How To Live In The Wilderness -or Woods-Legally – 7 Facts (Explained)

How to live in the wilderness legally

We are sure that there are very few people that haven’t dreamed about just running away into the wilderness or woods and living their lives completely carefree. It is how you ended up on this article, after all.

So, can you live in the wilderness legally? What do you need to do to make it a reality? All of your questions are going to be answered on this page!

Can you live in the wilderness legally?

You can. Sort of.

If you expect to just pack up one day and live on a random parcel of land in the middle of nowhere then, no. That isn’t illegal. All land in the United States is owned by somebody. It could be privately owned, or owned by the country. Nothing is unowned.

There are ways that you can still live in the wilderness or woods, though. We are going to start with going through the methods that are legal.

Methods that you won’t have any issues with. We then want to go into a method that is technically illegal, but if you keep yourself to yourself, then it is likely that nobody will bother you.

Buying land

The simplest way to live in the wilderness legally is to buy a small plot of land.

You will be surprised at how affordable undeveloped land in the wilderness actually is. Obviously, if you are looking to build a property on it, then the cost will start to stack up quickly.

However, if you are planning on bringing an RV along or living in a tent, then you can buy a parcel of land for a few thousand dollars.

The tricky part of this probably isn’t so much the moving, it is more finding a parcel of land that is actually deep in the wilderness.

These pieces of land do not come up for sale all that often. When they do, chances are that they are not going to be as far away from civilization as you would think.

Once you have bought land, you are probably going to be free to do whatever you want with it. However, as with almost everything that we mention on this website, you are still going to need to look into the local laws so you can be 100% sure that you are using the land legally! 

How To Get Land FOR FREE! >> Check out the video below:

Camping on BLM land

Your second option is to camp on land owned by the Bureau of Land Management. They operate campsites and wilderness areas throughout the United States. In fact, about 15% of all land in the United States is operated by the BLM.

They operate a lot of National Parks too. The National Parks will often allow you to camp out in the wilderness, but you are going to need to have a permit.

If you camp on BLM land, however, then do bear in mind that you are going to be less free than if you bought your own land. In most cases, you won’t be able to stay in the same place for too long.

It is very, very rare that you will be able to find a bit of BLM land that is not going to be checked every so often by park rangers. It may seem like you are in the heart of the wilderness and that everybody is going to leave you alone.

Chances are, this isn’t the case. A park ranger will be along eventually.

Of course, this is probably going to be the best option for those people at want to travel from area to area. So, if you are more of a wanderer than a person that wants to settle down in the same place for long periods of time, then using BLM land is probably the way to go.

Camping where nobody goes

This is a NOT legal option, but it has worked for some people.

Obviously, there is a lot of land in the United States. Lots of wilderness areas. This means that there likely will be places that you can stay long term without being caught. In fact, this is what a lot of people that are living in the wilderness or woods will be doing.

Now, do bear in mind that if you do this you are going to be trespassing. If you are caught, then you could potentially be facing criminal charges.

A lot of people that do this try to keep themselves to themselves. Don’t cause any hassle, and you are running a far lower chance of somebody being able to spot you. 

We think that this method is probably going to be best for those that are going to be constantly on the move i.e. not spending more than a night or two in a single location.

It is important that you pay attention to the land that you enter on. Do not enter onto private property, for instance.

Read also: Is It Illegal to Live In a Tent in the Woods? (UPDATED FACTS)

Preparing to live in the wilderness

Living in the wilderness is not going to be easy. We won’t lie to you. Most people that think they can live in the wilderness quite clearly can’t. If you do not believe that you can do the following things, then living in the wilderness isn’t for you:

  • Hunting or fishing for your own food
  • Ensuring that a camp is safe from predators
  • Administering your own first aid
  • Identifying plants and animals
  • Toolmaking
  • Firemaking and safety

There isn’t a single person out there that can just pack up one day and head out into the wilderness. It normally takes years and years of learning the skills needed to navigate a harsh environment like this.

We would suggest that you spend many multi-day trips out there in the wilderness, leading up to multi-week trips, and finally multi-month trips before you even contemplate moving out there permanently.

how to live in the woods legally

This is the only way that you can pick up all of the skills that you need and remain safe. 

👉 Now, we know that some people will argue that humans used to be able to do all these things such as living outdoors. You are correct.

They did. However, we are not taught these skills anymore as we do not really need to be using them. The humans of the past worked in social groups too, which offered a lot more protection.

Is it safe to live in the wilderness?

You can be as prepared as you want, but living in the wilderness is still inherently unsafe. Remember, when you are in the heart of the trees or a desert, you won’t have access to the following:

  • Regular food and water supply
  • Police
  • Ambulance
  • Guaranteed access to warmth and shelter.

Something that you could easily be treated for if you injured yourself in the middle of a town could be deadly out there in the wild. Some issues may not even heal properly if you do not seek medical attention. 

👉 You would think that crime isn’t an issue if you are out there in the wilderness. It is. Obviously, the risk of a crime occurring in the wilderness is far lower than in a town or city.

But, if somebody with bad intentions gets wind of where you are staying, then there is no guarantee that you will be safe.

👉 If you are going to be staying in the wilderness, then you absolutely need to make sure that somebody knows where you are.

We know that most people are heading into the wilderness to get away from it all. However, this is something that rarely ever works out for them.

Do you still have to pay taxes in the wilderness?

For some obscure reason, some people believe that running off into the wilderness is going to absolve them of any tax obligations.

It doesn’t. If you are a legal citizen of the United States, then you have a legal obligation to pay taxes. It doesn’t matter where you are.

👉 Obviously, this is something that is only going to apply if you have some sort of income. We can’t imagine that you are going to be in employment if you are living in the wilderness, but there may be other sources of income that you have.

We doubt that the IRS is going to be coming to hunt you down in the wilderness or woods. But, if you do owe taxes and they find out where you are, then you are going to have to be dealing with a tax bill.

👉 If you own land, you should also remember that there may be taxes to pay on land ownership. You need to make sure that you keep up on these payments, otherwise you run the risk of losing the land that you are living on.

👉 In some states, there is also a legal requirement for any land that you own to be hooked up to the sewage and water services. If you are not hooked up, then you will be fined by the area. If you do not pay your fines, then you will have to run the risk of losing your land.

👉 We had to clear this up, because there are just way too many people that think that living in the wilderness absolves them of all of the responsibilities that they have in their life.

We wish this were the case, but you are still going to have a lot of obligations that you need to meet and, one day, there is a strong chance that these obligations will catch up with you.

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Living in the wilderness can be legal, if you do it right. However, do bear in mind that living in the wilderness is not going to be some dream lifestyle.

It is incredibly dangerous to be doing. You are not going to be able to escape the responsibilities that you have in your life by doing it either.

You will likely still need to pay taxes, and there may be laws in the area that you have to abide by, particularly if you own land.

If you can make living in the wilderness work for you, and it is going to take a lot of effort, then many of the people that have done it claim that it is one of the greatest experiences that you can possibly have. It will completely change you as a person.

Even if you do not spend the rest of your life living out there in the wilderness, just a few years can shake up everything and teach you vital life skills.


Mike Gilmour

Hi, I'm Mike, co-founder, and editor of RV and Playa. My passion is traveling (with my RV) and enjoying the day at the beach (Playa)! Well, I originally created this blog as a way to share what I've learned by experimenting with the RV lifestyle, and I want to help others develop in life through new skills and opportunities.

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