Tips for Locating and Cutting Down the Best Possible REAL Christmas Tree

“It’s coming on Christmas

They’re cutting down trees

They’re putting up reindeer

And singing songs of joy and peace” –Joni Mitchell

Is your family pining to venture north to choose the best Christmas tree possible? Do you have relatives who won’t even consider an artificial tree? Or perhaps you have a fourth grader who is eligible for a free Christmas tree permit through Every Kid in a Park initiative.* 

Whatever your motivation, we’ve compiled a list of locations to find the perfect tree for the season, along with a few tips for your tree trip.

Words of Wisdom:

Tree cutters are reminded to be prepared for sudden weather changes and colder conditions when in high elevations.  A fun family outing can become miserable and even dangerous with a quick change of weather for the unprepared.  The permits expire on December 25; however, forest officials recommend cutting your tree early in the season before the higher elevations are snowbound.  Trees can stay fresh for quite some time if cared for properly.

To help keep your tree fresh, cut two inches from the bottom of your tree when you get home and place it in water.  Keep your tree watered and in a shady spot until you are ready to move it into the house.  Another helpful hint is to bring an old tarp to wrap your tree in.  Then when you drag your tree out of the forest, the tarp protects the tree and helps you avoid breaking branches.  The tarp can also help avoid wind damage on the way home.

More tips:

  • Be sure you understand your permit.
  • Never cut alone. Let someone know where you are planning to cut and what time you expect to return home.
  • Scatter branches and other debris.
  • Cut in only designated or specified areas.
  • Help keep your forests clean, PACK TRASH OUT.
  • Leave gates as you found them.
  • Do not drive off road if ground is soft or wet.
  • Always carry your permit with you.
  • Always be prepared for adverse weather. Bring a cell phone, extra clothing layers, and snacks. A survival kit is always a good idea when traveling in winter.


Coconino County Forest:

Mogollon Rim Ranger District (1 hour south of Flagstaff)

The forest has a limited number of permits available on a first-come, first-served until sold out. Tree cutting season runs November 16 until December 24. Permits cannot be reserved. Last year, all permits sold out within the first week, so we encourage you to purchase your permit as soon as possible. The permit allows you to cut a fir or ponderosa pine tree no more than 10 feet in height within one of the designated areas on the Mogollon Rim Ranger District.

Cost: $15 each, which can be paid for by cash, credit card, or personal check. You may only purchase one permit per household.

Maps for tree cutting areas:

Kaibab National Forest

The Kaibab National Forest will sell online Christmas tree tags on a first-come, first-served basis for each of its three ranger districts beginning Nov. 7 and continuing until they are sold out. There are 1,000 tags total between three ranger districts. The tag is only good for a tree on the ranger district from which it was purchased and can’t be used to cut a tree on a different district unless specifically noted. No refunds will be made, even if weather conditions prevent access to cutting areas.

Cost: The $15 permit will allow the holder to cut a tree of a species that is not more than 10 feet in height within a designated area on the Kaibab National Forest from Nov. 16 through Dec. 24. Purchase  permits well in advance online as no in-person permits will be issued.

Tonto National Forest (outside Payson)

The Tonto National Forest will begin selling Christmas tree permits by phone or requested by mail at Cave Creek, Mesa and Payson ranger districts and at the Supervisor’s Office at the hours and locations listed at the link below.

Permits will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis until they are gone. Customers will be provided a map that shows the designated cutting areas along with additional Christmas tree cutting instructions.  The permit will allow the holder to cut a tree within a designated area between the dates of November 20 through December 24, 2020.

Cost: Each Christmas tree permit is $15 and allows permit holders to cut a tree up to 10 feet tall.

Prescott National Forest

Regular Christmas tree permits are SOLD OUT, but free permits for 4th graders with free Every Kid Outdoors passes are still available.  Visit to get a free Every Kid Outdoors pass, then follow the instructions below to arrange to pick up your Christmas tree permit.

Apache Sitgrave Forest

Christmas tree permit sales and cutting on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests starts on October 15 and ends on December 31, 2020. You can purchase your permits at the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests Supervisors Office and all five Ranger Districts. You can also purchase your permit through the mail.

Cost: Permits are $15 for a tree up to 10 feet tall. For trees over 10 feet, you must contact the Ranger District office to make arrangements. One Christmas tree permit allowed per household.

Helpful video on Christmas Tree Cutting Guidelines:

Christmas Tree Hotline: (928) 333-6229

*4th Grade initiative:

Fourth grade students are eligible for a free Christmas tree permit, while supplies last, through Every Kid in a Park initiative. Every Kid in a Park is a nationwide call to action to build the next generation of conservationists. All fourth graders are eligible to receive a fourth-grade pass that allows free access to federal lands and waters across the country for a full year. In support of this initiative, the Forest Service is making available a free Christmas tree permit to every interested fourth grader with a fourth-grade pass or paper voucher. More information about the initiative and how to obtain a pass is available by visiting To be eligible for a free Christmas tree permit from your local national forest office, all fourth graders must be accompanied by a parent or guardian and present their fourth-grade pass or paper voucher.

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