Can You Homestead In Montana?

Vanessa Locampo
Last Updated: February 28th, 2023

Modern homesteading involves living off one’s own land. With its abundance of natural beauty and resources, Montana seems like the perfect state to set up a homestead off the grid and become self-sufficient.

But can you homestead in Montana and is there free land in Montana? Read on to find out whether homesteading in Big Sky is still legal.

Your Guide to Homesteading In Montana

homesteading in montana

Is Homesteading in Montana Legal?

The good news is that homesteading is legal in Montana. Homesteading in the state dates back to the Homestead Act of 1862, enabling US citizens to claim land provided that they lived on it, cultivated it, and improved it. Though several supplementary laws have been passed since the 1862 act, homesteading is still legal in Montana.

The Popularity of Homesteading in Montana

Not only is it legal to homestead in Montana, but the state has been named one of the best states in the country for homesteading. The flourishing summers and tranquil landscape are some of the reasons why Montana attracts homesteaders.

Biogas company HomeBiogas believes that Montana is one of the best places to homestead due to several factors, including price, community beliefs, local climate, accessibility to water, and safety.

Montana is also one of a few states in the country to have passed the Homestead Declaration Law, where property owners can officially declare their property as a homestead.

Setting Up a Homestead in Montana

setting up a homestead

There are a few important things to know if you’re thinking of buying a homestead in Montana. According to Hello Homestead, the average size of a homestead or farm in Montana is 2134 acres, and the average price for farm real estate in Montana, as of 2017, was $920 an acre, inclusive of all land and buildings. Meanwhile, the average price of cropland was $1020 per acre and $660 an acre for pasture land.

Typically, the types of crops grown on homesteads in Montana include root vegetables such as beets, potatoes, radishes, and carrots. Tomatoes, pumpkins, cucumbers, beans, peppers, sweet corn, peas, lentils, and wheat also do very well in the state. The average growing season lasts for 116 days.

To sell the food you produce in Montana, you are not required to obtain a food license as long as you register your products with the Montana Department of Health and Human Services Division of Food and Consumer Safety.

This also only applies if the food you’re producing falls under the category of “cottage foods”, which includes dry baked goods that don’t require refrigeration, dried fruits, jellies, honey, jams, teas, coffee, candies, and chocolate.

The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation operates 27 grazing districts in the state where homesteaders can turn out their livestock. However, they must first obtain a grazing permit.

Montana is an open-range state, meaning that most areas are open to livestock grazing. Therefore, it’s up to the property owner to erect fences and other protective measures to keep grazing animals out.

How Do You Buy Land in Montana?

Buying or selling land in Montana is a somewhat different process than a simple purchase of a property. Making the decision to work with an agent experienced in land sales is a good place to start.

Aside from setting the location, assessing the local amenities, as well as the potential recreational activities, there are also a few other things to consider.

Ground-water purity is one thing as it often comes from wells and you’ll need to access the history of the land and ground. It is also essential that a potential buyer takes steps to check whether the land has been or is likely to be affected by floods in the future.

You also want to consider any zoning and land-use restrictions in the area you’re looking to buy in. These are easily accessible from the land planning department’s website like THIS one for Flathead.  Aside from that, it is about securing a mortgage if required, finding a realtor then making an offer when you think you’ve found the right spot.

After that, you’ll have an inspection and appraisal period before making sure all the utilities are hooked up. After this, the closing on the land can be scheduled.

How much is Land per Acre in Montana?

In 2018 the average price per acre was just above $2,000. There have been steady increments in the average price-per-acre of land for sale in Montana in recent years though.

Can You Live Off-Grid in Montana?

You can live off-grid in the state perfectly legally, with some local laws even geared towards addressing many of the issues that come with this lifestyle. On top of that, you’ll still need to get a permit to build your home.

It’s really the local zoning laws that need to be checked first as these are the decrees that determine what you are able to do on your own land if you want to live off-grid in accordance with the laws. As it turns out though, Montana has some of the most relaxed laws in the US regarding zoning.

What Do You Need to Know About Zoning Laws?

about zoning laws

While we have answered the question of if you are able to homestead in Montana, there are still certain rules that need to be followed if you plan to live off the grid. In some cases, you’ll need to obtain a permit before setting up particular areas of your homestead.

There are varying zoning laws between the counties so it’s important to research at a local level. Overall, the zoning laws in Montana are quite relaxed compared to other states.

In Stillwater County, for example, there is no zoning at all, and residents are allowed to do whatever they like on their land. While in Bear Canyon, there are zoning laws but residents have the right to keep animals and grow food on their land, even if that land only spans one acre.

Your Rights When It Comes to Utilities

If you are looking to live off the grid, you will be pleased to know that off-grid electricity is legal in the state of  Montana, though you will need an electrical permit to install your own system. Some counties have zoning laws about the size of the electric system and where it’s placed, so again, it’s important to do your research.

Organizing water can be more difficult as all water in Montana technically belongs to the State. In most cases, water rights are tied to the property and are thus transferred as ownership is transferred. Obtaining new water rights from the Montana Department of Natural Resources comes with a permit and fees as per the 1973 Water Use Act.

Contrastingly, sewage regulations in Montana are relatively relaxed. It’s usually a simple process to get a permit for an off-grid waste-disposal system, though all homes which have running water must either install septic or connect to the municipal sewage system.

Homesteading In Montana in 2022

in 2021, the 67th Montana Legislature passed a statute requiring the homestead declaration act that increases by four percent every year. By signing a homestead declaration, homesteaders in Montana can protect up to $364,0000 in equity of their home against the majority of unsecured debts. This amount will increase to $378,560 in 2023.

For more information and forms check here.

Montana Land for Sale

Land for sale in Montana is big business with a combined value of approx. $4 billion with around 800,000 acres of land for sale in the state. Of the 56 counties, Flathead County contains the most land for sale in Montana, and the median price of ranches, farms, and rural real estate for sale according to Montana Land and Farm is $600,000.

You can browse land available for sale here.

Where Can You Find Abandoned Farms for Sale in Montana?

Auctions like THIS are one of the best places in Montana to find abandoned or disused farmland. You would have to scour the local press of the areas you are interested in to find them. There are also a variety of experienced realtors and other agents who specialize in this type of deal.

Final Verdict: Can you Homestead in Montana

Homesteading in Montana is perfectly legal and there is plenty of land for sale in Montana. Though it can be challenging, it’s a rewarding lifestyle for those who want to connect with their land and become self-sufficient.

Would you consider homesteading? Let us know in the comments.

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About The Author

Vanessa Locampo

Vanessa is an Australian-based freelance writer and editor with a BA in Creative Writing. She’s passionate about creating travel content that inspires her readers to take a leap of faith and power through their bucket lists. When she’s not writing (with her border collie asleep at her feet), she’s devouring books, exploring the world, or planning her next trip.

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