National Forests in Michigan Will Let You Cut Down Christmas Trees for Cheap – or Give You One for FREE if You’re in 4th Grade
Most people don’t realize that the U.S. Forest Service will let you legally cut down a Christmas tree as long as you have a $5 permit.
In fact, they’re even giving 4th graders a free Christmas tree this year, as long as they are part of the national Every Kid Outdoors program.
Read on to find out how you can bring home an “almost free” Christmas tree this year. (Who knows, you might just have a Clark Griswold experience.)
Table of Contents
How Christmas Tree Permits Work
Christmas Tree permits are available from the offices of the Huron-Manistee National Forests, the Ottawa National Forest offices, and the Hiawatha National Forest offices in Michigan.
Each permit is $5.00 and good for one tree. Each household is limited to (3) trees.
Christmas Tree permits are available until the last day offices are open before Christmas and can be obtained in person or online.
Getting a Christmas Tree Permit In Person
Huron-Manistee National Forest: (Lower Peninsula) Each holiday season, the Huron-Manistee National Forests offers members of the public the opportunity to harvest Christmas Trees from federal lands. To take advantage of this opportunity, users can purchase a Christmas Tree Permit in person at one of their offices. Be sure to call ahead to check the hours at the ranger office before heading out.
|Supervisor’s Office||1755 S. Mitchell St., Cadillac, MI 49601||(231) 775-2421|
|Mio||107 McKinley Rd. Mio, MI 48647||(989) 826-3252|
|Huron Shores||5761 N. Skeel Rd.,Oscoda, MI 48750||(989) 739-0728|
|Cadillac-Manistee||1170 Nursery Road, Wellston, MI 49489||(231) 848-7090|
|Baldwin/White Cloud||650 North Michigan Ave., Baldwin, MI 49304||(231) 745-4631|
Hiawatha National Forest: (Upper Peninsula) To obtain a permit, in the form of a “tree tag” ($5), call your local Ranger District office. Along with your permit you will receive tree-cutting guidelines, information regarding cutting areas, and suggestions for flame-proofing your tree. Be sure to call ahead to check the hours at the ranger office before heading out.
|Munising||n8391 Sand Point Rd, Munising, MI 49862||(906) 387-2512|
|Rapid River||8181 US-2, Rapid River, MI 49878||(906) 474-6442|
|St Ignace||W1900, US 2, St Ignace, MI 49781||(906) 643-7900|
Ottawa National Forest: (Upper Peninsula) A permit is required for each tree cut and removed from National Forest land. You may obtain a permit from any Ottawa National Forest office for $5. Be sure to call ahead to check the hours at the ranger office before heading out.
|Supervisor’s Office||E6248 US HWY 2, Ironwood, MI 49938||(906) 932-1330|
|Kenton||4810 E. M28, Kenton, MI 49967||(906) 852-3500|
|Ontonagon||1209 Rockland Road, Ontonagon, MI 49953||(906) 884-2085|
|Watersmeet/Iron River||E23979 US 2 East, Watersmeet, MI 49969||(906) 358-4551|
How to Buy Christmas Tree Permits Online
Purchasing permits online continues this year.
Christmas tree permits are available online at Recreation.gov through Dec 31, 2021, for $5.00 per tree plus a reservation fee of $2.50.
If you have a 4th grader, you will be asked to provide your Every Kid Outdoors Voucher or pass number.
Online Purchase Links
Be sure to buy a permit for the specific National Forest where you will be cutting your own Christmas Tree.
If you are not sure which National Forest is closest to you, look in the next section for a map.
Need gift ideas for kids & adults in Michigan?
Try our holiday gift guide on for size!
Where the National Forests in Michigan are Located
You can find a National Forest near you by using this handy map.
The Huron-Manistee National Forest is located in the Lower Peninsula, while the Upper Peninsula is home to the Hiawatha National Forest and Ottawa National Forest.
Zoom in on the location you’re interested in and a link to that specific national forest will appear.
Before cutting down a Christmas tree make sure that you verify you are on national forest service land.
Harvesting Your Christmas Tree
Cutting down your almost free Christmas tree in a National Forest is a lot different than going to your local Christmas Tree Farm.
For starters, you need to know where you should go. The last thing you want to do is cut trees down from someone’s private property.
If you visit a ranger’s office in person to pick up your permit, they can help you determine where the tree cutting locations are. If you decide to get a Christmas Tree permit online, you’ll need to decipher the maps provided by the National Forestry Service.
Hiawatha Christmas Tree Cutting Rules
- Do not harvest a tree from a plantation, timber sale areas, Big Island Wilderness, Rock River Canyon Wilderness, or adjacent to roads, lakes, campgrounds or other developed or dispersed recreation sites.
- Cut only Balsam and Spruce – NO PINE
- Do not cut trees over 20 feet
- Do not top off (cut a large tree simply for the top)
- Do not cut any tree within 100 feet of a lake
- Only one tree may be harvested per tag. Each tree must be tagged prior to transport.
- Stumps must be cut lower than 12” from the ground
- All branches left will be cut to lie within 1 foot of the ground.
- All slash from the cutting must be removed from the cleared portion of roads or trails.
- Make SURE you are on Hiawatha National Forest land when you cut your tree! Check a map!
Huron-Manistee Christmas Tree Cutting Rules
- Each tag is good for one tree.
- You can cut any type of live conifer that is located in an area open for cutting.
- Tress can’t be taller than 20 feet.
- No topping trees; (i.e. no cutting the top 10 feet off of a 30-foot tree).
- Don’t leave a stump larger than six (6) inches off the ground.
- A valid permit MUST be attached to each tree before it is removed from the site at which it is cut and MUST remain on the tree in transit
- Make sure you are on National Forest System lands.
- Respect private property owners by not trespassing.
- Permits are not valid in timber sale areas or within 150 feet of any recreation sites.
Christmas Tree Cutting Supply Checklist
This is a completely DIY experience, so you need to bring all of the gear needed to cut your own Christmas tree – and get it home. Use this as your packing list before you head out:
- work gloves
- hand saw
- rope to bind and tie the tree on your vehicle
- tarp, sled, or helper to assist you in getting your tree to your vehicle
- warm winter clothing
- food or a thermos of hot chocolate
Tips & Tricks for a Good Experience
Give yourself time. Hunting down the perfect tree is going to take longer than it would at a Christmas tree farm. Trees will likely be spread out and you will need to do some driving or hiking around to locate your tree. Don’t head out right before dark.
Dress for the experience. Wear the cute boots and scarves for photos but have sturdy equipment in your car in case that doesn’t measure up to the weather.
Think before you drive. Most national forest roads are not snowplowed in the winter. Choose the roads you choose to navigate wisely based on your vehicle’s performance capabilities.
Tell someone where you’re going. National forests may have spotty to poor cell service. Let someone know where you are going and when you’ll be back.
4th Graders Get a Free Christmas Tree This Year
This year any 4th Grader who has a valid Every Kid in a Park pass or paper voucher will get one FREE Christmas Tree permit.
The USDA Forest Service’s Every Kid Outdoors program is available for 4th grade students for the remainder of the 2021-2022 school year. A new voucher is available for download through August 31, 2022.
In order to get their FREE permit, the student will need to get the Every Kid in a Park voucher from the website, print it off & bring the paper voucher to a national forest office to claim their free tree cutting permit OR they can input their pass information at Recreation.gov and redeem for a free Christmas tree cutting permit online.
Manistee-Huron National Forest Explains how to get a $5 Christmas Tree
Watch this video.