PSICC Christmas Tree Permit Sales

Continue the Tradition

Reprinted from the National Archives:

The National Christmas Tree being a living tree is a relatively new phenomenon; during President Kennedy’s tenure the tree was still harvested from various National Forests and shipped to Washington DC. This photograph was taken December 15, 1962, and the caption reads “Test lighting of the National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse in President’s Park, Washington, D.C. The White House is visible in the background” (Credit Abbie Rowe, White House Photographs, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum). Correspondence from Senator Allott found in our USFS holdings noted he was there that day inspecting the progress.

On November 14th, 1962, the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad (DRGRR) pulled two 53 foot flat cars, numbers 21025 and 2106, into Salida, Colorado. On hand were several U.S. Forest Service (USFS) officials as well as the DRGRR Vice President of Traffic, R.K. Bradford, all to oversee the loading of the VIP cargo – that year’s National Christmas Tree. It wasn’t an entirely smooth evolution. The tree was so massive that the bottom 15’ of branches wouldn’t fold and so they were cut off, to be reinserted when, after three more railroads and nearly 1,800 miles of travel, the tree would arrive in the nation’s capital. A few days later, the forest supervisor wrote Colorado Senator Gordon Allott and sent along a San Isabel Forest hard hat joking “…as you may have heard some San Isabel trees get out of control at times.”

A cliche today in academic writing, the Eldorado National Forest opened their 1930 “Report on the Cutting of Christmas Trees Including Appraisal of Prices” with a definition of a Christmas Tree – “a tree displaying a short internode combined with a symmetry of form that is pleasing to the eye.” Across Record Group 95: Records of the U.S. Forest Service and Record Group 75: Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs holdings at the National Archives at Denver are numerous files regarding the tradition of harvesting or topping trees to use as holiday decorations.

The earliest files regarding Christmas trees found in the USFS regional and local forest offices typically start in the 1930’s and largely consist of reports, as quoted above. Another such report dated 1937 from the Shasta National Forest was sent to the Intermountain Regional Office and is loaded with action shots.

Given the USFS’s large operations, commercial tree growers started writing the agency as to best growing and harvesting practices. The agency embraced the expert role they now filled, working to explore methods of tree storage and the use of tags on the harvested trees to increase publicity. Maintaining tree freshness became a concern in the early 1940’s and memos on methods to preserve trees were shared with forests. An internal USFS letter from 1941 fretted on recent failures by independent researchers – chemicals caused the needles to drop off, the trees weren’t worth enough to use commercial refrigeration units, and standing them up in moving creeks was infeasible. At the bottom, however, a USFS staffer noted in pencil to drop the matter; leaving them where they are cut until shipped has worked fine.

The issues didn’t end there. With the country plunged into total war in 1942, could any of the nation’s rolling stock be spared for shipping trees? In August 1942 regional foresters were notified that the War Production Board and Office of Defense Transportation agreed that while gondola and flat cars were unavailable, box cars could be used to transport Christmas trees that year, civilian morale being a consideration.

With the growing popularity of harvesting Christmas trees and the variations in forest procedures, in the late 1940’s the USFS had a panel of forest supervisors address policies and enact standards. While Christmas trees were considered a secondary forest product, harvested only to improve conditions for primary products like saw logs, the agency also recognized the revenue and public relations boost realized from the harvesting. The topping of trees was discontinued, with only whole trees now allowed to be cut. Cooperative agreements were made with private landowners adjacent to cutting lands and the USFS would roll in the administration of tree cuttings on their land as well, for a fee. The agency established standards for contractors harvesting trees and formalized free cutting programs for local residents in well forested areas. All of these improvements led to such events as San Isabel National Forest’s 1956 “Family Christmas Tree Cutting.” Despite nine inches of snow falling the night before, on December 8th locals braved a one way road a mile north of Lake Isabel, about 44 miles southwest of Pueblo, Colorado, to find the perfect tree.

Nearly ten years later we find files on the Pike National Forest’s 1965 public tree cutting, held the first two weekends in December from 8:00 AM to 3:30 PM. Whether you wanted a Douglas Fir, Engelmann Spruce, Blue Spruce, or Ponderosa Pine – each tree cost $1, regardless of size. Individuals were allowed up to five and groups, such as churches, were allowed up to 20.

Commercial Christmas tree harvesting wasn’t confined to just USFS lands. Many allottees and tribal nations on reservations with significant tree cover also contracted to sell trees and these files show up in the Bureau of Indian Affairs holdings. For instance, if a family trimmed a tree purchased from the J. Hofert Company between 1930-1960 there’s a chance it was in fact harvested on the Flathead Indian Reservation.

John Douglas, San Isabel National Forest Supervisor, put it best in November 1962 when he wrote to Senator Allot about the Nation’s Christmas Tree. “It is our sincere wish that its dedication to peace throughout the world will result in some easing of tensions in these troubled times.” To all of you from all of us, here’s to a very happy, safe, and peaceful holiday season.

The Pikes Peak, South Platte, South Park, Leadville, Salida and San Carlos Ranger Districts on the Pike-San Isabel National Forests & Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands offer the opportunity for forest visitors to continue a tradition or start a new one by moving all holiday tree permit sales online through

Be sure of the area you are purchasing a permit for. Each permit has a unique number associated with it, so permits purchased through the website must be printed to be valid. Visitors should display the printed permit on the dash of their vehicle on the day they visit the forest to cut their tree.

Visitors must establish a account to purchase a permit and may access their permit through their account at any time.There is a reservation fee of $2.50 for permits sold to customers for the reservation service and support from the system and staff. The funds from Christmas tree permits purchased through the system will go back to the participating Forest through Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA) funding requirements.

Fourth-grade students with an Every Kid Outdoors pass can apply for a free Christmas Tree permit through the online system with by selecting the option and then entering their voucher or pass number when prompted.

Forest health is important, by removing these smaller trees you are contributing to the overall wellbeing of the forest and reducing fire danger. Persons cutting or removing trees from the National Forest without a valid permit are subject to a fine of up to $5000 and/or 6 months imprisonment.


Additional Maps & Information 

(To purchase your permit, please click on the district name below.)


South Platte:

$20 per permit: Limit 5 permits per household

            Buffalo Creek - This area is located southeast of Pine Junction on County Highway 126 and FDR 550. From Denver: Take US Hwy 285 south to Pine Valley Road (County Road 126). Turn south onto Pine Valley Road for about 12 miles. FDR 550 will be on the right-hand side.

            Sugar Creek – This area is located along County Road 67, approximately 1.5 miles south of County Road 40/Sprucewood junction. This area is best accessed from US Hwy 85 in Sedalia, CO. No camping allowed

            Camp Fikes - This area is located to the west of the Buffalo Creek tree cutting area. Follow the directions to the Buffalo Creek tree cutting area. Turn onto FDR 550 and continue to stay on the road for approximately 8 miles. This area may be difficult to impossible to access after heavy snow.


South Park:

$20 per permit: Limit 5 permits per household Mail in Permit

Christmas Tree cutting is allowed throughout the South Park Ranger District except in a few restricted areas. Please print a map for the area you will be visiting. Also, there are maps of suggested areas based on tree species, accessibility and size, available. 


Blue Mountain


Crooked Cr. - Beaver Cr.

Como-Boreas Pass

Eagle Rock



Lake George

Lost Creek-N. Fork

Lost Creek-West

Michigan Creek

Packer Gulch

Ranger Station

Rock Creek Hills

Salt Creek

Turner Gulch

Warm Springs

Christmas Tree Locator

Pikes Peak:

$20 per permit: Limit 5 permits per household

Trees may be cut on National Forest System lands northwest of Woodland Park, Colorado in the North Divide area and northwest of Woodland Park off Forest Service Roads 339 and 342. Be sure to print the map when you purchase your permit and use it to navigate to the tree cutting areas. Signs will be posted.

San Carlos:

$10 per permit: Limit of 2 permits per household

For mail-in permit requests please mail a check or money order payable to "USDA Forest Service" along with a self-addressed stamped envelope to: ATTN: Christmas Tree Permit, San Carlos Ranger District, 3028 E. Main St., Canon City, CO 81212

Christmas tree cutting is allowed throughout the San Carlos Ranger District except at campgrounds, trailheads, ski areas, wilderness areas and the recreation area around Lake Isabel.


$10 per permit: Limit of 2 permits per household

Christmas tree cutting is allowed throughout the Leadville Ranger District except at campgrounds, trailheads, ski areas, wilderness areas, and the recreation area near Turquoise Lake.


$10 per permit: Limit of 2 permits per household

Christmas tree cutting is allowed throughout the Salida Ranger District except at campgrounds, trailheads, ski areas, wilderness areas, and recreation areas.