For many families, putting up a Christmas tree marks the beginning of the holiday season. Of course, in some homes, that just means a trip out to the garage for an artificial tree, but our family swears nothing can replace the look and smell of the real thing.
If the search for the perfect tree is a tradition for your family, here are some helpful tips or cutting your own, whether that means harvesting yours from the national forest or heading to a local U-cut farm.
How to cut a Christmas tree from the national forest
This is a perfect Christmas tradition for adventurous, outdoorsy families, but you do need to be prepared. The first time our family tried this we ended up sandwiched between two stuck trucks on a snowy, hillside road. It was definitely the scariest traffic jam I’ve ever been in! Happily, with cooperative spirits and tire chains, we were on our way soon, but you’ll want to do your homework before you go. Here are top tips:
- First, you’ll need to obtain a $10 permit to cut within the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. (which, if you live in Puget Sound, is where you'll be cutting). It can be purchased at area ranger stations or at the Seattle or Alderwood REI stores (find places to purchase). Each non-refundable permit allows the cutting of one tree 12 feet or under. Trees taller than 12 feet require a $20 permit, which can only be purchased at a ranger station.
- For most area families the closest spots will be in North Bend off I-90 or via Forest Service roads off 410 past Enumclaw and Buckley, heading into Greenwater (near Mount Rainier), but there are locations north as well (such as Highway 2 and the Mountain Loop Byway).
- You can get lots more information and maps at the Forest Service site, or when you pick up your permit.
- Do only cut in permissible areas. Cutting from a campground or other unmarked spot is a big no-no!
Once you’ve decided where to head, follow a few guidelines to make sure your outing stays fun and safe.
- Check the weather and road conditions before you go. Note that getting to many areas requires driving on upaved, unplowed roads. As we found out, not all vehicles are cut out for this! Consider going early in the season before there is snow on the roads. Do bring along a shovel and chains as a precaution, and always tell someone where you are going before any outdoor excursion. Most of these areas will not have cell coverage.
- Dress appropriately. Make sure everyone is in layers and dressed for cold weather.
- Bring snacks! Many families pack a picnic, or even tailgate. Kent area mom Dee Klem adds that if you find your tree off 410 you can further the adventure by heading to Crystal Mountain for a gondola ride (or skiing!).
- Be flexible. Dee also says to keep in mind that you won’t be getting a pruned tree. Make sure your family is on board with the natural look before you go.
- Don’t forget your saw and ropes to secure your pick!
Finding the perfect Christmas tree from a U-cut farm
If all of that sounds like a little too much adventure, there are dozens of local U-cut farms to choose from.
I spoke with Denise Roosendaal, the Secretary of the Puget Sound Christmas Tree Association and the co-owner, with her husband, of Ohop Ridge Christmas Tree Farm in Eatonville. She says picking a tree from a U-cut farm is a great way to support a local farm while creating a family tradition. Plus, she adds, farm trees are a renewable resource, and every tree helps reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. (See her top tips for U-cut trees in the sidebar.)
If your family would like to bring home a tree from a U-cut farm this season, here are some favorites to try:
- Mountain Creek Christmas Tree Farm, Snoqualmie. A tree farm with a view, this longtime area Christmas tree farm is near the base of Mt Si.
- Trinity Tree Farm, Issaquah. This one is a favorite of many Seattle-area and Eastside families. Mercer Island mom, Kelsey Joyce, says this is the tree farm to go to for the, “Just dropped in Santa’s village,” experience. There are trees, plus a gift shop, mini train rides, and Santa visits. Do expect a crowd on weekends.
- Enchanted Winds. This one gets high marks with families who like the, “Out in the woods,” feel you get once you cross a small, wooden bridge. There is also complimentary cider and a small gift shop.
- Pfaff’s Christmas Tree Farm, Auburn. Trees are priced by the type rather than the foot here. Santa is available for visits in a cozy house warmed by a woodstove-a nice place to warm up after a tree hunt!
Pierce County U-cut Christmas Tree Farms
- Red Barn Farm Orting, Puyallup. A popular choice with young families, this one features a train ride and hot beverages and donuts. It does get crowded, and you won’t want to wait till close to closing. This one is right off 162. The address is Puyallup, but most folks would call it Orting.
- Snowshoe Farm Orting, Puyallup. Just down the street from the Red Barn. Parents say the prices are reasonable and the service is friendly.
- Double Four, Tacoma. Free cider and coffee. You can also purchase concessions or bring your own picnic. This spot offers pre-selection, meaning you can choose and tag your tree in November and wait until up to December 20 to bring it home. Sumner mom Alex likes that you can do it all yourself here or get as much help as you need.
- Ohop Ridge Christmas Tree Farm Eatonville. This farm is a good choice if you’d like a unique tree -- they offer nine types! You may have, “Help,” choosing your tree as deer and other wildlife are frequent visitors at this family farm.
Thurston County/Olympia Area U-cut Christmas Tree Farms
- Schilter Farms. There is a nativity on weekends, plus hot beverages and cookies at this long-time area farm.
- Clydes and Dales. Families love the horse-drawn wagon rides at this Olympia area favorite. There are visits and photos with Santa, plus seasonal entertainment. Be sure to check the calendar as activities vary by weekend.
- Ames Christmas Tree Farm. Bargain hunters say this hidden treasure is worth finding. Trees are are $25 and wreaths are $20, according to the Facebook page. Cash only!
- Hunter’s Family Farm. This popular farm offers wagon rides on weekends. Free cocoa and coffee; other items available for purchase. Visit with live animals including reindeer! Santa is also on hand select weekends. Cash is preferred.
Our family has found that even skinny trees with bald spots look beautiful hung with Grandma’s old ornaments and the children’s paper chains. I bet yours do, too!
Note: This article was written in 2013 and updated for 2014.
Photo credits: In order of appearance: istockphoto; courtesy of Dee Klem, Kent; courtesy of Kelsey Joyce of Mercer Island, Enchanted Woods farm in Issaquah.