The Christmas tree is one of the most celebrated seasonal traditions in the world today. Nearly 30 million live trees are cut and sold in the United States alone each year. While the vast majority are purchased from Christmas tree farms, there are still those who prefer to get a tree the old-fashioned way—going out into the wild and cutting down their own tree.

For those seeking adventure, the U.S. Forest Service offers tree permits to cut down your own Christmas tree in a national forest.

Cutting down your own Christmas tree is a practice that began in the 16th century, which the U.S. Forest Service has helped keep alive. Kris Kringle and Clark Griswold aren’t the only ones cutting down their trees in national forests; From the week of Thanksgiving to the night before Christmas, the Forest Service sells over 200,000 Christmas tree permits annually. Tree permits range from $5-$20 depending on which of the 88 participating forests you choose. Families with a 4th grade student are eligible for a free Christmas tree tag as part of the Every Kid Outdoors Program.

What you save in money by purchasing a national forest tree permit, you pay for in sweat equity. Hiking into national forests and carrying out the perfect tree for your home is a unique way to be active outside. It’s also a great way to make memories with the friends and family who go with to help you, or are looking for their own tree.

Before heading into a national forest to get your tree, it’s important to let someone know what area of the forest you plan to be in and how long you plan to be there. Suggested items to bring along on your adventure include: a GPS, map, layered clothing, tarp (both to sit on if the ground is wet and to help you drag your tree out if needed), shovel, rope, and of course, a hand saw and/or axe. It's also wise to check weather forecasts for the day and plan accordingly.

Not only does your forest adventure provide your family with a Christmas tree, it contributes to the overall health of the forest. With every indoor-sized fir, spruce, and pine that is cut down to be used as holiday décor, densely populated forests become healthier as a direct result.

There’s still plenty of time this season to plan your road trip to a national forest and get your wild Christmas tree. For more information and to buy your tree permit, click here

Photos and story by Sam Raetz.