Regardless of what your survival plans are, they have to include a bug out plan. Even if your home is the best prepared, best fortified and best stocked prepping home there is, built just for survival, you might find yourself forced to bug out. There are just some things that nature can do to us, which can make anyplace untenable.

Few of us have a really great bug out plan. That’s mostly because of cost. Without an actual survival retreat to go to, our options just aren’t all that good. Oh, we can bug out and we can probably even survive; but there’s a difference between just surviving and thriving in our new life.

It seems like just about everyone I talk to in the prepping and survival community aspires to have a survival retreat somewhere, that proverbial cabin in the woods. Granted, a cabin in the woods is a pretty nice thing to have anyway, even without the need to use it as a survival retreat. But if we can ever actually get to the point of building it, where should we do it?

This isn’t the kind of project that we’re going to get to redo, if it doesn’t work out the first time around. I seriously doubt that any of us would get a second chance. Just the cost alone would make a second project more or less impossible. Besides, after going through all the work of preparing a first survival retreat, how many of us would really like to have to do it again?

So we want to think this through the best we can, making sure that we think of everything we can and come up with the best possible solution. A solution that will serve our family’s needs, no matter what sort of disaster hits.

Basic Requirements for Our Location

To start with, we need to understand the type of place we need, the land itself, for our survival retreat. Not just anything will do, even though there are a lot of things we can work around. Even so, it’s best to start out with a list of requirements that we need, and then if we find land that doesn’t meet one of them, figure out how to deal with that lack, before buying the land.

I’m going to have to make some assumptions in this process, so I’ve decided on the following:

  • The survival retreat we build has to be sustainable for the rest of our lives, not just until our supplies run out.
  • Whatever disaster strikes will cause massive social unrest, accompanied by lawlessness.
  • We are going to be able to travel to the location we select.

Those might seem a bit obvious to you, but I wanted to state them up front, just to make sure that we’re on the same sheet of music. So, based on those, whatever site we choose will need the following:

Remote Enough to Reduce Chance Encounters

Probably the number one requirement in selecting the location for any survival retreat is avoiding other people. The risk of others, who might wish to do you harm, is probably the biggest reason why people build bunkers today. While I’m not a fan of bunkers, I do agree with the bunker builders’ philosophy of avoiding other people in the wake of a disaster. Unless you are strong enough to fight of a sizeable attack, meeting up with anyone you don’t know is a very risky business.

Of course, there are few places in the country which are truly remote, yet still livable. Building a survival retreat in the middle of the Mohave Desert, just to be in a remote location, probably isn’t a good idea. You might survive unscathed by roving bands, merely to die of dehydration.

But it is unlikely that others who are building cabins in the woods are likely to be much of a problem. They’re probably going to be people who want to be left alone, just about as much as you are. People who want crowds don’t build homes or even vacation homes in remote areas.

One thing that can help with being remote is buying a large enough tract of land to ensure privacy. If all you own is a quarter-acre, you can be pretty sure you’re going to see your neighbors. But seeing your neighbors when you own 10 or 20 acres of wooded hillside is going to be much less likely. While they might be there, probably the only time you’ll see each other is when  you do so intentionally.

Difficult to Approach, Yet Accessible

This one’s a bit of a contradiction. On one hand, you’re going to have to be able to get in there, brining in building material, equipment and supplies. So you’re going to need some sort of access that you can use, even if it is something that requires a four-wheel-drive vehicle to negotiate. At the same time, you don’t want a paved highway leading right to your door.

Probably the best you can hope for is some land that is off a country road or other side-road. If you are careful, you might be able to hide the point you use as your access road. I wouldn’t bother taking the time and effort to clear that access any more than absolutely necessary, so as to avoid making it look like anyone is home. The less cleared it is, the more it might appear abandoned to someone looking to find who lives in the area.

Another thing to consider is making it easy to block off your access. Let’s just assume that you can’t block off your access road for some reason. In that case, what can you do to barricade it? Dropping a large  tree or two across the access road, closing the door as you enter your retreat, might work just as well, especially if it’s a long ways from that point to your front door.

Access to Water

No matter what, you’ve got to have water. That is the single most difficult supply to stockpile; not because of cost or difficulty in attaining, but because of how much you need. So you have to have a way of replenishing your water, over and above whatever you might have in your cistern.

Ideally, it would be great to have a stream running along the edge of your property or to have a place built on the shores of a lake. Even a good spring on your property would be good. But finding that sort of land that is not already occupied is difficult, and if you can find it, it’s probably going to be expensive.

Of course, you don’t actually have to have surface water on your land, if you are close enough that it is accessible. I’d say that accessible has to mean accessible without using a vehicle. That doesn’t give you a very big radius, as water is heavy and you’re going to end up hauling it across uneven ground. So unless you have a team of horses and a wagon, you’re going to be limited to 10 or 20 gallons at a time, even with a hand cart.

Don’t limit your thinking to surface water though. Rainfall capture or drilling a well are good options, just as they would be at home. Of course, this means having to find out how much annual rainfall there is or how deep the groundwater is.

The problem with rainwater capture is legalities. Not all states allow it and the EPA makes it extremely difficult to build a pond for catching runoff, even on your own land. They take the viewpoint that all water belongs to the government. So if you build a pond to catch runoff, you’re stealing the government’s water. The fines can be astronomical.

Wells aren’t as bad, legality wise, but they’re expensive to drill, especially if you have to go deep. However, if your survival retreat is anywhere near a lake, especially downstream of it, chances are that the water table is much higher than you would think.

Access to Food

While I’m sure that you’ll be stockpiling lots of food, it will eventually run out. So you’re going to need to have access to ongoing food sources. Whether those are ones nature provides or those that you grow yourself will be your decision. You’ll probably be best off looking to do a combination of the two.

Keep in mind that any hunting or fishing you do will diminish the available supply of those animals. So you’ll want to spread your hunting and fishing activities out, allowing the natural breeding of the animals to replenish those that you harvest. How much you can actually harvest will depend a lot on how many others are out there hunting and fishing too. Hopefully, if you’re in a remote enough location, the only ones who will be are other survivalist  who are as conscious of maintaining the game population as you are.

With that in mind, you may very well want to consider raising some livestock and growing vegetables. So you’ll want to look at the land with a critical eye towards that possibility. How well will the land take to cultivating? While a mountainside might be a great place to live, it’s a lot harder to grow a garden there.

Old-growth Forest

No matter where you are, you’re going to need wood, even if you don’t build a wood cabin. Old growth forest gives you two advantages over young forests. First of all, the trees will be taller, so any trees you need to cut down will yield more wood for you. Secondly, there will be deadfalls around, providing you with a ready source of firewood.

There are many areas in the southwest where forests are pretty scarce. More than anything, you run into miles and miles of prairie. What trees you do find, tend to be small. So they’re not going to yield a lot of wood and definitely can’t be cut into long boards. This makes much of the southwest a poor choice for a survival retreat.

It also explains why many of the buildings during the pioneering days were made of adobe. Even today, Mexicans build out of cement block, patterning their style after those adobe homes. This drastically reduces the amount of wood they need to have, making it possible to build. But they still needed forests for their firewood and for making furniture.

This means that you want to avoid the American Midwest; most of the land between the Mississippi River and the foot of the Rocky Mountains. While this has been the breadbasket of the nation since it was settled, there is very little forest land. Although thousands of settlers made their homes in those states, it would be harder today, especially in the wake of a disaster, than it was back then.

Good Climate

Speaking of the southwest, climate is a major factor in determining a good location for a survival retreat. The lack of trees, water and high heat make the southwest a poor place to build a survival retreat. But there are other parts of the country which are poor choices due to the cold. Those are difficult areas of the country to live in as well.

Ideally, you want a part of the country which has a temperate climate, with all four of the seasons showing up and being identifiable by more than the calendar date. You also want enough rainfall to ensure that any crops you grow will receive enough water.

One of the problems here is that the farther north you go, the shorter the growing season is. As you will probably end up growing some of your own food, that growing season is important. The shorter it gets, the better a farmer you have to be, to get your seed in the ground early enough that you can get a good harvest. Farther south you will have a longer growing season, even to the point of being able to get two or even three harvests in a year.

Altitude affects the climate as well. While I’m a big fan of the mountains, living in them puts you at a higher altitude, which means it will be colder. That works out to be like living farther north. However, the mountains provide other advantages as well, such as plentiful game, easily defensible areas and abundant forests.

Looking at Some Specific Regions

Based upon the criteria listed above, we can easily identify areas on the map, which are worth looking at. Let’s take a look at various regions of the country, with the idea of identifying specific target areas.

New England

New England, the northeast part of the country, is the most heavily populated part of the country, other than Southern California. As such, it is difficult to find areas which are not populated and where you can actually build a cabin in a place where you can’t see your neighbors.

Even so, there are some areas that are at least more sparsely populated than others, providing some chance of hiding. This is especially true of Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire, although you can find some parts of Upstate New York and Pennsylvania where there are still remote areas. The key to remaining hidden in these areas will be careful location of your survival shelter and use of natural camouflage.

The good thing about the northeast is that there is a lot of old growth hardwood forest; in places quite dense. So the forest itself will help to hide you, as well as providing ample wood for your fires and other needs.

Kentucky and Tennessee

There are still plenty of remote mountain areas in Kentucky and Tennessee that you can choose from, as well as the western part of the Carolinas. There are even developers who are selling 5 and 10 acre tracts in those hills, especially for those who want to create a survival retreat. The good thing about that is that all your neighbors will be people with a similar mindset. So they are likely to be willing to work together towards common goals.

This region of the country also has a much more temperate climate than the northeast, providing gentler winters and longer growing seasons. That makes them preferable to the northeast, if you can get there.

Arkansas and Missouri

There are areas in Northern Arkansas and Southern Missouri which are much like Kentucky and Tennessee, except that it’s rolling hills, rather than mountains. That would make it easier to cultivate the soil. However, it provides less benefit for defense.

Wisconsin and Minnesota

These two states are known for their cold. Even so, there are areas which are not heavily populated, if you’re willing to live far to the north. As the “land of 1,000 lakes” Minnesota shouldn’t have any water shortages. Like the Dakotas, Wyoming and Montana to the west, there are large areas of these states which are sparsely populated, although not as sparsely.

The Dakotas, Wyoming and Michigan

Except for the cold, these states would be my choice. They have some of the lowest population densities in the country, with vast open land and ample forests. For a remote location, you can’t beat these states. But they are better suited to ranchlands, due to the short growing season, than they are to being used as farmlands. Better plan on building greenhouses if you’re going to plant a garden.

I would also say that these states are the ones where you would have the best possibility of living off the land, especially by hunting. The low population in this part of the country means that there is a higher proportionate game population. With fewer hunters, the game populations will remain high. Even during the aftermath of a disaster, chances are that the wild game populations will remain some of the best in the nation, simply because there probably won’t be all that many people bugging out to these states.

The Four Corners Region

I grew up at the foot of the Colorado Rockies, so I’m partial to this area. The states of Colorado (west half), Utah (east half), New Mexico (northwest), and Arizona (northeast) provide us with the best mountain country our nation has. As such, they are the best areas to go to, if you really want to escape into the mountains. While there are many mountain communities to be found, there is also a lot of unoccupied land, still within shouting distance of those communities.

The Pacific Coast

The West Coast, like the eastern part of the country, has the problem of high population densities. This means that there are few areas where you can go, which are truly remote. However, once you get into northern California and southern Oregon, you find some more remote areas. These combine many of the same benefits as the other areas I’ve mentioned, along with proximity to the ocean.

Choice Areas I See

There are a few areas in the country, which I see as prime areas for preppers to look at for survival retreats. I have to admit, that this information isn’t something that I’ve come up with myself, but rather based on what I am seeing others do. There are certain trends which are notable, simply because they make sense.

Any Isolated Beaches

I rarely hear anyone talk about bugging out to the beach somewhere, but in some ways it’s an ideal choice. To start with, chances of the sea running out of fish for you to catch are much lower than forests running out of game for you to shoot. So as long as you like fish, you should be able to feed yourself. With the right sort of planning and equipment, you could even be set to take advantage of some of the ocean’s delicacies.

The other thing that the ocean can provide you with is an endless supply of water. Of course, that water will need to be distilled before it can be used, but setting up a distillation operation would probably be easier than drilling a well.

If you can find a nice beach on an island, that’s even better, as the island itself will provide you with natural protection from attack. It is unlikely that anyone who might want to attack you will have a boat. So other than pirates, you should be fairly safe.  

The Northwest Islands

Speaking of islands, the islands off the coast of Oregon and Washington are a beautiful place to think about bugging out to, if you can afford the land. There are already some who have picked this area, mostly wealthy entrepreneurs form Silicon Valley. The land of these islands is lush with vegetation, so it would grow crops easily, even if the growing season was short. There would also be the advantage of being able to fish in the ocean for food.


As far as I’m concerned, any mountainous area is better than the flatlands. That’s not just a prejudice based on my liking the mountains, but rather based upon the fact that it’s easier to hide in the mountains, than it is to hide in the valleys. Between the folds of the land and the forests, it will be hard for people to find you.

Mountain areas are also top spots in the country for hunting. So while the wild game population will probably be greatly diminished in a post-disaster world, you will still have a better chance of finding game to hunt in the mountains, than probably anywhere else.

Rural Communities

Earlier I mentioned the rural communities in the Four Corners area. You are likely to find such communities just about anywhere you go. There are few truly unsettled areas in the country, other than areas that are extremely arid. So chances are that you’re going to at least be near a rural community, even if you aren’t part of it.

In the wake of a disaster, those communities have a much greater chance of survival than the cities do. While not all rural communities are farm communities, the lower population density means that whatever resources they have will need to provide for fewer people. That’s a huge advantage.

But these communities also pose a problem to those of us who might want to consider establishing a nearby base. That is, they tend to be more closed to outsiders. When everyone in town knows each other, strangers stand out. It is unlikely that these communities will take kindly to strangers showing up on their doorstep in the wake of a disaster. If they can, they will probably defend themselves from such “invaders” not allowing them to even come into the community.

The solution to this is to integrate yourself into the community before any such event can happen. If you buy property in or near one of these communities, you should take some time to visit the community, getting to know the people. Such action could very well prevent you from being considered an outsider and be received as a part of the community returning home to them.

A Final Thought

No matter where you ultimately select to establish a survival retreat, assuming that you are able to do so, you want to spend time there; not just building, but getting to know the area and the patterns of the wildlife. Visit it at various times of the year, so that you can see what the weather is like and how that weather will affect your survival plans.

You also want to integrate yourself into any community that there is, even if that is nothing more than a few other scattered survivalists. Regardless of whatever disaster happens, there will come a time when you’ll need help with something. Knowing others will provide you with the opportunity for that help.

Dave Steen

About The Author: Dave is a 58 year old survivalist; father of three; with over 40 years of survival experience. He started young, learning survival the hard way, in the school of hard knocks. Now, after years of study, he's gray-haired and slightly overweight. That hasn't dimmed his interest in survival though. If anything, Dave has a greater commitment to survival than ever, so that he can protect his family. Click Here To Read More About Dave

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