It's a wholesome, very Colorado activity worth making a family tradition: throwing the kids, the dog and a handsaw into the back of the ol' Subaru and cutting your own Christmas tree.
OK. The Subaru isn't mandatory. But the saw certainly is.
And you can do it for just $20 at the Arapahoe, Roosevelt, Pike and San Isabel National Forests -- all within a few hours' drive of Denver. It does, however, take a little bit of planning before you head out.
What kind of trees are available?
Depending on where you go, expect to find Douglas fir, Lodgepole pine, Ponderosa pine, Engelmann spruce and Limber pine.
Is this good for the forest?
Yes, as a matter of fact, it is. Unless forests are thinned regularly, by natural wildfire, or expensive mechanical means, or Christmas-tree hunters, they can become more prone to disease and huge fires.
Where should I go?
You have options. Here are some of the easier spots to get to:
Head down Highway 285 to the South Platte Ranger District of the Pike National Forest, to either Camp Fickes or Buffalo Creek. Permits are available until Nov. 21, and you can cut a tree from Nov. 23 to Dec. 9. Weekend permits are limited — check availability by contacting the South Platte Ranger District in Conifer.
For those further south, check out the Pikes Peak Ranger District outside of Colorado Springs. Trees can be cut on National Forest land east and north of Woodland Park along Rampart Range Road. Permits are available Nov. 26 to Dec. 14 at the district office in Colorado Springs at 601 South Weber, and at the Woodland Park Work Center the first two weekends in December. Trees can be cut from Nov. 26 to Dec. 14. The Forest Service says you'll need four-wheel drive or tire chains.
West to Grand County
There are plenty of cutting sites in the Sulphur Ranger District, just over Berthoud Pass. First, snag a permit, available at a handful of retailers in the area, then head to one of the spots on this map. You can cut a tree from now until Jan. 6 — the exception being the Elk Creek area, which is open from Dec. 1 to Dec. 8.
Northwest toward Red Feather Lakes
About a hour northwest of Fort Collins is the Canyon Lakes Ranger District. You can get a permit at the cutting area on the weekends, otherwise pick one up at Forest Service's office in Fort Collins at 2150 Centre Ave., Building E. Trees are available from Dec. 1 to 9. And note that you'll need a four-wheel drive vehicle and tire chains or cables.
Oh, and Smokey Bear is there on the weekends too. Bring your camera.