Sometimes, you just want to get away from it all. Freedom Residence is all about figuring out ways to live that are outside the norm, and one of those suggested ways is by going out and setting up a permanent camp in the woods.
But is packing all your stuff and setting up camp in the woods actually legal?
You can’t just head out into the woods and start building a house, but there are a few options for legally living on publicly and privately owned woods and land throughout the United States. These options include establishing a moving campsite, staking a mining claim, and buying land.
Off-grid living is very attractive to some people, and one of the best ways to do that is to venture out into the still largely untapped wilds of the United States. There are literally millions of acres around the country that are parts of national parks or managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Keep reading to find out all about the legalities of living in the woods.
Is it Legal to Live in the Woods?
There are rules against setting up a home in the woods on public land. Whether you want to refer to it as squatting or trespassing, it’s technically not allowed. That being said, with millions of acres of land in the U.S. that is largely undisturbed by humans apart from the occasional park ranger or hiker, there are stories of people living in the same spot for years.
Most of this land is located in western states like Nevada, Colorado, or Idaho, and then there’s Alaska, with vast swaths of wilderness for settling (if you don’t mind the cold). There’s definitely a possibility to squat there for the long term. In some cases, park rangers or BLM employees have been known to ignore squatters as long as they don’t cause trouble.
If you’re not comfortable taking the chance of squatting on public land, you have a couple of different options. These options include:
- Moving camp – most places allow you to camp on federal land for up to 14 days in the same spot
- Stake a mining claim – if you think a place has the potential to mine for precious metals or stones, you can stake a claim and work the land there
- Buy land – obviously, if you own the land, you can live on it without hassle
Each of these options will be described in greater detail below.
It is legal to camp permit-free for a limited time on most federal land. Technically, you’re allowed to camp in one place for up to 14 days (usually), before you have to break camp. Of course, keeping track of how many days you have stayed in a specific remote location is often difficult, if not impossible. As long as you don’t occupy popular camping locations, the odds of someone coming check on you after your fourteenth day is pretty small.
However, even if nobody is going to check up on you, if you start building semi-permanent or permanent structures, you do run the risk of someone finding you and kicking you off the land. It really depends on your own individual tolerance for risk and how brazen you are willing to be.
While camping you’ll be living on the land, but you won’t be putting up permanent structures. If the life of a nomad is something that appeals to you, this is a good way to live for free out in the wilderness – completely legally. Whenever you change location, you’ll have to clean up after yourself and move at least 25 miles away for it to be totally above-board.
Camping for more than a week or so is tough, and if you decide to go this route, you will want a durable tent and one that offers some comforts. A relatively large canvas tent may be worth the added weight as it doesn’t get as humid and provides space to move around in, simply for sanity’s sake.
The Teton Sports Sierra Tent has served me well on various car camping trips. It’s not the lightest tent you will find, but it is beefy enough that I would feel comfortable using it on extended camping trips. If you need something a little lighter, the Dream House canvas pyramid tent is the way to go.
Staking a Mining Claim
This is an interesting strategy to live legally out in the woods. The General Mining Act of 1872 sets the maximum annual fee $5 per acre, so you don’t live for free but still very cheap.
There are quite a few restrictions and caveats to mining claims. For instance, you can’t do it on national parkland, military land, Indian reservations, or lands set aside for scientific reasons (among others). Mining claims are also only available in these states:
- North/South Dakota
- New Mexico
In order to stake a claim, you’ll have to follow a number of steps to make sure it’s completely legal and that you’re adhering to all the proper protocols. The Mining Act is not intended for homesteading and you will not be able to build a home without permission, but you may be allowed to live in a tent or a temporary building while mining the area.
The steps to staking a mining claim are summarized in the table below:
|1||Find your intended claim area||Find land that is suspected to house the minerals you want to mine. thediggings.com is a great way to discover mining claims.|
|2||Check for existing claims||Check with the Bureau of Land Management to make sure there are no active mining claims on the land already.|
|3||Stake your claim||Physically mark the boundaries in accordance with applicable laws.|
|4||Plot location||Plot the location of your claim on a map and file with applicable authorities.|
|5||Fill out paperwork||File claim location with the county clerk’s office, then follow guidelines for the state your claim is in. You usually have 90 days to complete this step.|
|6||Use your claim||Check regulations to make sure you use your claim properly.|
|7||Pay fees||Claims require payment of a yearly maintenance fee to be legal.|
Once you’ve filed your claim and you’re totally legal, you can start building shelters and living on the land. As long as you’re actively mining for something, pay your yearly renewal, and file the right annual paperwork, you can work the claim for years. Not a bad strategy!
Buy Some Land
Finally, and probably the simplest method for living out in the woods legally is to just buy a parcel of land and live on it. The BLM will periodically post land for sale; most of it is located in the Western 11 states and in Alaska, although there is occasionally available land throughout the rest of the U.S.
It is somewhat difficult to know what land is available. There isn’t an online repository of sales, and you’ll have to check with the BLM office that has jurisdiction over the area you’re interested in. The land also varies widely in how it looks and what it’s suitable for, as well as the price. Sales are usually held at the local BLM office as well.
If you’re able to pick up a good parcel of land at a good price, you’ll have to comply with any applicable regulations and laws regarding the proper use of the land, but generally speaking, it’ll be your land and you can do what you want with it. The parcels of land will also vary in whether you can get utilities there and whether there are roads (or even legal access) there.
If you purchase land from the BLM (or state governments in case of state-owned land), you might be in for a lot of work to get your off-grid living situation established. Make sure you are aware of the local zoning laws and how to access the plot without trespassing on neighboring property.
It would be awful to find out your parcel is inaccessible after the sale has been finalized. You’re also encouraged to physically visit the property, as it may be difficult or impossible to see even pictures beforehand. However, you will usually be able to obtain information on easements and use from local authorities.
It is legal to live in the woods as long as you do it, well, legally. If you just want to go squat on federal lands, you run the risk of being discovered and kicked out, but you could also camp and move around, stake a mining claim, or buy some federal or sate land.
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Most areas that you may want to live in are already owned (privately or publicly). If you want to be legal about it, you'll need to buy some land. However, there are seasonal camping passes you can obtain in most states that can also give you a taste of this lifestyle.Can a person live in the forest for free? ›
Yes and no. If you are a camper or RVer, it is illegal to live in a national forest or grassland. The U.S. Forest Service has rules prohibiting using forests as a residence. However, it is possible, and legal, to move to another area, or to move to another Forest or Grassland altogether, and continue camping.What do you need to live in the woods? ›
- Step 1: Knife. First, you'll need a knife. ...
- Step 2: Rope and Wire. Next, you'll need rope and a coil of wire. ...
- Step 3: Food. Now, you will want to pack some preservable food. ...
- Step 4: Gun or Bow and Arrows. ...
- Step 5: Water. ...
- Step 6: Sleeping Bag. ...
- Step 7: First Aid. ...
- Step 8: Heat.
Try not to stay at the same camp spot for too long, the long you stay the more likely you could be seen. Try to avoid camping in the same place twice. Look out for surveillance cameras, sometimes you will see them up in tress. So avoid camping anywhere where you see them.Can you live in a cabin permanently? ›
Getting a cabin built that adheres to the regulations is possible, and log cabins are real buildings that can be considered permanent. However, keep in mind that it can be time-consuming and obtaining planning permission for a log cabins is a legal requirement.Can I live in the Canadian wilderness? ›
Living off grid is not illegal in Canada. Your house can be solar powered, you can grow your own food, and so on. However, there are national building codes that you must follow. Also, you cannot squat on someone else's land.How do you survive in the woods for a year? ›
A Survivalist Explains How To Survive In The Woods - YouTubeWhat will Sons of the Forest cost? ›
It will cost you $9.99. The game also features a co-op mode that brings in even more challenges.What do you do with dead bodies in The Forest? ›
Bodies can be used as bait for starving cannibals in order to lure enemies away from a player's base or into traps. When the body is put on a fire, after a short period of time it will collapse and drop 6 bones and a skull. Up to 3 Corpses can be placed in the Log Sled.What is considered living in the woods? ›
Trees in a forest must be at least 16 feet tall, and the tree canopy must cover at least 10 percent of the land. Other wooded land must similarly be at least 1.24 acres with trees at least 16 feet tall, but the tree canopy isn't as substantial, covering only 5 percent to 10 percent of the land.
backwoodsman. noun. someone who lives in the backwoods.Can you live outside of society? ›
Still, so much of modern society is centered around modern technology, that it is nearly impossible to live completely outside of society as we know it today. There are many conviences that we rely on in modern society.How do you live in the woods with nothing? ›
- Find Water. The first thing you need to survive in the wild is water. ...
- Make a Shelter. You will need a shelter to protect you from the elements. ...
- Stay Warm. Temperatures can drop really quickly in the woods, so you better prioritize warmth. ...
- Find Food.
- Step 1: Find Fresh Water. If you're going to last out here for a long period of time, you'll need to stay hydrated. ...
- Step 2: Build A Shelter. ...
- Step 3: Find Food. ...
- Step 4: Make a Fire. ...
- Step 5: Get Rescued.
How to Survive Alone in the Wilderness for 1 week - YouTubeCan I put a log cabin in Woodland? ›
If you own a piece of woodland you are allowed to build a cabin on this land for occasional use in order to maintain or work on the woodland. This might take the form of a tool shed; store; office; refuge or shelter.Can you build a cabin in the woods? ›
You can buy existing cabins in US national forests but cannot build a new cabin without approval from the government.Can you put a lodge on your land? ›
Buying a park home or lodge for your own private land is a great way to marry up your perfect home and your perfect location. When purchasing a home/lodge for your own land there are things you will have to consider logistically and financially, which is why we've created this helpful guide to talk you through it.Where can I go to live alone? ›
Utah came out on top for the demographic, followed by Idaho, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, South Dakota, Colorado, and New Jersey — followed by a three-way tie for eighth place between Illinois, Connecticut, and New Hampshire. To learn more about the best states for living alone, check out the full solo living index.How do I leave society? ›
How do I withdraw from society while living in the city? Don't watch the news, stay away from TV, social media, phone, car, WiFi, etc. Move away from a big city to a rural village, cultivate your own vegetables, get some fruit trees, spend free time in nature, walking etc.