a shaded tree.
  • Tools you might want to consider bringing with you include a measuring tape, to ensure you select a tree that fits in your home, a handsaw to cut your tree, gloves to protect your hands, boots to protect your feet, a tarp to sit on and/or to move your tree once it’s cut, and rope, or straps, to secure your tree to your vehicle.
  • Choose a tree from a dense forested area this will give the remaining trees more space to grow.

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