How to Cut Down Your Own Christmas Tree in Arizona

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2020 has been a crazy year and I know most of us, myself included, desperately want to fill our homes with holiday spirit and make some wonderful memories with our families.

Since there are many traditions we might not get to take part in this year, it’s a great chance to try something new. Even though Arizona doesn’t seem like the most obvious place to go scouting for a Christmas tree and cut one down yourself, you totally can and should!

You’re probably wondering how you even go about doing this, so I’ve got the full scoop on everything you need to know to cut down your own tree and make it a memorable, joy filled day for the whole family.

Getting A Permit

If you’re considering getting a tree this year you’ll need to plan ahead and obtain a permit from the National Forest Service. There are 5 different national forests in Arizona that offer permits, so you will need to decide which one you plan to cut down your tree in. Tree permits are usually released in early to mid-November and are on a first come, first served basis until they’re gone – some ranger districts sell out quickly.

The best part is a Christmas tree permits are only $15! You can get all the details of when/where/how for each forest service below:

Tonto National Forest

Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest

Kaibab National Forest

Coconino National Forest

Prescott National Forest – you must call to purchase.

The best part is that these permits only cost $15! Most ranger districts have a set number of permits they issue, so if you are wanting a tree from a certain forest area, make sure to snag a permit sooner than later.

Bonus: If you have a child in 4th grade, you can get a free Christmas tree permit through the Every Kid Outdoors program

Deciding Where To Get Your Tree

Seeing the list of national forests and ranger districts can be overwhelming (it was for us!). Here’s a few things to consider when deciding which national forest to get your permit:

  • Location: This was our number one deciding factor on where to get our permit, either based on where you live or where you want to drive to – here’s an Arizona forest area map to give you an idea of where each is. If you are planning to spend time in Flagstaff (maybe to play in the snow) and want to get a tree while you’re there, then you’ll want to pick one with a cutting area nearby, like Coconino National Forest. If you want to a short drive from home, the Tonto National Forest is the closest. 
  • Type of tree: This was something I wish I had researched before we went. The first place we stopped to cut down our tree had the ugliest (and I mean really ugly) trees. They looked great from far away, but close up they were not at all what we were hoping for. Once we realized the kind of tree we wanted grew at a higher elevation, we jumped back in the car and found a different spot to cut our tree. This is a good guide for the types of Christmas trees out there

  • Permit Purchasing: Some national forests require you to purchase your permit in person, but others allow you to mail in a form. Permits also sell out quickly in those area closer to the Valley. Depending on how far away that ranger station is you might have to drive a few hours just to get your permit, so how you are able to purchase your permit is definitely something to consider.

Cutting Your Tree

Now that you’ve got your permit in hand, most forests allow you to start cutting sometime around Thanksgiving all the way until December 24th

  • Know where and what kind of trees you’re allowed to cut. Your permit allows you to cut in a designated area, so check your map that shows where those area. They will also give you some additional Christmas tree cutting instructions.
  • Bring supplies to cut down your tree. You’ll need a saw, some thick gloves, a tarp and a rope/strap. Plus some wet wipes for dirty hands and hand sanitizer – that’s the quickest way to get all that sap off your hands!
  • Plan for the unexpected. Weather can turn at a moment’s notice, so it’s a good idea to pack things like a shovel, a blanket or two, water & food, a flashlight, matches, a first aid kit, and even tire chains.
  • While you’re cutting down the tree, let the kids collect pine cones and small branches for decorating.
  • Bring a small lunch or snack to eat while you’re in the forest. We brought along a thermos of hot chocolate and some chewy gingersnap cookies.
  • Make sure to take lots of pictures and/or video of the fun!

Tips For The Perfect Tree

  • Walk around to scope out the area for a bit before deciding on a tree.
  • Bring a tape measure to check the size of the tree to make sure it’ll fit in your house and that fits within the requirements of your permit. Some may have stump requirements in addition to height restrictions.
  • When you’ve found THE tree, make sure you check for things like freshness, spots with no branches, small rodents (not kidding!)
  • Lay down a tarp or cardboard to kneel or lay on to keep your clothes from getting muddy or wet if there’s snow
  • Cut the tree close to the ground and have someone hold the tree away from you as its being cut. If you’ve never cut down a tree before, check out a YouTube video or two so you know the safest way to do it. Remember to stick your tag onto the tree once it’s cut down. 
  • Give the tree a good shake to remove any unwanted debris or bugs
  • Use a tarp to protect your vehicle from sap and to protect the tree from wind during the drive back home. Also make sure it’s strapped down safely.
  • When you get home, cut off the bottom inch of the tree and get it into water as soon as possible. If you can’t bring it inside right away, make sure to store it in the shade.
  • Keep in mind your tree won’t be perfect, but it will probably have a ton of character and lots of amazing memories to go with it!

Make this the year you get a real tree – and go cut it down yourself. It could be the start of a wonderful new Christmas tradition for your family!


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