‘Tis the season to head into Oregon’s forests to find a Christmas tree and maybe a decoration.
Permits that allow cutting a Christmas tree from national forests are now on sale across northwest Oregon, including east and west of Salem, Eugene and Portland in the Willamette, Mount Hood and Siuslaw national forests.
At the same time, 200 tree ornaments have been hidden on hiking trails in Willamette National Forest, allowing people to get their tree and decorate it in one fell swoop.
Call it the “jolly holiday national forest adventure,” if you will. Or not. Either way, it could make for a fun adventure post-Thanksgiving.
How to get a Christmas tree permit and where to use it?
All that’s required to cut a Christmas tree on national forest land is heading to Recreation.gov and purchasing a permit.
The permits cost $5 per tree, with an extra $2.50 processing fee charged by the website. Permits for two trees, for example, cost $12.50. It’s still a steal of a deal compared to the cost at a tree lot or farm around town.
All three of the large national forests in northwest Oregon offer a permit for tree harvest. From Salem and Eugene, you can head east to Willamette National Forest or west to Siuslaw National Forest. From Portland, head east to Mount Hood National Forest.
On Recreation.gov, just search the name of the forest and add “Christmas tree permit.” It’s pretty easy.
Get a map
After printing the permit, make sure to head online to print or view a map that shows where harvest is legal and not legal. There remain large area closures following the Labor Day Fires — including the popular Breitenbush corridor north of Detroit. It’s also important to check snow conditions before heading out.
In addition to purchasing the permits online, you can also get permits from many local outdoor shops, ranging from Bi-Mart to local businesses in the Santiam Canyon.
Here’s a map for Christmas tree hunting in the Willamette National Forest: https://bit.ly/wnftree
The maps lay it out pretty well, but in the field, remember harvest is prohibited around campgrounds and within 50 feet of trails and paved roads. It’s a good idea to bring a Forest Service map for proper navigation.
Tree and map homework
While you’re preparing for your trip, make sure to scan the rules, including which trees you’re allowed to cut.
Noble, Pacific silver, Douglas and grand firs are the varieties you’re allowed to harvest. I’d take the time to research how to identify them, especially their needles, since the ones you’ll be cutting are smaller than 15 feet and the differences are not always obvious. I’ll usually take a screen shot of pictures of the tree on my phone, so I can refer back to it once we’re out in the field.
Likewise, trees you’re not allowed to take include whitebark pine, western white pine or Pacific yew. They’re somewhat rare, and fairly obvious, but it’s worth knowing what they look like.
Only take trees 15 feet or shorter and take the whole tree. Cutting off the top half is prohibited, but happens frequently when lazy tree hunters find a big tree and cut off the top eight feet, leaving a sad-looking half tree behind.
Gearing up for the snow and picking a location
There are millions of trees in the forest, but to find the much-beloved noble, Pacific silver or grand firs, and you generally have to explore higher than 3,500 feet.
Typically, people simply head into the mountains and go down open Forest Service Roads looking for winners.
However, this time of year, that can mean heading into the snow, depending on the weather.
That means preparing for winter driving and potentially snowshoeing. Although there isn’t a ton of snow in the mountains quite yet, it could come anytime and you never know what you’ll find.
If the snow is deep and forest roads aren’t safe for driving, it makes sense to buy a sno-park permit through the DMV website. They offer great winter access and recreation across the state and cost $25 for a full year or $5 for one day. That way, you can park at the sno-park lot and simply head out in safety.
In other situations, simply find a place to park on a safe shoulder along the road and head out into the forest.
Either way, happy hunting!
More depth: Everything you need to know about cutting a Christmas tree in Oregon forest
After you get a tree, search for ornaments
For the fourth year, 200 ornaments have been hidden along trails in the Willamette Valley for people venturing outdoors to find.
The wooden ornaments are hidden along non-wilderness trails in the Willamette National Forest, as well as a couple in the Umpqua National Forest. The specific trails are listed online and the ornaments are placed along a variety of them, so that people of all abilities can participate.
The ornament hunt began on Nov. 12 and runs through Jan. 1, after which any remaining ornaments will be removed. Those who find one are encouraged to take it home and hang it on their trees or elsewhere.
This year, those who find an ornament can also enter a raffle to win one of several prizes from the Willamette Valley Visitors Association. The grand prize is comprised of a $500 gift certificate to Chehalem Ridge Bed and Breakfast, as well as $100 to spend at businesses in downtown McMinnville.
The three other prizes that ornament finders can win are a $150 gift certificate for Our Table Cooperative, a family pass to the Cascades Raptor Center and a $75 gift card for businesses in downtown Corvallis, plus two passes to the Benton County Historical Society’s Corvallis Museum.
To enter the competition, the finder must log the ornament’s unique code online. Each ornament will have specific instructions attached to it, along with an engraved leather patch.
More information about the program can be found at willamettevalley.org/ornament/
People are also encouraged to post pictures of their adventures online, using the hashtags: #FindYourOrnament, #FindYourTrail, #IwonderWV, #PNWwonderland and #WillametteNationalForest.
This tradition began back in 2018, when the Willamette National Forest provided the holiday tree to the U.S. Capitol. Ornaments were hidden along trails to encourage people to explore and support their outdoors and the tradition has continued since then.
Where can ornaments be found?
Ornaments can be found on the following trails in the Willamette National Forest:
- Gordon Lakes Trail #3386
- Hackleman Old Growth Trail #3411 (family-friendly)
- Tombstone Nature Trail #3420
- Santiam Wagon Road: Mountain House Section
- House Rock Trail #3406
- Yukwah Nature Trail #3421 (family-friendly)
- Walton Ranch Interpretive Trail #4170 (family-friendly)
- Tamolitch Falls (Blue Pool) #3507
- Waterfalls Loop Trail #3503
- King-Castle Trail #4326
- North Fork Trail #3666
- Greenwaters Trail #4250 (family-friendly)
- Larison Rock Trail #3607
- Hardesty Trail #3469
And trails in the Umpqua National Forest:
- Brice Creek Trail #1403
- Upper Trestle Creek Trail #1403D
Eddy Binford-Ross is the Outdoors Intern at the Statesman Journal. Contact her at [email protected] or follow on Twitter @eddybinfordross.
Zach Urness has been an outdoors reporter in Oregon for 13 years and is host of the Explore Oregon Podcast. Urness can be reached at [email protected] or (503) 399-6801. Find him on Twitter at @ZachsORoutdoors.