One holiday tradition the Tranquil Trekker family enjoys is tree hunting in the Black Hills. The Forest Service encourages the practice to assist them in maintaining healthy forest spaces, and there’s nothing better to compliment the Christmas Season then the smell of pine in your living room!
Permits are $10 each (max 5 per person) and you have to go to a Forest Service office or certain private vendors to obtain one. For a full list of vendors you can check the Forest Service website. There are some restrictions on which parcels of land you can acquire the trees from and all usual restrictions pertaining to vehicle travel still apply. Also, be sure you are on Public Forest Service land and not Private Property when tree hunting. There are a variety of pine trees available in the Hills for this purpose but I personally recommend the Black Hills Spruce which is usually found on north-facing slopes of hills and wetter areas. We favor the Central to Northern Hills in our searches. I won’t give away the exact location that is our favorite (we already have some trees sighted for future years!) but I will say that we’ve had a lot of luck in the Deerfield area.
Be warned, many roads in the Hills are Forest Service roads (or old logging roads) which means they are dirt, rutted and not maintained AT ALL for winter travel. I would not recommend driving on them without a 4-wheel-drive/high clearance vehicle. Some of the roads don’t require this but much of it depends upon current conditions and varies year-to-year (or even week-to-week and day-to-day. Heck, let’s face it, in the Black Hills it can vary hour-to-hour!) Usually the roads are snow covered, sometimes deeply (more on that later!). Last year, when there was little snow the roads weren’t even muddy and my all-wheel-drive Subaru would have sufficed, but that was an unusual year. Also be aware, as with many places in the Hills, if you were to become stuck or mired…it will likely be quite a hassle (and quite expensive) to get out and that’s once you hike somewhere you can get cell signal to call for a rescue!
THIS year…was the most snow we’ve seen since we started tree hunting four years ago. The Northern Hills had just seen a large storm about a week prior and there was a good 8 – 10 inches on the road. Mr. Trekker and his Tacoma handled it well, we only “almost” got stuck…a few times. He didn’t mind too much though, it gave him a chance to expand his trail snow-driving skills (and the opportunity to play with his tire chains).
We eventually arrived at one of our favorite spots and a short way from the road (within eye shot of the truck even!) we spotted several possible options…even better they were uphill from our location which meant we only had to drag the tree DOWNHILL once it was cut (we haven’t always been this lucky!) As we began the search for the perfect tree it started to snow gently…it was like a Norman Rockwell painting! A word of advice, we’ve learned the trees look smaller in their “natural habitat”, surrounded by their MUCH larger brothers. More than once we’ve had to cut a tree more drastically than we initially thought was needed once we got home and tried to fit it in our living room. Again this year, we found a tree that was beautiful, full and PERFECT! We’ve learned if my 6’4 husband can reach the top of the tree…it should fit in the house. This tree was relatively small and light (which made it EASY to transport) but when we got it home we still had to trim the tip down a bit and it was so full it almost didn’t fit in the “tree spot” in our living room.
Christmas Tree Hunting in the Black Hills (or anywhere really) is an enjoyable, family friendly experience. I encourage everyone to try it out and as always, be safe and smart when venturing out in the Wilds.
Merry Christmas everyone!
The final product: