The 5 Best States for Homesteading

a homestead with a grassy pasture and sheep within a fence

When I first became interested in homesteading, I remember trying to find out what the best states were for me to start a homestead. While there’s some information out there, I felt like there wasn’t enough. So, I did some research and came up with this mini-guide to break down the top 5 states to start your homestead in the US.

Here are the top 5 states to homestead in:

  1. Idaho
  2. Tennessee
  3. West Virginia
  4. Oregon
  5. Missouri

Each state has many different pros and cons. Some offer beneficial laws for farming, owning property, and homeschooling, while others aren’t as favorable. I also considered other factors such as the friendliness of the state along with its remoteness and scenery.

Deciding on a state all depends on what’s most important to you and your lifestyle. We’ll explore the cost of living, weather and soil conditions, water accessibility, and more for each of these top homesteading states. Let’s get into it.

1. Idaho

cows on a field in Idaho with mountains in the background

Making the lifestyle change to move your family and start a homestead is a big decision, but for most who choose to do so, the right one. Luckily, you’re not alone, especially not in Idaho! With some of the best soil in the country, laws that favor homesteaders, and a like-minded community, Idaho is the best State to build a homestead in. 

While every family is different and your needs may vary, there is a list of “must have’s” to make the transition to a self-sustainable life easy and attainable for most homesteaders. We’ll cover these topics in the five best states and draw some comparisons so you can decide for yourself where the best homestead location will be for you. 

Community

One of the most significant advantages for Idaho is the friendly people and sense of community amongst homesteaders. Idaho ranks in the top 10 happiest states in the USA, and many people can tell you just how friendly Idahoans are. There are also many homesteaders already established in Idaho, so the probability of having like-minded people near you is high!

Population

Idaho is fortunate to have a low population density, making it a perfect place to live off-grid. In 2018 Idaho was experiencing rapid population growth but mainly only in the cities, and overall the State has only seen a 14% growth in population in the last twenty years.

The population is currently just under 2 million people at 1.787 million. It is also worth noting that a large part of the population increase is birth rates outweighing death rates, reflecting well on the State’s living conditions. 

Best Place for Homesteading in Idaho 

As the cities tend to be densely populated, most homesteaders are drawn to the more remote areas. That being said, if you are a person with small children or health concerns, you might want to be on the outskirts of a city or larger town that has a hospital. 

Boise only has a population of about 234,000 people and is the most densely populated city in Idaho. Living in the city isn’t the best choice for having a homestead, but living outside of it would work for those still wanting easy access to a city environment.

Those interested in privacy and space might find themselves looking to the beautiful desert area in Southern Idaho between Rexburg and Boise. To keep the privacy afforded by rural living but without desert conditions, you could also consider Palouse, which is more prairie conditions, or north of McCall, which is the most scenic area featuring mountains, valleys, and picturesque views.

Cost of Homesteading in Idaho

There are a few different factors to consider in terms of cost when choosing a place to live, especially when considering homesteading. One big theme that will run through all these states is rural internet. If your business is online, this could be your biggest hurdle when choosing a place to live. Rural internet tends to be more limited in what they offer and also more expensive so if being connected is a factor you need, make sure to research what is available.

Idaho has a lower cost of living in most categories, including groceries, healthcare, utilities, and transportation. The outlier is housing, which on average, is about 30k higher than the mean for home prices in the USA. This shouldn’t discourage you though, it doesn’t mean you won’t still find a great deal, and as rural properties tend to be less costly than ones in the city, that statistic might not impact you at all.

Cost per Acre

The cost for an acre of land in Idaho will vary greatly depending on where you choose to live, you can expect to pay about 10k per acre of land. If you want to live close to water or in more picturesque areas, the cost can go up to 20k per acre. However, on the flip side, if you just want prairie land, you can expect to pay around 5k per acre.

Soil, Weather, Water, and Air

When living a homesteader’s life, specific questions will be a lot more important to you than to those who live in a city. You will need to pay attention to the weather, air quality, soil quality, and water accessibility with a lot more scrutiny. 

Luckily Idaho has a very diverse climate, which gives it another advantage for aspiring homesteaders. A lot of where you choose to live will depend on your energy plans. If you’re selecting the solar energy route, it will make sense to choose somewhere in southern Idaho as the area gets more sun, is drier, and stays warm most of the year. 

However, the northern part of the State tends to receive more rain and snow, which is advantageous if you’re hoping to have natural irrigation or water-based energy. It is also a big advantage if you get a property with water rights. This gives you the ability to use public water from lakes and rivers within reason.

Idaho also has the best soil in the country, so you shouldn’t have a hard time finding a place to grow successful crops. The only thing to keep in mind will be how much work you want to put in to get your crops established. If you have the time, energy, and equipment, you might get a deal buying a place with rocky terrain and treating the soil yourself. If not, it is best to buy somewhere with established plant and tree life with terrain that has already been used for planting. Idaho is Zone 7a for hardiness.

When considering growing your own food, it’s crucial to not only think about the soil you’re planting in and the water you’re irrigating with but also the quality of the air. In the cities and by extension around the big cities like Boise, the air quality is below the national average. When choosing your location, pay attention to the air quality index and try and find out about the impact of forest fire smoke in the area.

Laws and Taxes

Idaho’s state laws are friendly to Homesteaders and allow animal raising for domestic and commercial purposes. The building codes also tend to be more lenient when compared to other states. However, if you’re planning to live in a tent or RV while building your homestead, make sure you know the laws in your area. Some parts of Idaho allow it, and others do not. 

In terms of tax considerations, there is a homesteader exemption that will significantly reduce your property taxes by lowering your property’s taxable value by 50%. This exemption also grants a $100,000 protection from creditors on your primary residence, and property up to that $100,000k cap can’t be seized if you are in debt. 

It is also legal to live off-grid in rural Idaho, which is a big point for homesteaders.

Homeschooling

A few different options for homeschooling in Idaho exist, making it accessible by giving parents more freedom. An online program, Connections Academy provides free online homeschooling for K-12 grades. Homeschooling is very popular in Idaho, so there are a ton of resources available to get started. 

2. Tennessee

View of a road trees and houses in Tennessee

Next up on our list in Tennessee, a place known for having some of the friendliest and welcoming people in the country. Also, a place where the government fully encourages homesteading!

Community

In terms of community, you won’t do much better than Tennessee. In fact, it was rated the #2 friendliest state according to a 2019 study. Like Idaho, you’ll also find community in homesteading as it’s quite popular in the State!

Population

Tennessee is a densely populated state with 6.82 million people and has grown by 11.5% since 2000. However, nearly 2 million of these people live in cities like Nashville, Memphis, and Knoxville. The rest of the State is much less densely populated and perfect for building a homestead.

Best Place for Homesteading in Tennessee

While Nashville sits in mid-Tennessee and draws a lot of traffic and expansion, if you look to the east and west of the big city, you’ll find great places to get off the grid. 

Ultimately, any place in Tennessee near a small town is excellent for setting up a homestead and also happens to be where most of the existing ones already are!

Cost of Homesteading in Tennessee

Coming in 13% lower for living costs than the average State, Tennessee appeals to those wanting to save money and live more comfortably. While healthcare is slightly higher than the average, you can expect to pay nearly 70k less for a home when buying in Tennessee. Keep in mind if you need access to the internet, it’s always important to check the rural options and prices.

Cost per Acre

The average cost per acre in Tennessee is around $14,000. However, prices can go as low as $3,000 an acre for relatively good land. 

Soil, Weather, Water, and Air

Tennessee, as a whole, has fairly consistent weather, with all four seasons being clearly defined. The summers are warm though, in certain parts, the humidity can make them more extreme than others. Luckily the winters are mild, and snow tends to only stay on the ground for a few days at a time.

In terms of water availability, Tennessee does get a dry period in the fall, and the State’s average precipitation is about 53 inches a year. The eastern region gets more rainfall than the west.

For agriculture and soil, Tennessee has a lot of variation, so taking a look at a land map before choosing your spot to settle will be key. Some areas provide clay soil that is fertile and great for growing, while other regions have heavy rocky clay that is a disadvantage for farming. The USDA hardiness zones range from 5b to 8a in Tennessee.

Air quality is dependent on location as well, with areas closer to Nashville having low air quality due to the population density, power plants, and oil and gas operations.

Laws and Taxes

Tennessee actively encourages homesteading, so the laws and federal tax code is kind to those farming and living a sustainable life. There is a homesteading tax exemption in Tennessee and laws that prevent a homestead from being seized if the homestead owner is having financial difficulties.

It’s also legal to live off-grid in Tennessee, and they have a growing homesteading culture.

Homeschooling

Tennessee has favorable homeschooling laws that give parents the ability to school their children at home for grades K-12.

3. West Virginia

A farm on a hillside in West Virginia

West Virginia is considered one of the nation’s poorest states, which often makes it low on people’s lists when planning a move. However, for those considering a homesteading lifestyle, it easily makes the top 5. Many different aspects make this one of these best states to live off-grid because the disadvantages a typical household would see don’t apply to those wanting to live rurally in a self-sustained way.

Community

While the happiness index is lower largely because of poor infrastructure and high unemployment rates, the people tend to be still quite friendly. In fact, with how low the cost of living is and the beautiful scenery, homesteaders tend to be much happier than their city-dwelling counterparts in West Virginia. 

Population

With a population of just 1.79 million people and very little growth over the years, this State is the best to live off the grid in. As the economy is poor and doesn’t attract many new residents, homesteaders don’t have to worry about the massive expansion of cities or roadways to interrupt their privacy. This is the first State on our list that has seen a population decrease over the last 20 years.

Best Place for Homesteading in West Virginia

West Virginia doesn’t have any overly populated cities, making nearly all of the State a good option for choosing a homestead property. According to statistics, the best town to live in is Cheat Lake, with a population of 9,337 people, so any land near here would be the most optimal if you wanted to have close ties to a township still. 

Cost of Homesteading in West Virginia

The biggest advantage you have in terms of cost moving to West Virginia is needing 60% less money on average to buy a house. Utilities, transportation, and groceries are also lower than the average cost of living elsewhere in the United States. The trade-off is higher healthcare costs and a healthcare system that is in rough shape, however.

Cost per Acre

In addition to house prices being much lower than the rest of the country, West Virginia also boasts some of the lowest price tags for land per acre. The average is around $5,000, with prices going as low as $2,000 an acre in some areas. Property taxes are also well below the national average, making maintaining the property’s expenses easy as well.

Soil, Weather, Water, and Air

While the lost cost of living and property prices are a significant advantage, location is essential to avoid natural disasters like tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, and winter storms. Overall natural disasters are fairly rare, but flooding is noted as a worry in some parts of the State.

The climate is humid and subtropical, which means you might see extremes in the summer and winter months. There is also a significant difference in temperature between daytime hours and overnight, so you’ll need to prepare accordingly for heating.

Luckily many crops still thrive in these conditions, and even fruits like peaches can be grown and harvested. Overall the soil is quite rich, thanks in part to the complex river system. The USDA hardiness zones range from 5a to 7a.

In addition to the rivers helping enrich the soil, this also means that West Virginia doesn’t have to worry about water shortages. The annual rainfall is between 44 and 56 inches, which is more than sufficient for the average homesteader.

Unfortunately, due to the heavy mining influence, West Virginia doesn’t have the best air or water quality, so filtering will need to be considered in some areas. The good news is the air quality has been improving since 2015, and in 2018 the State reported huge improvements from previous years.

Laws and Taxes

It is legal to live off-grid in West Virginia. The taxes and property taxes are also among the lowest in the country. Unfortunately, as there is still a heavy reliance on mining and fossil fuels, there are no tax credits or clean energy incentives. That being said you can still apply for a tax credit at the federal level.

Homeschooling

Homeschooling is a bit less straightforward in West Virginia with parents needing to keep records and submit results in grades 3,5,8 and 11 to the superintendent in their country. Still, there is the availability to educate at home and information available to follow the State’s rules.

4. Missouri

cows on a field in Missouri

When looking for a place to start a more sustainable and off-the-grid lifestyle, few places offer the benefits that Missouri does. Approximately two-thirds of the state is covered in over 100,000 farms, and nearly all of them are family-owned and operated. 

Missouri has varying terrain that supports many different types of crops and offers forest-covered hills, large lakes, clear rivers, and pasture tracts. Thanks to this multifaceted land, grains, cotton, rice, grapes, and the state’s top two crops, corn, and soybeans, grow in abundance.

Community

Overall, Missouri is a very homesteading-friendly state. Many farmers’ markets, farm-to-table restaurants, and local food marketing programs exist, which offer artisanal goods from local farmers. Missouri is exceptionally committed to its local food industry. Agriculture has an annual economic impact of $88.4 billion in the state, and the Missouri Department of Agriculture is very proactive in helping new and established farms and homesteads across the state. With fewer state government regulations, more freedoms are afforded to people to live the way they want on their property.

Population

Missouri is considered a flyover state, and generally, those states are best for off-the-grid living. Missouri has a population of 6.12 million people, and while the majority of those are spread between five major cities, there are still many people living in rural areas. The population density is relatively low, especially in the southern parts of the state, as most of the population is near Kansas City in the west and St. Louis in the east.

Best Place for Homesteading within Missouri

Most people who live off the grid in this state tend to do so in the southeast near the Mark Twain National Forest due to the lowest housing and land prices. Missouri does have a higher crime rate at about 5.11 crimes per 1000 people relative to the national average of 4 crimes per 1000 people. However, you can mitigate this by living in the less populated northern parts of the state, which boast a lower crime rate.

Cost of Homesteading in Missouri

Generally speaking, the cost of living in Missouri is about 15% cheaper than the national average. You will pay around 30% less for housing, 5% less for groceries, 3% less for healthcare services, and approximately 2% less for utilities.

While living off the grid in Missouri is legal and accessible for the most part, the state has stringent septic system regulations that may require a detailed structure.

Cost per Acre

The cost per acre of land varies depending on the type and location. On average, you can expect to pay around $5,421 per acre for non-irrigated cropland, $6,148 per acre for irrigated cropland, $3,174 per acre for pastureland, and $2,310 per acre for timberland.

Soil, Weather, Water, and Air

For the most part, Missouri has a humid continental climate, although the environment is humid subtropical in the southern part of the state. With average summertime temperatures of about 80°F and average wintertime temperatures of 29°F, Missouri is very well suited to growing crops, the USDA hardiness zones range from 5b to 7a.

As the climate is mostly humid, Missouri has plenty of water both above and below ground. With an average yearly rainfall of 40 inches, and rainwater collection being legal in the state, this can be an excellent collection option, especially in the south.

For generating power, solar and wind are fantastic options as Missouri gets plenty of sunshine all year. Even the winters are mild enough for you to generate power without any problems. 

Laws and Taxes

With friendly regulations for off-the-grid living, Missouri has a lot to offer newly started homesteads. Wherever you choose to set up, you will need to adhere to the local building code, but there are benefits involved. 

The state offers a $500/kW rebate and a property tax exemption for solar energy, though the exact percentage will differ in each county. Also, you can apply for the federal tax credit, which is between 26-30%.

Missouri is not a free-range state, so all livestock must be enclosed within a pasture and have adequate shelter within those enclosures. Failure to fence in or restrain animals can lead to liability for the damages caused by these animals. Check at the municipal and county levels to see what specific livestock ordinances will affect your homestead.

Homeschooling

While the low cost of living and the excellent agricultural land are significant benefits to homesteading in Missouri, you should be aware that the trade-off is lousy education and healthcare systems. Many areas have such poor education in particular that many people homeschool their children, not just those living off the grid. Fortunately, Missouri’s homeschooling laws are simple and relatively easy to follow and are accessible through the state website.

5. Oregon

bison on a field in Oregon

Oregon is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful states in the nation. With many beautiful beaches, forests, mountains, lakes, and rivers, it has a lot to offer those looking to set up their homestead in a scenic part of the country.

Some challenges are unique to this part of the country, and if you can rise to meet these differences, then Oregon can offer a fantastic off the grid homestead.

Community

Right out of the gate, it is essential to be aware that Oregon has a high cost of living, high unemployment, and the value of property is around 49% higher than the national average. Many people move to this state from more affluent places like California, which drive up the costs of housing. However, if you have the budget to get started, Oregon offers plenty of fertile lands and a reasonably mild climate.

Farming is a big business in Oregon, and it is increasingly diversified. Especially in the northwest part of the state, there is a huge market for local crops in restaurants and markets, with strong markets existing elsewhere in the region as well.

Population

Oregon’s population is heavily based along the western side of the state, with the majority being located in Portland. However, there are still many options available for prospective homestead owners. Costs of living are more significant nearer to the coast, and while these prices continue to rise as many Californians move north, it is still possible to get land for reasonable prices if you are willing to take the time to look.

Best Place for Homesteading within Oregon

Due to its large size, there are many different climates available depending on where you wish to live and what you like to grow. The state’s western side is known for producing vegetables like potatoes, sugar beets, onions, snap beans, green peas, sweet corn, hazelnuts, and hops. There is also the potential for fantastic orchards growing apples, pears, berries, cherries, and plums.

The eastern part of the state is semi-arid and does not have the readily accessible groundwater that the western and coastal regions offer. This deficiency can be offset by harvesting rainwater, but some areas have restrictions on collecting and storing rainwater. Be sure to check local county regulations.

Cost of Homesteading in Oregon

As mentioned previously, the cost of living in Oregon is well above the national average for housing in particular, though healthcare and utilities are lower at 12% and 19% less, respectively. With fewer incentives for generating energy and higher property prices, setting up a homestead in Oregon requires more initial capital and becomes profitable once that initial hurdle is overcome.

Cost per Acre

As a very agriculturally diverse state, only beaten by California in terms of the variety of crops grown, the cost per acre of land is rising slowly year by year. Farmland can cost approximately $3,080 per acre as of 2019, and that number is expected to grow based on the last twenty years.

Soil, Weather, Water, and Air

With its incredible natural resources, Oregon has very fertile lands for agriculture. With so many available options for growing vegetables and fruit, it comes down to preference and what market demand your region has. The USDA hardiness zones in Oregon are diverse and range from 4b to 9b.

Oregon’s road system is extensive and well maintained, though there is high yearly rainfall and snowfall in the western part of the state and can be subject to storms or flooding. Also, droughts and wildfires are not uncommon in recent years, and smoke from California wildfires can heavily affect Oregon’s air quality.

Generating power through solar or wind energy is very feasible, though solar is less favorable in the state’s western region due to rain and snow. Oregon offers a special grant of $250,000 for people who want to set up a wind turbine, though only up to 35% of the total setup cost. This grant, however, is mostly aimed at communities that want to set up large wind turbines. 

Laws and Taxes

Off-grid life in Oregon is legal, and most laws are standardized, except for the previously mentioned rainwater regulation. Oregon had a statewide residential energy tax credit; unfortunately, this has expired a couple of years ago. Some counties do offer incentives and rebates, but most of the counties do not provide any incentives. The good news is that you can still apply for the federal tax credit, which is around 26%.

Homeschooling

Homeschooling is not uncommon in Oregon and has the following requirements.

  1. Notify the local Education Service District (ESD) of intent to home school within 10 days of withdrawing from public or private school.
  2. Coordinate with Home School Tester(s) to assess student growth at the end of grade levels 3, 5, 8, and 10 (testing begins 18 months after notification)
  3. Submit test results to local ESD when requested

Conclusion

Friendliest Community Vs. Cheapest Land

Overall the friendliest states to live in if you’re planning to create a homestead are Idaho and Tennessee. However, suppose you’re more interested in finding the cheapest land instead of the friendliest community. In that case, West Virginia is your best bet, and you’ll probably still find a ton of friendly people. 

Free Land for Homesteading?

The absolute cheapest land for homesteading is found in Kansas as you can get land for free if you intend to live self-sustainably. However, in terms of the other aspects of homesteading, Kansas ranks quite low. There is much less freedom allowed for going off-grid, and the water and agriculture aren’t as favorable as other states. That being said Kansas certainly isn’t the worst State to try and start a homestead in.

Worst States for Homesteading

The worst states for homesteading are Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Jersey. Besides having a higher cost of living, the water and agricultural indexes are relatively low, and there are very few people with a self-sustainable mindset making the community nearly non-existent.