Idaho seems to have it all. Famous for rich russet potatoes and miles of marvelous mountains, this Pacific Northwest paradise is a homesteader’s dream — but the Gem State isn’t without its flaws.
So, what do homesteaders need to know? I’m here to break it down with a complete guide to homesteading in Idaho, including essential information on the climate, agricultural conditions, and how to make money from your homestead.
Is Homesteading Legal in Idaho?
Homesteading is legal in Idaho, and the state is very homestead friendly. Laws here favor self-sufficiency and emphasize environmentalism, with various programs in place to promote independent living and alternative energy.
Idaho Homesteading Laws
Idaho’s homestead statutes prevent some creditors from seizing land in the event of owner bankruptcy. The law was recently updated to cover a homestead’s value up to $175,000, but it does not protect against tax or mortgage liens.
Idaho also provides a generous tax exemption covering the homestead and up to one acre of land. This law exempts 50% of a property’s market value from the assessed or taxable value. The exemption caps at $125,000 but could still reduce your tax payment by hundreds of dollars.
Is Going Off-Grid Legal in Idaho?
Going off-grid is legal in Idaho. While there are some off-grid laws to contend with, it’s relatively simple compared to other states. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Idaho has no statewide laws requiring residents to connect to the power grid, but municipal regulations may vary, and most areas require sewer connection where possible.
- Alternative energy is popular in Idaho, but some systems work better than others. Solar and wind power could be especially feasible depending on your region, climate, and terrain.
- Idaho homeowners can design and build their own alternative off-grid power systems. However, they must purchase a permit and submit plans for the project beforehand.
Buying Land to Homestead in Idaho
If you want to start a homestead in Idaho, it’s essential to examine the quality and affordability of land here and determine what region best suits your goals.
Cost and Availability
As the 14th-largest state in the union, there’s no shortage of land for sale in Idaho. Hundreds of thousands of acres are up for grabs, and many of these tracts are suitable for homesteading.
Those hoping to hop on the agriculture train will be interested to learn that the average value of cropland is $4,950 per acre, while pastureland sits at $1,970 per acre. Farm real estate lands are currently valued at $3,700 per acre.
What about property tax? The average rate in Idaho is 0.99%, ranking it among the lowest in the country. Cha-ching!
Quality and Accessibility
You need land that supports your lifestyle. Here are some things to keep in mind when you purchase:
- Soil quality: Many Idaho regions have rich farmland, but others are rocky and barren. Check the soil quality in whatever area you buy, and remember that different tracts in the same region can vary greatly. Inspect the ground yourself and have the soil tested by a pro if necessary.
- Accessibility: Idaho is studded with snowy mountains. While these frosty peaks are beautiful, excessive freezing and snow may make traveling to and from your land hard when winter hits. You don’t want to be stranded anywhere, so research the road systems surrounding the property and the weather history before you buy.
- Restrictions: Restrictions vary by municipality and county. While Idaho is generally homestead friendly, always look up your property’s zoning rules to avoid any nasty surprises once the purchase goes through.
Best Regions for Homesteading
Idaho varies significantly in terms of scenery and conditions. A few regions stand out to homesteaders, and the best one for you will depend on what you hope to accomplish.
- Panhandle: The Idaho panhandle has the most relaxed property laws in the state. It is home to Idaho County, Bonner County, and Boundary County, all known meccas for off-gridders seeking freedom from municipal restrictions. Harsh weather and unforgiving mountain terrain make homesteading here challenging, but the region still manages to attract an abundance of interest. While the growing season is short from an agricultural standpoint, cultivating timber could be a lucrative alternative.
- Treasure Valley: Treasure Valley is a peaceful oasis in southwestern Idaho stretching through five counties and across the Oregon state line. You’ll find a milder climate here than in the panhandle, a longer growing season, and a higher population density — nearly 40% of Idaho lives in Treasure Valley! It is home to the three largest metros in the state, but the more rural areas are dominated by agriculture. This makes it ideal for homesteaders hoping to cash in on nearby farmer’s markets and sell their wares to city-dwellers.
- Magic Valley: Magic Valley lies east of Treasure Valley and encompasses the south-central portion of Idaho. It has some of the most forgiving weather and the best soil in the state, naturally emerging as a hotspot for agriculture and related industries. Nearly 80% of Idaho dairy and most edible trout come from Magic Valley, and the economy depends mainly on agribusiness. This region is an excellent choice for homesteaders hoping to start a commercial farm or enter associated enterprises like meat processing or fertilizer production.
Renewable Energy in Idaho
A whopping 75% of the electricity generated in Idaho comes from renewable resources. The government encourages alternative power with various residential energy incentives, loan programs, and tax deductions.
Check out our guide to Idaho’s off-grid electricity laws to learn more.
How Idaho Homesteads Can Generate Renewable Energy
- Solar: Idaho averages 4.92 peak sun hours per day throughout the year, making it an attractive option for solar energy.
- Wind: Idaho can be a great option for wind energy, depending on where you live. The permitting process is simple, and turbine construction usually isn’t an issue in rural areas.
- Alternatives: Alternative systems like biomass and hydropower are popular at the state level but likely won’t be feasible for smaller homesteads without livestock or live water.
Water Systems in Idaho
Idaho has abundant rivers, streams, and aquifers that contribute to its water supply. Unfortunately, the water use laws aren’t so cut-and-dry — Idahoans need permits for most systems and usually cannot own their water outright.
Check out our guide to Idaho’s off-grid water laws to learn more.
How Idaho Homesteads Can Obtain Water
- Wells: Many rural Idaho residents rely on well water. You will need a permit and a licensed contractor to install a well.
- Surface water: Residents don’t automatically get surface water rights. Instead, they must apply for rights and obtain a permit for use.
- Rainwater: It is legal and encouraged to harvest rainwater in Idaho, but residents should consider the state’s propensity for drought before becoming reliant on rain.
Waste Systems in Idaho
Idaho waste management laws are more relaxed than many other states. All systems must be permitted, but the Idaho code allows a wider variance in system type and design.
Check out our guide to Idaho’s wastewater laws to learn more.
How Idaho Homesteads Can Manage Waste
- Septic systems: Septic systems are the most popular waste system for rural homes. You will need to obtain permits and licenses and hire a licensed installer to put one in.
- Compost toilets: Compost toilets are legal in some cases where city connection is not possible, though they must meet ANSI standards.
- Outhouses: Outhouses can be legal in some cases where city connection is not possible, though there are privy guidelines dictating where you can put them in relation to water sources.
Garbage Disposal in Idaho
Idaho has inexpensive trash pickup or drop-off services in most counties. Some rural communities, like Boundary County, even offer free trash drop-off.
Laws are lenient regarding burning trash, with residential burn barrels and yard waste burning allowed in many cases. Municipal rules will vary, and burning is generally prohibited within city limits.
Idaho Natural Disaster Risk
Idaho is a high-reward state that does carry a fair bit of risk. The biggest threat of natural disasters comes from wildfires, droughts, and flooding. If you buy land in Idaho, you can mitigate your risk by adding the following items and systems to your property:
- Rainwater harvesting and collection systems
- Flood prepping and preparedness items
- General prepping and stocking of essential items
Idaho Climate and Weather
Idaho’s climate and weather vary greatly by region. The state has four distinct seasons and vast temperature ranges throughout the year, but different elevations experience seasons on different timelines.
Winter weather dips well below freezing in many areas, holding at -20°F for weeks in the mountains. The low-lying areas are much warmer and range from 29°–50°F. All parts see snowfall, with averages ranging from 7” in the south to 132” in higher areas.
Summer weather skyrockets up to the 80s and 90s in the lowlands but rarely climbs above 75°F in the mountains. The highest regions are most likely to experience excessive rainfall, while southern parts experience occasional droughts. The average precipitation rate ranges from 30” in the northern panhandle to just 13” in the south.
Agriculture for Idaho Homesteaders
Idaho grows it all. With over 24,000 farms covering nearly nine million acres, the economy here favors agribusiness in a big way. Since small-scale farms are also quite popular, Idaho is a land of opportunity for family operations — and homesteaders can absolutely get in on the action.
Idaho Growing Zone
Idaho’s geography is rich and varied, contributing to myriad microclimates and growing zones spread across the state. Idaho covers USDA plant hardiness zones 7b to 3b, with northern mountain parts at the lower end and flatter southern areas higher on the scale.
Gardening and family farming can be challenging if you reside in the panhandle or mountains. The growing season can last as little as two months at higher elevations, but a greenhouse could help extend your garden’s seasonal lifespan. This is a popular option in Idaho, where many people garden and grow their own food despite the climate.
Idaho is renowned for russets, but potatoes aren’t the only diamonds in the Gem State’s crown. In 2022, Idaho was the nation’s number-one producer of alfalfa, peppermint, barley, and potatoes. Other popular crops include hops, sugar beets, onions, spring wheat, lentils, and peas.
Dairy is a culture unto itself, with nearly every single Idaho dairy farm being family-owned. Because it produces so much barley and hops, the state is also home to a plethora of microbreweries and distilleries. Idaho’s proximity to the necessary supplies makes it an excellent state for opening a brewery or distillery, and some homesteaders could find their niche in the spirits sector of the economy.
The livestock culture thrives in Idaho, where the cattle population surpasses the human population. Beef, pork, and lamb are popular livestock to raise here, though possibilities do vary by geographic location. In frigid mountainous regions, raising animals would require substantial infrastructure and up-front investment. There is more infrastructure and better weather in the south.
Idaho’s southwestern and eastern regions have numerous streams, lakes, and rivers. Farmers here take advantage of that plentiful water to raise sturgeon, caviar, and ornamental fish. The state is actually the nation’s number one trout producer and homesteaders who aren’t afraid to step outside the box could find their calling with fish ponds.
Making Money from Your Idaho Homestead
Earning an off-grid income is the ultimate goal for most homesteaders. Idaho encourages financial autonomy and offers plenty of opportunities if you know where to look.
Selling Produce and Plants
Like most states heavily invested in agribusiness, Idaho has an extensive network of farmer’s markets where you can sell produce, plants, and food. Since sellers in Idaho are required to charge sales tax, these markets generally require vendors to obtain a tax number, a sales permit, and any appropriate local licenses. Plant vendors selling over $500 worth of stock per year must also have a nursery license.
Once you get your tax number, you can sell fresh, uncut produce and plants directly to consumers at any event, roadside stand, pop-up market, or through online avenues. Idaho adheres to cottage food laws, so you can also sell certain shelf-stable foods without a specific license. This can be a real boon and may help carry you through the slow season.
Selling Livestock and Meat
You can sell live animals directly to consumers with the proper licensing or head to various livestock markets around the state. It’s also legal to sell meat and dairy products directly to consumers if they have been processed in a USDA-approved facility.
Once you have the proper licensing and follow regulations, it’s easy to market locally grown meat at farmer’s markets or online. Idaho even allows the sale of raw milk and cheese within its borders. Selling raw, home-cultured products could be an exciting opportunity for those passionate about traditional dairy craftsmanship.
Selling Crafts and Homemade Products
Selling crafts and homemade products is feasible in Idaho. Especially in tourist areas, there are a variety of local flea markets, farmer’s markets, and craft fairs with substantial attendance. Remember that you will still need a tax number and seller’s permit, no matter where or what you sell.
Homesteaders don’t have to rely on traditional farming and ranching. The lumber industry is thriving here, with over nine million acres of timberland dedicated to logging. Private owners manage nearly three million acres, and industrious people could take advantage of colder weather to cultivate and market coveted trees like pine.
Hunting in Idaho
Hunting, fishing, and trapping are integral for many Idahoans. The game here is plentiful, with prized species like mountain lion, moose, and black bear available alongside more commonplace animals like deer and elk. You can purchase licenses and permits online from the Idaho Fish and Game Department.
Homeschooling in Idaho
Idaho has some of the friendliest homeschooling laws in the country. The state does not monitor or regulate homeschooling practices and does not oversee homeschooled students. Since Idaho does not have a state diploma, parents must get one from the school district where they live.
For additional support, parents can connect to schools offering dual-enrollment programs. However, they must contact their specific district to determine if programs are available and if their children qualify.
Healthcare in Idaho
Obtaining quality healthcare in Idaho can be challenging. The state has implemented various health programs to attract qualified working professionals, but Idaho still ranks 50th in the US for active physicians per capita.
There are 27 critical access hospitals and 49 rural health clinics across the state, though many Idahoans lack health insurance and cannot access primary care. Homesteaders tend to gravitate more towards rural areas, so it is essential to research your healthcare options before buying property.
With rugged natural beauty and a culture of independence, the Gem State is an absolute goldmine of opportunity. Now that you know all about homesteading in Idaho, you can start searching for your property today!