Getting a Permit, Cutting Down Your Tree, and Bringing It Home For The Holidays

The holidays are coming and, whether you’re ready or not, Christmas tree time is here! This post will help you navigate the process of getting a permit to cut down your own tree in the Denver metro area. We’ll also take a look at where we can find trees in the wild and how to spot an evergreen that’s safe to bring home for the holidays.

Where Are the Best Places to Chop Down Wild Christmas Trees In Colorado?

A number of trees are native to Colorado, including spruce and fir. The mountains surrounding Denver offer some excellent spots for finding evergreens that will make great Christmas tree specimens! Taller pine varieties can be found in the higher elevations near Golden Gate Canyon State Park, and firs grow well on the west side of Mount Evans.

Of course, going on an adventure through a snow-covered wood to discover the perfect tree sounds incredible- but is it legal? Yes, you just need to know how to go about it. 

Turns out, the U.S. Forest Service is on a mission to get more people onto public lands. As a result, they began an annual tree-cutting program in the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forest in 1978. Since then, more and more forests joined in each year.  

There are several national forest areas in the Denver Front Range area to choose from. Maps to the different cutting areas are available where permits are sold. Start your Christmas tree hunting adventure at any of these great destinations:

Pike and San Isabel National Forests

  • South Platte Ranger District
  • Leadville Ranger District
  • Salida Ranger District
  • Pikes Peak Ranger District
  • San Carlos Ranger District
  • South Park Ranger District

Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests

  • Canyon Lakes Ranger District: Red Feather Lakes
  • Sulphur Ranger District
  • White River National Forest
  • White River National Forest Christmas Tree information

Cutting a wild tree is not exactly a walk in the park. You really have to dress and pack appropriately.  So, what should you bring with you? Well, besides your saw and gloves (which are pretty much a necessity) here’s the list.  Remember, the tree will be heavy so pack carefully.

  • Walking stick 
  • Extra water 
  • backpack to carry your gear 
  • extra food and snacks for energy 
  • snowshoes 

During the holiday season, most of the access roads in the cutting areas will not be plowed or will be closed to motor vehicles. Therefore it’s strongly recommended that you bring some snowshoes and come dressed for winter weather! 


Getting a Permit & Tree Cutting Policies

The first step is to get a permit on the National Forest. Ugh! Doesn’t obtaining a permit mean complicated forms and long lines? Nah, it is actually super easy. Not a pain at all! You can simply purchase them for $20 at any office of the U.S. Forest Service in Colorado, and they’re typically good from November 27th through December 25th. 

Next comes cutting down your tree! Make sure you obey all rules and regulations as you go about this task. The ranger station or visitor center should be able to provide you with all the info you need. 

You can use a handsaw or an electric saw, but no gas-powered tools!  Also, you’re only allowed to cut your tree as far as 25 feet from the road. That means no wandering off into the middle of the wood. Most areas require that trees be under six inches in trunk diameter and cut six inches or less from the ground.

You’ll want to ensure that you get your tree home safely so it doesn’t break or fall apart while in transit! Use a rope and harness to secure the trunk of the tree with the truck bed. Make sure there are straps around each individual branch on both sides of the tree too. The permit you purchased ahead of time needs to be attached to the trees that you take out. 

Finally, it is time for some fun and relaxation! After cutting down a Christmas tree or two, bring them home and enjoy with friends and family around a warm fire with a cup of hot chocolate in hand of course. 

Here’s a recap of the important guidelines from the Forest Service to help you plan accordingly:

  • Cut a tree that is 6 inches or less in diameter.
  • No chainsaws; handsaws only.
  • Snowmobiles, ATVs, or other off-road vehicles are prohibited.
  • Some areas require four-wheel-drive vehicles or chains. Check with the area you are choosing.
  • Cutting trees marked with blue paint is prohibited.
  • Cut trees within 4 inches of the ground, below all live limbs; Take the whole tree with you.
  • Pets must be on a leash with their owners.
  • Stay off private property.
  • Observe designated entry times for the area you choose.

Is Cutting a Wild Denver Christmas Tree Bad for the Environment? 

Contrary to what your first instincts may be telling you, cutting down a Christmas tree from a national forest is actually helpful to the environment! This program helps to selectively clear undergrowth in areas planned for thinning to reduce the risk of fires. These areas are also at risk for beetle infestation, which can kill entire stands of trees.

Another reason that the national forests provide a supply of Christmas trees to holiday shoppers every year is that this program reduces competition among seedlings and encourages new growth in younger trees. So let that put all your anxiety at ease! Cutting a wild tree is forest ranger approved and recommended.

Which Denver Tree Species Make Great Christmas Trees?

Cutting down a live tree is a commitment! Make sure you do you research and know exactly which tree species you’re looking for. Not every tree is suitable for bringing home for the holidays. 

Here are our best picks and Denver favorites for wild cut Christmas trees: 

If you’re looking for a Colorado native, choose the blue spruce. It has needles that are green on top and silvery underneath – giving them a two-toned appearance – and they have a very sharp point at the end of each needle. This makes it easy to decorate with lights as well! Another bonus is that these sturdy trees also come in different shapes for you to choose from.

The Norway spruce is another great choice for your family Christmas tree.  They have a classic pine tree appearance and are easy to identify because the needles grow from all sides of their branches. These trees can be found throughout Colorado, so you’re sure to find one close by!

If neither of these two sounds like they would work for your family’s holiday celebration, try out a Douglas fir instead. They come in medium-large sizes and will really make a marvelous statement in a grand entryway or living room. These trees are also very sturdy and can hold a lot of decorations. 

How Long Will My Wild Cut Christmas Tree Last?

You’ve found the perfect tree, it’s cut and on the way home. Now what? If properly cared for, a fresh-cut wild Christmas tree will last for four to five weeks. Here are some quick tips for keeping your tree in tip-top shape:

If you’re looking to decorate the tree right away, make sure it’s not too fresh. You want your tree to be at least three days old so that all of the needles are firmly attached and don’t fall off with minimal handling. 

  • Make sure it is watered daily.  
  • Keep your tree in a cool room away from direct sunlight, heat vents and fireplaces. 
  • Do not put it under lights or near radiators as this can dry out the tree quickly. 
  • Don’t use nails on the trunk to hang heavy decorations as you could damage it! Use small hooks instead for lightweight items only.

Since you are getting a real tree this year, make sure it is well hydrated. Keep the water level high at all times and never let the base of your Christmas tree sit in stagnant or standing water! This can kill off parts of your root system which will affect how long your trees stay fresh.

Proper Christmas tree watering is a must. A dehydrated Christmas tree can actually be dangerous! Christmas tree fires can occur when a tree has become too dry and brittle due to a lack of watering. Combined with the heat from Christmas lights, it is a recipe for disaster. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, about one quart of water is needed for each inch of the trunk’s diameter. For most trees, this means a gallon or more of water each day!

Get Out And Make Memories

It won’t be quick or easy, but exploring one of Denver’s U.S. forests on a quest to find the perfect Christmas tree is sure to make amazing memories! You’ll get exercise, time to bond with family, and a one-of-a-kind tree with a story behind it. Enjoy Colorado’s incredible U.S. forests and don’t forget to bring the camera!