How to Find Free Land for Homesteading

While the Homestead Act is a thing of the past, plenty of people are jumping on the modern resurgence in homesteading. Here's how.

The word homestead, which means to live self-sufficiently off the land, has historically evoked visions of the Wild West, and grizzled men with their hardened families striking out into the backcountry to carve out a home from the land.

There is also a deep association with the Homestead Act of 1862, which was signed into law by Abraham Lincoln.  The Homestead Act was a land program that gave away public land to private citizens; 260 million acres, or 10% of the US was settled under the act. Homesteaders were able to claim 160 acres of land at the cost of a filing fee, provided they lived on the land, built a home, and improved and farmed the land.

The prime land was homesteaded quickly, and by the 1930s, homestead claims dropped. The Act remained in effect until 1976 in the Lower 48 and 1986 in Alaska. And while the Homestead Act is no longer around, the notion of "homesteading" has lately seen a resurgence. With real estate prices and interest rates soaring, and inflation taking a chunk out of everyone's income, more people are turning to a simpler, more frugal way of living. Modern homesteaders are typically looking to get a bit off the grid, and often grow their own food, raise livestock, and make their own household goods. Many also are hoping for ample land to hunt and fish on.

While you can no longer claim 160 acres for yourself for free, you can still find yourself a small plot of homestead land for a farm or ranch setup today There are many different types of homesteads and a multitude of ways to go about finding one that meets your needs. Different types of homesteads require different processes to secure a deed,  and much of it depends upon your own hard work and persistence

We've rounded up a few ways you can acquire your own piece of beautiful, free (or at least, cheap) land to homestead.

Remote homestead in Alaskan wilderness

Anakin Fox, Getty Images

1. Alaska: The Last Frontier Of Homesteading

If you are looking for a homestead for hunting, fishing, or camping, your best bet is to look to the Far North, and the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The Last Frontier is one of the few remaining places still actively putting remote and out for bid for new settlers.

While this land will not be completely free, it is probably as cheap as you will find pristine, truly wild land. This off-the-grid living here for the most part, so be prepared to commit yourself to a level of homesteading that's ratcheted up a few notches. Most of the land that goes out for bid is also not accessible by road; be sure you have a plan to get to your land before committing to your purchase. Most Alaskans use bush planes, boats, four-wheelers, or snowmachines to get to their homestead land.

There are three ways the Alaska DNR sells their land: first, by a sealed-bid auction, where potential buyers submit a sealed bid with their highest price and the highest bid wins the right to buy the piece of property; secondly, by an over-the-counter sales system, where land is sectioned off and then sold for directly at or under the appraised value; and finally through a site staking system, where you actually get to go and stake a claim for a property, which is then assessed and sold to you for the appraised market value.

2. Find Free Land In The Lower 48

While the US government on the whole doesn't give away free land anymore, some state and local governments do. If Alaska is a little too remote and too cold for you, look into other (more southern) states that still have quasi-homestead land rules. Some of these places fall into the "urban" category. Urban homesteading, while not providing you the land to hunt or fish on, is still a viable option for people who are looking to get off the grid, rather than simply recreate.

Small towns like Marquette, Kansas, New Richland, Minnesota, and Curtis, Nebraska, offer land for free via application. Many of these communities are small and are looking to build their population.

3. Housesit: Ease Into Homesteading

If urban or small-town homesteading isn't your thing, you'll have to think outside the box to get inexpensive, wilderness homesteading land that allows you the freedom of hunting and fishing. One way to do this for free would be house or land sitting.

Many people who have large lands or properties use them as second properties but need them cared for all year long. There are many long-term house or land-sitting opportunities, not only in the United States but around the world. Check websites like Trusted Housesitters or WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities On Organic Farms), as well as Craigslist.

By starting with housesitting, you'll be able to learn about the homesteading process and work your way into fully understanding and accepting the work involved in owning your own homestead. Whether you're getting paid to oversee the land, or you're just able to use it and live on it for free, it's a nice way to introduce yourself to the idea and ensure it's something you truly want to commit to.

Woman and her dogs on a homestead.

4. Cough It Up

Outside of these opportunities, you are probably looking at purchasing your own piece of land to homestead. This option gives you a little more freedom when it comes to where you are going to live, but it also means that you may have to come up with some big-time cash if you want prime land.

If your goal is less wilderness-connected, and you are concerned less with large acreage and more with being able to build a proper home and life, then the options are more open. It will be even easier if you do not care where you live, as you'll be able to jump on prime opportunities when they pop up. Many off-grid homesteaders acquire their own little piece of heaven simply by not being too picky. And if you are looking for a new adventure, it can be exciting not knowing whether you will be living in Ohio, Colorado, Maine, or New York during the search. Cast a wide net with realtors, you may be surprised what they call to offer you.

5. States to Consider for Homesteading

States in particular that have a large number of homesteading opportunities are Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan, and Minnesota. Generally, opportunities are more through city municipalities, though, such as Plainview, Kansas, Elwood, Nebraska, and Flagler, Colorado. The great thing about many of these properties is that they come at no to low costs, and some even include extended property tax benefits. There are literally acres of land begging to be homesteaded.

A lot of these opportunities do have strings attached, including specific requirements for when or how a house must be built, and even specifications on the size or layout of the house. But, if those are things you are willing to work with and compromise on, you can be sitting on prime land in an up-and-coming community for little to no cost on the property.

The best way to find these particular homesteading opportunities is to contact local governments. Many have offerings listed on the web, but there are many more that may be available if you make the effort to search them out.

Figure out (generally) where you want to live, and start making phone calls. If you are passionate and show a willingness to work hard, you'll be surprised at how quickly doors will start to open for homesteaders.