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How to Cut your Own Christmas Tree in Arizona

Being able to hike into the woods to cut down your own Christmas tree is not only memorable, but turns you into a tree snob.  For real, once you have fresh, like super fresh from the woods, you’ll never go back.  I venture to speculate that even the tree farm trees aren’t as amazingly hardy and long-lived in your tree stand; they’ve been bred and fed and watered.  The wild tree you cut, well its accustomed to drought.

This year we cut ours the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and mid-January the thing still isn’t dropping needles.  We don’t have the heart to trash it since it’s still going so strong!  Next year I think we will cut it earlier, bring it in, and just wait to decorate until the season arrives.

First, where can you cut these trees?  The national forests.

Now, how does it work?

1.  WAIT.  The Forest Service won’t usually post details on their website until early November.

2. Call the forest ranger district you are most interested in to finalize details after visiting the websites above.

3.  Buy your permit, either in person or via the mail (be sure to call and confirm addresses and form needed for mail orders).

4.  When you get the permit, you will also get a map showing the region where you can cut the tree.  Each ranger district has unique areas for cutting, so choose the district wisely depending on the trip you are going to take.  You might also want to download the Avenza Maps app, and the cutting maps; this app will pinpoint your location on the cutting map to make sure you are in boundaries.

We bought our permit from the Apache-Sitgreaves NF through the mail.

5. Find your tree!  So, drive out to the forest and pick some dirt roads.  Bring cutting equipment – a small chainsaw is nice, but a hand saw will work fine as well, and measuring tape.  Bring something to tie the tree to your roof.  Also, dress for the weather!  you will need to hike into the woods far enough that you are out of sight of the road or a trail.

We made an adventure of our tree finding by seeing The Thing and Morenci mine along the way.

The southern portion of the Apache-Sitgreaves is a little slim pickings when it comes to Christmas trees, but we spotted a nice clump above the road just before the parking area for Old Highway Trail 301.  We followed the trail for a nice hike a ways back in the forest.

Once we found a few clumps of fir trees, it was hard to choose the best!  We continued to see more just a bit further up the hill, or just past the large pines.  After narrowing the selection down to a few, Bryan measured and we all agreed on one growing beside a big tree.

5. Cut your tree! You may only cut one tree up to 10 ft tall with a 5 inch or smaller diameter at the 4.5 ft high mark; some forests also limit the species. Don’t top a tree; you may only leave a max of 6 inches of trunk left on the ground. Be sure to read the permit information carefully before cutting. Be sure you are in the designated tree cutting area.

Once we found the perfect fir tree, Bryan cut it low and clean with the chainsaw and Avi put our tag on a low branch.

The kids carried it all the way back to the car.  I  carried a big handful of bows to decorate with; the letter indicated this was a fine thing to do, so Bryan cut them from a fallen tree.

Back at the car, we wrapped the tree in a blanket to protect it along the freeway home, then tied it securely to the roof. At home, we immediately put it in the water filled tree stand and waited a day to decorate.

A natural tree has its own perfect beauty!  Not a full fat farm variety, but certainly a more traditional look. Plus, it has lasted nearly two months with no needles falling!


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