Forget the parking lot at Home Depot. We know nothing solidifies Christmas like selecting a sweet-smelling Colorado Blue Spruce and hacking it down with your own sweaty bare hands and a rusty saw. But maybe this year, save the savageness and opt for protecting our National Forests instead. We know fake trees are for wusses, so don’t fret. You can still post that lumberjack pic on Instagram and not upset your local park rangers.
Technically, it is legal to cut down a tree in Colorado and take it home to smother in ornaments and tinsel, but that doesn’t mean you should head out into the forest with the intention to kill. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Forest Service outlines boundaries in 11 national forests and two national grasslands in Colorado on this handy map and requires Christmas tree hunters to obtain a legal permit before cutting down their tree. Each region has different permit costs, open dates for cutting and general guidelines, but you’re in luck. We did the research for you. Here are some of the best cut-your-own-tree spots in Colorado that include tree farms and designated park areas where it’s okay to be picky.
Some Basic Rules for Cutting Your Own Tree in the Wild:
- No chainsaws allowed. Use a small handsaw.
- No pets.
- No cutting off just the treetops. That’s rude.
- Leave trees with blue paint alone.
- Only cut trees with a diameter of six inches or less.
- Cut the trunk within six inches of the ground below branches.
- Take or scatter any tree remains you don’t need.
- Leave no trace!
CreekSide Tree Nursery
Where: 6932 N. 95th St., Niwot
When: Friday, November 23 through Sunday, December 23, 2018
Cost: Starting at $20 (price depends on size)
The Lowdown: Fans of the charming nursery in Boulder might not know that CreekSide Tree Nursery also has TWO hidden Christmas tree forests at a second farm location in Niwot. The “Cut-Your-Own-Tree Experience” gives visitors the options of choosing and cutting down a locally grown tree from the Spruce Forest, or better yet—harvesting a fir tree shipped from North Carolina or Oregon that has actually been replanted in the ground at the CreekSide Christmas Tree Forest. Each option promises a picturesque Christmas tree to prominently showcase in your home that will be much prettier than your friends’ fake trees from Walmart.
Christmas Tree Train
Where: Durango, Colorado to Cascade Canyon (“North Pole”)
When: November 24 and 25, December 1, 2, 8 and 9, 2018
Cost: $69 for standard adult reservation plus $8 tree permit
The Lowdown: If you’re looking for a truly original tree-cutting experience, check out the Christmas Tree Train. Colorado is home to some truly beautiful species of conifers, so the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad decided to let one of its trains allow passengers to journey into Cascade Canyon in the San Juan Mountains and cut down small white fir trees and bring them home on the train. It’s not bad for the environment either. By removing a tree, you are actually preventing wildfire danger along the railroad. Trees cut down can be up to 20 feet tall. Once in the canyon, you can also enjoy a hot beverage and warm up by the fireplace near the gorgeous Animas River.
Elk Creek Cutting Area
Where: Elk Creek Cutting Area in Sulphur Ranger District near Fraser and Winter Park. See map.
When: Permits available now. Cutting from December 1 – 8, 2018.
Cost: $20 per tree. Get your permit at select listed locations.
The Lowdown: Head to this popular ski area to find your perfect dream Christmas Tree at this special cutting area located in Grand County. Available for visitors during the first week in December, the Elk Creek Cutting Area has lots of trees to choose from and isn’t far from Denver, making it the perfect way to spend a Saturday before the holidays hit. Make sure you read these guidelines before you plan your trip.
Red Feather Lakes
Where: Red Feather Cutting Area in Canyon Lakes Ranger District near Red Feather Lakes. See map.
When: Permits available starting Monday, November 26. Cutting from December 1 – 9, 2018.
Cost: $20 per tree. Cash only. Get your permit at 2150 Centre Ave., Building E, Fort Collins.
The Lowdown: Tree hunters in the Fort Collins area can search for the perfect tree in Red Feather Lakes after obtaining a legal permit during the first week of December. There are several miles of roads you can travel on in a 4WD vehicle throughout the perimeter of this district and choose from some lovely (and approved) trees. Make sure you read these guidelines before you plan your trip.
Pikes Peak Cutting Area
Where: Pikes Peak Cutting Area in Pikes Peak Ranger District near Woodland Park.
When: Permits available starting Monday, November 26. Cutting through December 14, 2018.
Cost: $20 per tree. Cash and check only on weekends. Get your permit at Woodland Park Work Center, 1408 Rampart Range Rd., Woodland Park.
The Lowdown: In Woodland Park outside Colorado Springs, you can cut down a Christmas tree without hiking far from your car. Just cut down one of the trees on the side of the road. There are many species of pine and spruce trees in this area, but the Douglas firs have been damaged by worms. Nevertheless, this is a great place to take home a tree that is 100 percent approved by the National Forest Service. Make sure you read these guidelines before you plan your trip.
Covered Bridge Ranch
Where: 17249 6250 Rd. (Dave Wood Road), Montrose
When: Friday, November 23 through Thursday, December 20, 2018
Cost: Prices depend on tree size.
The Lowdown: If you want a large Christmas tree, you have to travel to Montrose to get it. The Covered Bridge Ranch specializes in oversized Christmas trees and lets you cut your own at the 300-acre estate. With a scenic covered bridge, Christmas carriage pulled by Clydesdales and giant species of spruces, pines and fir trees, the Covered Bridge Ranch experience is a magical moment for those seeking the perfect holiday memory. You can also visit the wreath decorating shop, attend a marshmallow roast, go on a hayride and pet farm animals.
White River National Forest
Where: Select locations in White National Forest near Aspen, Blanco, Dillon, Eagle and Rifle.
When: Permits available now. Cutting window based on location.
Cost: $10 per tree. Get your permit at select office locations or mail in an application to:
Attention: Front Desk
900 Grand Ave.,
Glenwood Springs, CO 81601.
The Lowdown: The White River National Forest actually has numerous areas allotted for tree cutting and you can receive your permit by mail for a no-hassle experience. As one of Colorado’s most beloved national forests, be wary when making your selection and leave no trace after you chop down a tree. Make sure you read these guidelines before you plan your trip and see maps of approved locations.