Christmas tree hunting is big business in Sisters


Last updated 12/5/2023 at 10:53am

Photo by Bill Bartlett

Stopping for lunch in Sisters is part of the Christmas-tree-hunting tradition for many families.

This year more than 2,000 tree permits will be issued by the Forest Service's District Ranger office in Sisters. Add to that another 1,000-plus for permits purchased online at, and Sisters will benefit by more than 10,000 persons hunting trees in our nearby woods. Each permit generally has four persons attached to it; usually families with young children.

The permits, only $5, are a drop in the bucket to the agency's annual revenue budget, which includes permits for gathering pine cones, mushrooms, and firewood. It is the thousands and thousands of dollars these hunters also spend in our local eateries and shops that make it noteworthy.

Take for example the two families from Bend The Nugget caught up with at Philadelphia's Steaks & Hoagies on East Hood.

Trees bagged, the nine in the group spent close to $200 last Saturday with sandwiches, chips, and drinks. All over town from the day after Thanksgiving to a few days before Christmas, dozens of cars and trucks with trees strapped down can be found parked in front of stores and restaurants.

"It's tradition. You just don't go get a tree," explained Carly Moses from Redmond. "There's the hot chocolate stop on the way to the woods and the fudge stop on the way home."

Chase Redford of Bend said, "Hard to say what's more important to the kids - the tree or the stop at Sno Cap."

"I can't imagine going through Sisters with our four kids and getting away without a stop at the Candy Corral," said Meredith Colgan, also from Bend. "And that means I get to stop at the chocolate shop," she said, referencing High Desert Chocolates on Cascade Avenue.

Her husband, Marshall, planned to pop into Dixie's for a look at their shirts, claiming not to have a sweet tooth.

The story repeats itself hundreds of times throughout the holiday period as savvy tree hunters scour our forest for more desirable trees, like cedars and balsams. And before or after, usually the latter, frequently celebrating their finds in local watering holes.

Both Sisters food courts - Eurosports and The Barn - often have rows of vehicles donned with cut trees lined along their perimeters as scores of tree hunters slake their thirst and fill their tummies. Most tree-baggers are seated outside near propane fire tables or heaters, oblivious to the winter weather.

Christmas tree hunting can turn into an adventure (see story page 1). Those going above the snow line often add to the joy with various winter activities like snowshoeing, tubing, sledding, and skijoring.

Of course there are the ubiquitous bonfires and s'mores making to complete the outing. "We've come to Sisters for more than 20 years to get our tree," said Willy Olson from Powell Butte. "There's just something special about it all. Soon our kids will be on their own and they already say they'll keep the Sisters tradition alive when they raise their kids," he added.

The rules for taking a tree from the Deschutes National Forest are few and clear. The tree must not exceed 12 feet. Trees always look smaller in the forest than on a retail lot, particularly if found in snow. Many a hunter has cut what they thought was a six- or seven-foot tree only to find it was too big to fit on the roof of their car.

Only take a tree that is within 20 feet of another tree. Do not cut trees within 150 feet of state highways, picnic areas, campgrounds, and other developed areas. Do not take trees from designated wilderness areas.

Rangers say that some hunters mistakenly think that they first get the tree, and then stop by to get the permit. You must have the permit in advance and it must be attached to the tree during transport.

Another occasional issue rangers say is hunters mistaking private land as public. Privately owned land is intermingled with public land and they can be difficult to distinguish without a map or good sense of location.

In general, pines can be found on flatter ground at lower elevations. Firs and cedars are found at higher elevations.

With five- to six-foot cut trees retailing for $90 in Redmond, a $5 tree from the forest is a real bargain.

"Your $5 tree comes with $100 of family fun," reckoned Adam Switzer as his two daughters, 4 and 7, took turns with the saw on Green Ridge, their first time cutting the tree.


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