You did bring a saw, right?

The first step to a fun old-fashioned family Christmas—according to prophet Clark W. Griswold of sacred holiday text National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation—is a tree plucked directly from the snow-covered woods. In a year when everything from caroling to cookie parties is off the table, a wild-grown Christmas tree is still very attainable.

Washington's national forests allow locals to cut down trees for personal use, but it's no free-for-all. Nature-grown evergreens require a permit, and guidelines limit which ones are up for grabs. Permits are available online, but might sell out—the forest (or rather, the easily accessible parts) can only spare so many trees.

Before purchasing, holiday-hunters must decide which piece of land they plan to visit: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest (think the northwestern side of the Cascades, mostly), Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest (out east, around Cle Elum and Leavenworth), Olympic National Forest (you know where), or Gifford-Pinchot National Forest (down south of Mount Rainier). All charge $5 per tree, except Mount Baker-Snoqualmie, closest to Seattle, where permits are a whopping $10. The harvest season runs November 12 through New Year's Eve.

Then, the rules: Each forest has maps detailing zones where cutting greenery is allowed; find links on the permit pages. Some areas are just off well-plowed roads, but others are deep in the snowy mountains—so plan ahead with chains and winter tires if headed into the hinterlands. Sno-Park parking still requires a state permit and other parking areas may require a Northwest Forest Pass.

Regulations restrict civilians to trees under 15 feet tall, and you shouldn't leave more than six inches of stump in the ground—no lopping off the top of a Douglas fir and leaving behind the beheaded remains. Stay at least 150 feet from streams or water (don't want to cause undue erosion!). Pro tip: It's hard to carry a giant evergreen through snowy forest, so aim for Charlie Brown charm over Rockefeller Center grandeur.

Bonus for parents: Remember the Every Kid Outdoors pass, which allows all fourth graders and their families access to federally managed lands like national parks and national forests? It comes with a free tree permit, though Every Kid passholders still need to register online and pay a small fee.

Pack your cocoa and extra-warm socks, and don't forget to the let the tree dry out before bringing it inside. Inspect for errant owls and squirrels. And once you have the tree mounted in the living room, consider turning on Christmas Vacation to appreciate that whatever 2020 throws at us, at least it's a holiday without Cousin Eddie and the Jelly of the Month club. 

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