Note from HJL: The following is the first in a series of articles on retreat locales from JWR’s eldest son, Jonathan Rawles. The series will focus initially on top retreat states, then address specific regions in each state.
Idaho has long been considered a mecca for the survivalist, prepper, and for every strain of independence-loving individual. The attractions are clear. Idaho remains one of the freest and safest places in the world. Geographically, Idaho can be split in two. The upper half of the state is largely rugged and mountainous, while the southern end is basin and range country similar to Nevada and Utah. The northern end of the state is heavily timbered, with plentiful water, while the southern end is relatively dry.
The Republican party is firmly rooted in Idaho, with its representatives and presidential votes consistently going to the GOP. While most are mainline conservative, there is also a strong sympathy for the Libertarian and Constitution parties, and a fair portion of the population that is simply independent minded and distrustful of any party.
Economically, Idaho has mixed blessings. The cost of living is low but comes with a low per capita income. Idaho has a moderate tax burden, estimated by the Tax Foundation at 9.5% of state income. Many people relocate to Idaho hoping to find work easily, but it is often hard to come by, especially in northern Idaho. Those planning to relocate must be prepared for a struggle! Ideally, seek to develop a stream of income that is not dependent on the local economy. Transitioning to telecommuting or freelance work may be a good choice, if there is not a good job already waiting for you.
Idaho enjoys a true four season climate. Locals half-jokingly refer to these seasons as “Winter,” “Mud,” “Deer,” and “Winter.” Winters are far milder than those experienced east of the Rockies. The northern end of the state does get heavy snow, which can make travel difficult. Forest fires are the worst natural disaster, though Idaho is a moderate risk for earthquakes. Growing seasons can be short, necessitating greenhouses and short-season gardening for self-sufficiency. Overall, the climate is temperate.
Idaho is known for its tremendous natural beauty. Many of its residents vouch for it as being the most beautiful place on earth. It is also blessed with tremendous natural resources. Though mining and logging are no longer the powerhouses they once were, Idaho remains tied to the land. Millions of acres of national forest and public land provide ready access to backcountry, as well as abundant wild plants and game. Deer, elk, huckleberries, and mushrooms are all relished by Idahoans. In the less mountainous areas of Idaho, agriculture is prolific and varied. The Palouse Hills of north central Idaho have some of the deepest and richest topsoil in the nation.
Idaho’s culture is a unique blend of pioneer, redneck, conservative, and outdoor enthusiast. Most of the folks you will meet are truly ordinary folks. A Google search will give you a long list of “You Might Be From Idaho if…” jokes. Most of them are true. Our friends at Paratus Familia and Rural Revolution can give you an enjoyable and honest look at Idaho life. Idaho also enjoys an extremely low crime rate of 247 violent crimes per 100,000 pupulation vs. the national average of 474. This rate is even lower in rural areas away from the cities. A pioneer spirit of watching out for ones neighbors has persisted, along with a desire for independence and privacy. Though the cities have grown in culture and sophistication, much of Idaho is firmly rooted in its unsophisticated roots. You can find homes that are fully off-grid, off of a dirt road, with satellite Internet, and modern in style.
Starting in far northern Idaho, there are the communities of Bonners Ferry and Priest River. These two valleys reach towards the Canadian border and may truly be the most beautiful country Idaho has to offer. Privacy, timber, and water are abundant, though winters can be long and snowy. The area is mostly occupied by public land, making larger parcels hard to come by.
The area between Sandpoint and Coeur d’Alene offers access to “big city” comforts in Spokane, with all the beauty of North Idaho, and many private spots. Home prices do tend to be higher, and large private parcels are hard to find. Many recent California transplants have pushed prices up, and pushed the political spectrum leftwards. From Fairchild AFB, west of Spokane, through Post Falls, Rathdrum, and to Cd’A, it is relatively densely populated and built up. For real privacy and security, look on Hwy. 97 on the southeast side of the Lake Coeur d’Alene or south of Post Falls, across the Spokane River. As you head south on Hwy. 95, you come onto the Coeur d’Alene Reservation. Land prices are lower here, but the economy is much weaker. Further, you will be dealing with an extra layer of government with federal, state, and also tribal governments.
Latah County is part of the Palouse Hills region, with a fairly mild climate, plentiful water, and rich topsoil and agriculture. This was the setting for James Wesley, Rawles’ first novel, Patriots. The economy is diverse and fairly strong, with the advantage of high tech industry and colleges in Moscow and Pullman, Washington. It is disadvantaged by the lack of privacy, due to the open terrain. However, from a standpoint of self-sufficiency, economy, and freedom, it is one of our top choices.
We do recommend the St. Maries area, east of the Reservation following Hwy. 3 and 6 through Emida and Fernwood. Here you find much more privacy and affordable land. There is extensive public land in the St. Joe National Forest. Private land is not abundant, but excellent properties come up from time to time. This area is over an hour and a half to any significant city, so an ideal area for those that are prepared for a backcountry lifestyle.
Heading towards southern Idaho, the Clearwater River Valley is another interesting location. It is mostly located on the Nez Perce Reservation, but it does offer some of Idaho’s mildest winters and best growing seasons. The critical distinction here is to remain in the valley, rather than on the high prairie nearby. There is a dramatic difference in climate between Orofino, along the Clearwater, and Fraser, a few miles away. One is referred to by locals as “Freezer.” A few locations can be found that are in the valley microclimate but off the reservation.
Lemhi and Custer counties offer tremendous space, with very little population. Salmon (pop. 3112) and Challis (pop. 1081) are the only major towns. Boise, Twin Falls, Pocatello, and Idaho Falls are all sufficiently removed to be a minor concern. On the downside, civilization is at least a two hour drive away. This is another excellent area for those looking for a very remote retreat and planning on nearly complete self-sufficiency.
The McCall area, along with Cascade and Garden Valley, provides a rural area within reach of Boise. This region has some of the snowiest winters in Idaho, but it’s a beautiful area for those that don’t mind snow. Garden Valley enjoys proximity to Boise but is accessed only by one major route, offering good security.
Most of the very south end of Idaho is sagebrush cover basin and range country. Land is cheap, but agriculture mostly depends on grid-pumped irrigation or scarce grazing, and there is little other industry. If you are looking for wide open spaces and find a place with a good well, there is plenty of sun for solar power, and looks of nearly vacant back country, with secluded plateaus and canyons. Owyhee County in the southwest corner offers boundless space. The Montpelier area in southeast Idaho has more dryland farming, not dependent on the power grid, and is a potentially sustainable area. The proximity to the Salt Lake City metro area is a concern anywhere along the I-15 corridor.
When you are ready to seriously start land shopping in north Idaho, start at SurvivalRealty.com. We would be glad to connect you with dozens of retreat properties in Idaho and our directory of knowledgeable and discreet real estate agents across the state.
Idaho is home to over 180 business in the firearms industry! Boise State Public radio has a amusingly alarmist piece on the subject, which fortunately includes a greatdirectory of firearms and ammunition businesses. It is also one of the most small business-friendly states in the nation and is a great place to start or move a business.
Idaho has been stigmatized for its associations with racist groups, like the Aryan Nations. The Aryan Nations disbanded in 2004 and were bid good riddance. There are still a few disagreeable individuals in Idaho, as befits a state that respects a person’s right to be disagreeable. When you talk to most Idahoans, you find they have equal disdain for politically-correct doublespeak as for racism and hatred.
There’s been a history of anti-government sentiment in Idaho that reached a peak after the murder of Sam and Vicki Weaver at Ruby Ridge. It has left many with strong distrust of the federal government. This feeling has persisted. There has been a shift movement away from the organization of militia groups and associations, while an independent spirit remains. Among some folks, talk of “survivalism” and organizing militias is lightly ridiculed. When you talk further, you find that these same people are well armed, prepared, and plan to protect their rural communities!
Idaho is also remarkable for its overall freedom-loving nature. It has been ranked as one of the most small business friendly states in the nation. Homeschooling is legal and does not require reporting to the school district or raise eyebrows when you take midday trips to the public library. In nearly every aspect, the state government has committed to keeping its nose out of individual’s business. Raw milk is legally sold in grocery stores, and open carry of firearms is common.
Overall, Idaho is our #1 pick for retreat locations. Its economy poses definite drawbacks, as do snowy winters, but for those that are able to find a living and handle a rugged lifestyle, it can really be the “prepper’s paradise.”
Jonathan Rawles is the owner of SurvivalRealty.com, a SurvivalBlog spinoff site, specializing in connecting people with knowledgeable, reliable agents and remote, off-grid, and self-sufficient retreat properties.