Holiday Adventure-Seekers Can Cut Down Their Own Christmas Tree in the Mammoth Lakes Area

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Part of the stock of evergreen trees available to be chopped down at Mammoth Lakes is seen in a file photo. (Credit: Dakota Snider/Mammoth Lakes Tourism)
Part of the stock of evergreen trees available to be chopped down at Mammoth Lakes is seen in a file photo. (Credit: Dakota Snider/Mammoth Lakes Tourism)

If you’ve been suffering sticker shock at Christmas tree lots, you can make a trek through the winter wonderland of the Eastern Sierra and chop one down yourself for a much lower price.

Mammoth Lakes is offering cut-your-own-tree permits for $5 to $10, depending on which area of Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest – or Bureau of Land Management property – you want to get yours from.

Keely Garibaldi with Mammoth Lakes Tourism says “it’s a bargain, not to mention a memorable holiday experience.”

A National Christmas Tree Association survey found yuletide evergreens cost an average of $78 last year, but prices are typically higher in metropolitan areas like Los Angeles. Fake trees start at around $40.

Of course, you’ll also have to factor in the price of gas for the five-hour drive (one way) from Southern California. But other national forests in the region — including Angeles, San Bernardino and Los Padres — prohibit Christmas tree cutting. Inyo National Forest, surrounding the Mammoth area, also prohibits tree-cutting but sells permits on behalf of Humboldt-Toiyabe and BLM.

Removing trees from a national forest without a permit is a federal offense.

At Mammoth Lakes, permits and tree tags are available at the Welcome Center, 2510 Main St. Upon paying, you’ll be given a map of the zones for holiday tree cutting and a list of regulations.

The area is stocked with everything from classic firs to Charlie Brown-style trees, Garibaldi said.

Some equipment you’ll need and tips to avoid a scene akin to “Christmas Vacation”:

  • Saw and shovel: You’ll need a handsaw or chainsaw to cut down your holiday tree, and the shovel to help uproot it.
  • Boots, protective glasses and gloves: Officials say you’ll want to wear warm winter clothing and sturdy walking boots that will hold up in deep forest snow. Glasses will be necessary to protect your eyes while cutting, and gloves are helpful for handling the saw and carrying the tree to your car.
  • Rope and tarp: These will also be useful for moving the tree to your vehicle. Be careful to secure it to racks or a truck bed before driving off.
  • Plan on showing up early, so you’ll have plenty of daylight hours to search for the perfect tree.
  • Choose a tree with a trunk diameter of 6 inches or less, and cut it no more than 6 inches above ground level. Never cut a tall tree just for the top.
  • Bring emergency supplies, including water, food and a first-aid kit — just in case.

Correction: A previous version of this story indicated tree-cutting was available in the Inyo National Forest. In fact, Inyo sells permits for tree-cutting in neighboring Humboldt-Toiyabe and BLM lands, as indicated in the updated story.

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