Fine, Full, and Fat

christmas tree, harvest, tree permits

A DIY guide to finding a great Christmas tree.

Clark Griswold was correct when he said, “The perfect tree is the centerpiece of a fun, old-fashioned family Christmas.” But shelling out $80 for a pre-cut fire hazard is only slightly less offensive than the artificial pre-wired versions infused with Christmas scent. This year, why not cut your own centerpiece? Do-it-yourself Christmas-tree harvesting is easy, inexpensive, and makes for a memorable holiday celebration.

What You Need:

  • Tree permit: Custer-Gallatin National Forest permits are available online at for $5.
  • 4WD and tire chains: winter roads can be hairy, so make sure the family sleigh has a full tank of gas and is ready to take on the snow. Tire chains are recommended, as well as jumper cables and a heavy-duty recovery strap.
  • Quality saw: an axe may get the job done, but a sharp saw—motorized or manual—will get your tree down faster and leave less damage to the stump. Plus, the clean cut keeps the tree fresher. If you need a new handsaw or chainsaw, Kenyon Noble has a full lineup.
  • Cross-country skis or snowshoes: part of the fun in harvesting a Christmas tree is the experience. A good ski or snowshoe trek adds to the adventure and allows access to better trees.

Rules & Regulations:

  • A Forest Service Christmas-tree permit is required to harvest trees on public lands.
  • Cut your tree as close to the ground as possible, and don’t slice the top off a mature tree. "Topping" can lead to tree deformation and leave the living portion vulnerable to disease.
  • Cut trees from crowded stands, allowing room for others to grow.
  • Keep your tree between 4-10 feet tall. Larger trees may require a more expensive permit. 

Back at the House:

  • Trim low-hanging branches and cut the trunk fresh before placing your tree in a heavy-duty tree stand.
  • Water your tree daily, and keep it away from heat sources. 

After Christmas:

  • Several tree-recycling spots are designated in Bozeman and the surrounding communities. Check the City of Bozeman website for locations.
  • Be sure to remove all ornaments, lighting, and tinsel before recycling. 


There you have it. Now, enjoy a simpler part of the holiday season and cut down your own tree from the winter woods. Stay safe, be happy, and have a Merry Christmas.