Pine-ing for a tree-mendous Christmas? Spruce up your holiday decor. Celebrate the holidays outside by harvesting your own Christmas tree.
Terrible puns aside, finding your own Christmas tree is an adventure you’ll never forget. And choosing a real tree over an artificial one is also a gift to the planet. Even the United States Forest Service agrees, writing on its site, “By cutting your own tree, you take an active part in managing your national forests!”
Fir, pine, spruce, cypress, cedar—trees traditionally used for yuletide cheer provide a home to wildlife, filter air, and prevent soil erosion as they grow. Harvesting your own tree from the forest gives remaining trees breathing room to thrive. By freeing up access to water, nutrients, and sunlight, thinning the forest reduces stress and improves resiliency to disease, insects, and wildfire.
Supporting your local tree farm is always a viable option. But if you want to inject adventure into your holiday decor, go find a tree of your own. Grab your skis, snowshoes, or sled, a hot thermos, and a hand saw. Here’s how to find your own Christmas tree.
1. Find Your Forest
Many national forests around the US let you cut your own Christmas tree. Find a participating national forest near you at recreation.gov. You may need to purchase a permit for a nominal fee, which you can do on rec.gov as well. While you’re there, check your forest’s tree-cutting guidelines to keep the Christmas elves happy.
2. Hone Your Zone
O’er the fields we go! Now that you have a forest in mind, pull out the maps and make a game plan to get there. Gaia GPS provides several specific maps that will help you pinpoint where to find the perfect tree.
Find Seasonally Open Roads
Start by opening Gaia GPS. Select the Gaia Overland map as your base map. Overlay Gaia Overland with the MVUM map. Use these two map sources to see which roads are seasonally open in your national forest of choice. If there’s snow on the ground, bring snowshoes or backcountry skis to venture off the beaten path in your search for the optimal tree.
Spot Snowmobile Trails
If you have a snowmobile, you can head even deeper into the forest beyond the reach of plowed roads. Select Gaia Winter as your base map, and add the Snowmobile Trails map if you’re in the US, or the BRMB Snowmobile Trails map if you’re in Canada. Use these maps to find groomed roads and trails, as well as roads open to sleds.
Stay on Legal Ground
No grinches allowed this Christmas. To ensure you stay on public land and away from persnickety land owners, add the Public Land and Private Land maps. Use these maps to plot how to access national forest without trespassing.
Size Up Your Prize
And finally, find the ideally sized Christmas tree by adding the Timber Harvests map from the USFS. Timber harvests in the five-to-10-year-old range should lend way to young trees of ideal Christmas tree heights. Tap on green highlighted regions to see what year that area was forested.
Ho Ho Ho! Offline
Once you’ve mapped your tentative route, download your base map. Taking your maps offline means you can follow your route and find your way home—even without cell service.
3. Record Your Tree Tracks
Before heading out on your adventure, choose an opportune weather window. Tap on the map to see the forecast from OpenSnow. When it’s time to head out the door, record your tracks in Gaia GPS. That way you’ll leave a breadcrumb track in the app that you can follow to find your way home. Plus, you can follow your tracks when you go Christmas tree hunting next year. Don’t forget to drop a waypoint to mark where you found your tree!
Some general tree-cutting rules to keep in mind:
- Use a handsaw. Chainsaws are generally not permitted.
- Do not top the tree.
- Cut below the lowest live limb. Leave stumps no higher than six inches.
- Avoid damage to other trees.
- Once the new year rolls around, give your tree the proper disposal it deserves. Use your tree for wood chips, compost, mulch, or firewood.
Bundle Up with Gaia GPS Premium Powered By Outside+
Unlock all of these Christmas-tree-finding maps by upgrading to Gaia GPS Premium with Outside+. Premium also lets you download your maps for offline use so that you can find your way even without cell service. Plus, get the most out of the app by taking our masterclasses on Outside Learn. Tap into our holiday savings when you purchase on the web.