How To Harvest a Christmas Tree in the Willamette National Forest

The Willamette National Forest is a regional treasure. Spanning a scenic 1.6 million acres, the national forest is home to eight protected wilderness areas that showcase sweeping Cascade peak views, towering forests of hemlock and Douglas fir, and countless opportunities for year-round recreation—such as mountain biking, paddling, hiking, and backpacking.

(It’s no wonder, then, that the Willamette National Forest was selected to provide the United States Capitol Christmas Tree in 2018; the 80-foot tribute to Oregon was on display on the West Lawn of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. throughout December 2018.)

One of the national forest’s most treasured wintertime offerings, though, is the chance to cut your own Christmas tree and haul it home. Indeed, each year, families head into the (sometimes snowy) forest to find the perfect tree, cut it themselves, and take it home for decoration and seasonal merriment—all for just $5.

If you’re curious about cutting down your own Christmas tree this season, we’ve put together a guide on doing just that.

Whether you’re an Oregonian or a visitor, our trees are one-of-a-kind. Here’s are six easy steps for harvesting your Willamette Valley tree this year. Be prepared! It’s winter in Oregon—and although the valley doesn’t often get snow, the mountains are likely to have it. Make sure to layer your clothes, and don’t forget the essentials: hats, gloves, saw, straps to secure the tree to your vehicle, and (of course) a camera to document!

Pro tip: The main roads can get snow, so check TripCheck.com to ensure your route is clear. If the roads are snowy, be prepared to drive a little slower—and bring your chains.

Know the rules, and make a plan.

The U.S. Forest Service hosts maps for each of the Willamette National Forest’s ranger districts that show where you can and can’t harvest a tree. (These maps also show wildfire closures, as well.) You’ll also want to steer clear of private land and wilderness areas—and must be at least 300 feet from campgrounds, 100 feet from streams or lakes, and 50 feet of trails and paved roads. Trees can be up to 15 feet tall, as well.

Additional information can be found on Recreation.gov and on the Willamette National Forest’s Christmas Tree Permits webpage.

A snowy Willamette National Forest / Photo by Hallie White

Snag a Christmas Tree Permit

Once you’ve figured out where to go and how to get there, purchase a tree permit on Recreation.gov or from local vendors throughout the Willamette Valley. The permit, which covers one tree, costs only $5! Be sure to print the permit before departing for your trip, as well.

Stay Safe, and Have Fun!

Forest are often narrow and unpaved—so once you arrive, find a safe place to park and make sure other vehicles can pass. Once parked, display your permit on your vehicle’s dashboard.

While searching for the perfect tree, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind: Trees can be cut down if they’re up to 15 feet tall, stumps can be up to 6 inches, and visitors might cut the whole tree. (Also note that cutting whitebark pine, pacific yew, and western white pine is not allowed.)

From there, carefully carry your tree back to the vehicle (making sure not to drag it, if possible—needles and bark can rub off when this happens) and work together to safely secure it. The tree trunk should be at the front of the car with the top and branches directed toward the back, and a permit must be visible when loaded.

Feel like sharing pictures of your tree hunt? We’d love to see them! Use the hashtags #findyourtrail and #findyourtradition on social media, and tag @gowillamettevalley on Instagram.