Recent snows and winter-like temperatures have set the stage for winter outdoor opportunities a little early this year. This makes great conditions for outdoor holiday traditions such as Christmas tree hunting. The tradition of cutting a Christmas tree on the Bighorn National Forest goes back generations for some families. To ensure you have the opportunity to continue this tradition and get the tree you want safely to your home, consider these tips.

Before setting out on any adventure to the Bighorn National Forest, always let someone know where you plan to go and when you hope to return. Check your gear to ensure you have items such as a shovel, extra food, water and a flashlight. Consider your vehicle’s capabilities and condition before attempting to travel on winter roads. Check road reports or ask local offices about specific routes. Even if you have traveled certain routes in the past, they may no longer be passable due to snow and ice this year.

Once you know your vehicle is ready, check your personal gear. Do you have spare socks, hat, gloves or thermal layers and have you packed weather appropriate footwear? Use clothing made of materials that wick moisture away from your skin such as wool or synthetic fabric designed to keep you warm even when wet. Dress like an onion with multiple layers that can be added or removed as conditions change.

Most travel routes are now under snow, so think about your mode of travel from the parking lot. Will you be taking an over-snow vehicle, skis or snowshoes? Check the condition of that gear and equipment as well. No one wants to spend an unexpected night out in below-zero temperatures due to an equipment failure.

Know the regulations. Vehicles are annually restricted to designated roads and trails until Nov. 15. Nov. 16 through May 15, vehicles designed for over-snow use such as snowmobiles, snow bikes or tracked vehicles can travel cross-country as long as the area is open to this use and there is a least 6 inches of snow on the ground.

The Bighorn National Forest has many great spots to find the perfect tree and most of the forest is open to Christmas tree cutting. However, there are a few locations that are off limits, such as within 300 feet of cabins, lodges, campgrounds and other developed sites. Trees cannot be cut in Cloud Peak Wilderness. Ensure you are at least 100 feet from state highways, however, you can cut a Christmas tree right next to forest roads. Please review the Guide to Christmas Tree Cutting on our website.

Each tree must have a Christmas tree permit attached prior to transporting. Permits are valid for one tree up to 10 feet in height. Christmas tree permits are now available at all Bighorn National Forest offices for $8 or you can go online, complete the permit, and mail it to any of our offices with your payment.

If you have a fourth-grader in the family, your child is eligible to one free Christmas tree permit. Please call the Bighorn National Forest Supervisor’s office at 307-674-2600 for details.

Bighorn National Forest officials encourage you to get outside and enjoy your public lands but in a safe and respectful manner. Happy holidays!

Sara Evans Kirol is a public affairs specialist with Bighorn National Forest.