Get in the holiday spirit the old-fashioned way—by cutting your own Christmas tree. In this guide to Christmas tree cutting along the Front Range, we cover everything you need to know, from when and where to buy permits to the best spots for cutting and what to bring along.
Where to Cut Your Own Christmas Tree
There are five primary Christmas tree cutting areas along the Front Range near the Denver metro area, Fort Collins, and Colorado Springs. Christmas tree permits for most Rocky Mountain Region national forests go on sale in early November; online, mail-in, and walk-in permits are available based on the district. Tree permits are $20 each, with a limit of five trees per household. Note: A permit must be obtained to cut a Christmas tree from a national forest.
Canyon Lakes Ranger District | Fort Collins
Christmas tree cutting is allowed in the Canyon Lakes Ranger District at Red Feather Lakes. Tree cutting is open December 7-15, 2019.
When to Buy Permits: Permits can be purchased online starting November 1, 2019 or in person at the Canyon Lakes Ranger District Visitor Center (2150 Centre Ave., Building E, Fort Collins), weekdays from November 25 to December 13, 2019 (the office is closed on Wednesdays). Permits for Red Feather Lakes are also available for purchase on site the first two weekends in December (cash only). Permits do not sell out at this cutting area.
Sulphur Ranger District | Winter Park/Fraser
The Sulphur Ranger District offers seven Christmas tree cutting areas across Grand County. Tree cutting is open throughout the district from November 1, 2019 through January 6, 2020. The district also offers a special tree cutting area at Elk Creek near Fraser, which is open for a limited time from December 1-8, 2019.
When to Buy Permits: Permits must be purchased in advance. Permits can either be purchased online or in person starting November 1, 2019. In-person permits are available at five locations within Winter Park, Fraser, and Granby (find locations on the district website).
Pikes Peak Ranger District | Colorado Springs
Christmas tree cutting is open in the Pikes Peak Ranger District from December 2-18, 2019.
When to Buy Permits: Permits can be purchased in person at the Pikes Peak Ranger District Office (601 S. Weber St., Colorado Springs), weekdays December 2-18, 2019. Cash permits may be purchased on select weekends, December 7-8 and 14-15, 2019, at the Woodland Park Work Center (1408 Rampart Range Rd., Woodland Park).
South Platte Ranger District | Conifer
There are three Christmas tree cutting area’s in the South Platte Ranger District: Buffalo Creek, Camp Fickes, and Sugar Creek. Tree cutting is open November 29 to December 15, 2019.
When to Buy Permits: Permits must be purchased in advance. Permits may be obtained either by mail or in person. Mail-in permits must be postmarked by November 1; walk-in permits are available at the South Platte Ranger District office (30403 Kings Valley Drive, Conifer) weekdays from November 4-27, 2019. Weekend permits often sell out by mid-November.
South Park Ranger District | Fairplay
The South Park Ranger District allows Christmas tree cutting in a variety of locations within the forest boundary. Maps of recommended tree cutting areas may be obtained at the ranger district office and online. Tree cutting is open November 18 to December 24, 2019.
When to Buy Permits: Permits may be purchased in person at the South Park Ranger District office (320 US Highway 285, Fairplay) or requested through the mail from November 18 to December 24, 2019. Permits do not sell out.
Know What to Cut
Hunting for the perfect Christmas tree is half the fun, but picking the right tree takes time and careful attention. Research the best types of trees to cut before you venture out. Do you want a traditional Douglas fir, or do you mix things up with a ponderosa pine? Whichever you choose, choose a tree from a dense forest area; removing a tree from a dense area will give other trees more room to grow. Look for a tree with a trunk that is six inches or less in diameter, prune the bottom branches for easy access to the trunk, and cut the tree six inches or less from the ground.
Be sure to review the Christmas tree cutting rules and guidelines for your chosen location, as they may vary slightly across the different ranger districts. A permit must be attached to the tree before removing it from the forest.
Don’t Leave Home Without…
Remember: You’re venturing out into the wilderness, which is likely to be snow-packed and cold, so be prepared. Here’s a list of must-haves to bring along on your Christmas tree hunt.
- Christmas tree permit (tag must be attached to the tree before you leave the forest)
- Map of district or forest (available online or at the ranger district office)
- Warm, quick-drying clothes (waterproof pants and jacket, snow boots or waterproof boots, fleece/wool layers, warm hat/beanie, gloves or mittens, etc.)
- Hand saw (chainsaws are prohibited)
- Rope (to secure the tree to your vehicle)
- Water, snacks to fuel the search, and a warm beverage to warm up with afterward
- Four-wheel drive vehicle or chains (required in most tree-cutting areas)
- Full tank of gas
- Shovel (in case there’s a lot of snow around the trunk of the tree)
- Pruning shears (to trim branches from the bottom of the tree)
- Tarp (lay it down while cutting the tree to keep your legs dry or use it to protect your car)
- Sled (to easily pull the tree or tired children)
Your trek will likely take a few hours from start to finish; be sure to get an early start and leave the forest well before the sun goes down.
What to Do When You Get Home
Once you unload your tree, cut about an inch or two from the bottom of the trunk before putting the tree in water. By making a fresh cut you ensure the tree is able to get an adequate amount of water to last throughout the season.