Sure, you can buy a “real” Christmas tree in almost any city or town in the Northeast or an artificial one at virtually any big-box store, but those with an adventurous spirit should consider cutting their own in the White Mountain National Forest. That’s right, for just $5 and some sweat equity, one of the trees that you hiked, climbed, or skied past can be your Christmas tree this year.

Cutting Your Own Christmas Tree

If you want to cut a Christmas tree in White Mountain National Forest, the first step is to secure a permit. Purchase one at the Forest Service offices in Campton, Lincoln, Gorham, or Conway for $5 or buy one online for $7.50. Since most Forest Service offices are closed on the weekends, purchasing online is the way to go for most. (For 2020, all fourth- and fifth-grade students in New Hampshire are eligible for a free tree permit as part of the Every Kid Outdoor Initiative.)

With a permit in hand, equip yourself for the adventure. Start with a handsaw—bow saws are particularly effective at cutting down Christmas trees. (Chainsaws are too, but they’re not allowed.) Since Christmas trees look much smaller in the wild than in your living room, bring a tape measure to help select a properly sized tree. A tape measure also ensures you don’t cut down a too-large tree—you’re limited to trees six inches in diameter at chest height.

Be sure to also pack the normal accessories that accompany a winter adventure in the mountains. For example:

  • Puffy coat
  • Winter boots
  • Traction devices (or, if the snow is deep, snowshoes)
  • Winter hat
  • Gloves (the Black Diamond Dirtbag gloves stand up particularly well to tree work)
  • Headlamp for the early sunsets
  • Small first-aid kit

Round this out with a thermos filled with hot cocoa and a tin of Christmas cookies to add to the festive mood!

Featured Gear

COLUMBIA Men’s Fairbanks Omni-Heat Waterproof Insulated Mid Winter Boots
Comfort and waterproof warmth come together in an athletic-inspired boot for everyday winter adventures. Keep your toes toasty with a combination of lightweight insulation and a thermal-heat-reflective lining, while a waterproof-breathable, seam-sealed bootie construction keeps out snow, slush, mud, and rain.
OUTDOOR RESEARCH Men’s Crocodiles Gaiters
Crocodiles are the original, ultradurable, top-of-the-line waterproof gaiter from Outdoor Research. And because they’re tough as nails, they’ve hardly changed. Keep snow, water, and debris from getting into your boots and keep your feet comfortable. 
EMS Women’s Mercury Gloves
When the mercury’s plummeting, build up your warmth. Packable and quilted like your favorite puffer and reinforced to withstand repeat, everyday wear, the versatile Mercury glove exemplifies adaptability with lightweight PrimaLoft® insulation and a DWR finish. Whether you’re shoveling out your car or snowshoeing the local trails, they’ll keep your hands toasty and dry without compromising your dexterity.

Two other must-haves: a tarp and rope. A tarp keeps the sap off of your prized puffy when carrying the tree to your car and protects your vehicle from the tree when bringing it home. Rope is essential if the tree is riding home on the outside of your car.

Finally, don’t just take your tree and leave. The Forest Service asks that you pack any limb piles so that they’re not more than two feet off the ground and trim the tree’s stump to a height lower than ten inches.

Picking the Perfect Christmas Tree 

The White Mountain National Forest is home to several types of evergreens. Of them, balsam fir and spruce make the best Christmas trees.

  • Balsam firs, a staple of Northeast forests, are distinguished by their two-shaded needles—green on top and silvery on the bottom. They have a great scent and retain their needles for weeks after being cut, but their flexible branches don’t support heavier ornaments.
  • Red spruce are known for their narrow shape, full appearance, appealing fragrance, and firm ornament-friendly branches. Identify them by their dark, shiny, yellowish-green, four-sided needles.

As you search for a tree, beware of hemlocks. In the forest, they look like an idyllic Christmas tree, but they shed their needles shortly after getting cut. It’s also worth noting that the trees you find in the “wild” will look different than the trees sold in town—after all, they haven’t had the benefit of professional shaping or pruning. In other words, prepare yourself for somewhat of a “Charlie Brown” Christmas tree.

*Tip* Trees tend to be fuller at the top than the bottom—you can pick a tree taller than you need (so long as it’s within the Forest Service’s guidelines) and lop a few feet off the bottom to make it fit in your home.

Where in the White Mountains to Cut 

The rules are pretty relaxed on where you can cut your tree in the White Mountains, so try to remember where you saw that perfectly shaped tree this year, or start making notes for next Christmas. Still, there are a few general regulations to follow: tree permits are for personal use, not for resale, and are limited to one per family. Additionally, when cutting make sure you’re:

  • More than 100 feet away from paved roads and 50 feet from dirt roads.
  • More than 100 feet away from campgrounds, picnic areas, trailheads, developed recreation areas, designated wilderness areas, experimental forests, bodies of water, and active timber sales.

Happy tree hunting! If you feel like sharing a special spot for finding a killer Christmas tree, let us know in the comments below.