Cutting down your own Christmas tree is an old holiday tradition that certainly hasn't lost its charm. The process of walking out into the woods, selecting the perfect evergreen, chopping it down, and transporting it back to the car where it gets strapped to the top in the style of National Lampoon's Vacation is an experience that every Christmas lover craves. As simple as it may seem, cutting a holiday tree isn't exactly easy, especially in the state of Arizona, where permits are required.
Where You Can Cut Your Own Tree
While you can't just go wandering into any old forest looking for a hearty ponderosa pine to decorate your living room, people looking to chop their own trees in Arizona do have a few options. Designated, private Christmas tree farms that advertise U-cut services don't require permits, tags, or any of those logistics. However, taking trees from a national forest—although legal—comes with paperwork.
How to Obtain a Christmas Tree Permit
The number of permits that go on sale depends on the forest and the year, but generally, it's about 1,000 per National Forest. They're available from mid-November and they're first-come, first-serve (but beware they go fast). They cost about $15 apiece and only one is allowed per household. While some allow purchase via mail order, others require that you obtain your permit in person, so you may need to pay a visit to one of the ranger stations.
- Tonto National Forest
- Supervisor's Office: 2324 E. McDowell Rd., Phoenix
- Mesa Ranger District: 5140 E. Ingram St., Mesa
- Payson Ranger District: 1009 E. Highway 260, Payson
- Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest
- Supervisor's Office: 30 S. Chiricahua Dr., Springerville
- Alpine Ranger District: 42634 Hwy. 180/191, Alpine
- Black Mesa Ranger District: 2748 E. AZ 260, Overgaard
- Clifton Ranger District: 397240 AZ 75, Duncan
- Lakeside Ranger District: 2022 W. White Mtn. Blvd., Lakeside
- Springerville Ranger District: 165 S. Mountain Ave., Springerville
- Kaibab National Forest
- Supervisor's Office: 800 South 6th St., Williams
- North Kaibab Ranger District: 430 S. Main St., Fredonia
- Kaibab Plateau Visitor Center: Hwy. 67 and 89A, Jacob Lake
- Tusayan Ranger District: 176 Lincoln Log Loop, Grand Canyon
- Williams Ranger District: 742 S. Clover Rd., Williams
- Coconino National Forest
- Supervisor's Office: 1824 S. Thompson St., Flagstaff
- Flagstaff Ranger District: 5075 N. Hwy. 89, Flagstaff
- Blue Ridge Ranger District: 8738 Ranger Rd., Happy Jack
- Prescott National Forest
- Bradshaw Ranger District: 344 S. Cortez St., Prescott
- Chino Valley Ranger District: 735 N. Hwy. 89, Chino Valley
- Verde Ranger District: 300 E. Hwy. 260, Camp Verde
In return, you'll be granted a tag and a map of the designated areas within the forest where you're allowed to cut.
When to Cut
Tree cutting season runs from mid-November, when the permits go on sale, to December 24, Christmas Eve, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Because the traditional firs and ponderosa pines are a commodity in Arizona, it's a good idea to start your search early. Pre-Thanksgiving is not too soon.
What to Do When You Cut Down a Tree
You must only cut firs and ponderosa pines (the traditional Christmas tree fare; you probably won't want another variety anyway) from national forests. You'll be given a map and a factsheet to help you locate the trees that are available. They can reach up to 10 feet, but no taller.
Once you've chosen a tree, a partner should hold the top while another person saws the trunk. Try catching it on a tarp for easy carrying and to protect your car. Make sure to attach the tag that the Forest Service has provided to show that you've purchased a permit. Then, take it home, adorn it in lights and a string of popcorn and admire it with a mug of cocoa in-hand.