In the age of convenience, getting a Christmas tree usually means visiting a tree lot, or worse — a shelf in the seasonal department at Wal-Mart. In a city literally surrounded by thousands of acres of pine tree forests, both options seem kind of silly. Harvesting your own naturally grown Christmas tree is the perfect way to make a holiday memory while getting some much-needed exercise and fresh mountain air.

 

Here are some tips for a successful tree hunt:

 

Do: Purchase a tree permit before heading out on your tree-cutting excursion. They are available for a bargain price of $5 at the Lolo National Forest office at Fort Missoula.

 

Do: Bring a map. The folks at the national forest office can provide you with one and explain where you are allowed to chop. (I found my tree a few hundred yards up a trail off of Graves Creek Road in Lolo, better known as the road to the Lumberjack Saloon.)

 

Do: Take a reliable, four-wheel-drive vehicle. Forest roads tend to be snow-covered and twisty, so leave your PT Cruiser at home.

 

Don’t: Set out on your tree-chopping excursion at 4 p.m. Remember, the sun sets before 5 p.m. this time of year, and this is definitely a daylight-hours-only winter activity.

 

Don’t: Forget to bring a sharp tool to remove your chosen tree from the ground. You’d think this one would be a no-brainer, but I’ve heard some stories. Saws, axes and tomahawks are all great options. You’ll also need some twine to tie it to the top of your car.

 

Don’t: Cut down the first tree you see, but don’t be too picky. Remember, these trees were not grown in captivity, so don’t expect them to look like those nice, full, perfectly conical tree lot trees. What your tree lacks in aesthetical perfection, it will make up for in character.

 

Do: Go sledding afterwards. You’re already on a snowy mountain, so why not?

 

Do: Celebrate your success with hot chocolate — peppermint Schnapps optional — at the Lumberjack Saloon.

 

For more information on tree cutting permits and guidelines, visit the Lolo National Forest website.

 

Brooke is a 2010 graduate of The University of Montana, where she ran track and cross country for the Grizzlies. She is currently working as a writer and editor in Missoula.