Alaska Homestead: Living in a Cabin up North

A homesteader shares their story of creating an Alaska homestead in a hand-built cabin, includes crops to grow, information on public domain subsistence homesteading and foraging opportunities when living off the land in Alaska.

| May/June 1978

Find out how one reader built a cabin and created their own Alaska homestead.

Find out how one reader built a cabin and created their own Alaska homestead.


Learn about a reader who moves to an Alaska homestead to start a new life in a hand-built cabin.

Homesteading in Alaska, the pamphlets will tell you, is finished. Gone. And it's true, in the sense that the government will no longer "give" you a tract of wilderness for an Alaskan homestead under the old Homestead Act. But the older, more traditional way of getting back to the land (i.e., subsistence farming on public domain acreage) is still very much alive and well here in the 49th state and I guess we ought to know. We know, because we're creating an Alaska homestead of our own.

Don't get me wrong, a homesteading in Alaska isn't an easy — or a particularly romantic — way of life. To make it up here the way we're making it, you have to work hard and forgo a good many "frills" (such as electricity and forced-air heating). But public domain subsistence homesteading is as viable in Alaska today as it was even before the Russians owned this land. In fact, it's probably easier now to make it here (thanks to some of the less obtrusive tools of technology) than ever before in history.

The typical subsistence setup is very basic. Ours centers around a compact one-room cabin made of squared-on-three-sides logs that we simply stacked and spiked together. Construction of the dwelling was uncomplicated and took minimal planning. Because of its low ceiling, our cabin requires comparatively little wood to heat it during severe winter weather. For light, we use a gas lantern.

Our inside furnishings can best be described as "simple". The cupboards, for instance, are neatly disguised as discarded gasoline boxes. Bunk beds are built right into the lodge's walls and our "closets" consist of nails driven into those same log walls. (Anything extra is stored in cardboard boxes under the beds or put outside in the cache.) The cabin's windows are plastic film attached loosely so that — in cold weather, when the "panes" shrink — the plastic won't crack. (For storm windows, we merely add another layer of the film.)

We pack our water in from nearby Kuskokwim River, which — so far, at least — is still pure enough to drink. (All told, there are probably less than 100 people living on the 100 miles of river above us.)

11/4/2015 7:53:17 PM

I would love to do this, nature and open wilderness. I always had a great love for it.. thought something like this never was, I mean with me ..I am fed up with the hustle and bustle, government , taxes and the frustrations of work. I hope someone can share with me a way to start this and how to go about it..Please..! thanks thomas

12/15/2013 5:21:43 PM

Hello to all. I would like to know how much money does one need to live in the isolated areas of Alaska (as seen on NatGeo) surely one must have a substantial amount of money to see them through, and if so how much? I am not rich, just fed up with all down here. I am single woman, independent, and have lived in a 3 room cabin , (with old Buck stove) only source of heat in the area where I lived (view of Tn., River, Lake Barkley and Mississippi. River (very isolated and heavily wooded area, I love this kind of life and I do regret now I sold the place. So if anyone can give me some information about how a single lady can manage there I would welcome any and all advice. I am not a cultural orientated woman, I just live life one day at a time, respect others ways, so being an older woman if there is an old coot who would like to reply , please do, I am most interested in hearing from anyone about life there and perhaps re-locating. Thanks to all.

7/31/2011 12:08:08 AM

I am 18 and as melodromic as it might sound I have longed for the solitude and freedom of nature!I used to read of the pioneers and think that of all the hardships, it would be a fullfiling life!(Not that I romantasise it.I'm used to hard work!)I am now living on a farm and it still feels confined!I am hoping that soon I will head north!If anyone has any info about homesteading please let me know!

jane lagrange
11/7/2010 9:16:36 AM

Hello. I lived in Alaska for many years. I had my own business as a writer and photographer and am a published author. I am also a wildlife artist. This article by Mr. Chamberlain is 32 years old. I want to get back to Alaska and was wondering if anyone has a "newer" article on living in a cabin in Alaska. And, are there any available, or still old-timers who would love some help on their homestead? Missing Alaska Terribly. My family still live in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley and I want to come home. Thank you. Best Wishes, Jane LaGrange

ranger doris
6/3/2009 11:23:03 AM

Did you know there is a National Park site devoted to telling the story of the Homestead Act of 1862? To learn more about what may be the most influential piece of legislation this country has ever created go to or visit Homestead National Monument of America. Located in Nebraska, the Monument includes one of the first 160 acres homestead claims but tells the story of homesteading throughout the United States. Nearly 4 million claims in 30 states were made under the Homestead Act and 1.6 million or 40 percent were successful. The Homestead Act was not repealed until 1976 and extended in Alaska until 1986. Homesteads could be claimed by “head of households” that were citizens or eligible for citizenship. New immigrants, African-Americans, women who were single, widowed or divorced all took advantage of the Homestead Act. It is estimated that as many as 93 million Americans are descendents of these homesteaders today. This is a story as big, fascinating, conflicted and contradictory as the United States itself. Learn more!

2/8/2009 7:13:06 PM

Hello, i live in TX. USA and i really want to move to Alaska so bad i can taste it. I'm 18 years of age and Want a team of dogs.. I under stand that life is hard over there i no that.. iv lived on a farm over here all my life, have had all kinds of pets. I would really like to no more info on how the Homesteading stuff works.. I'M a good worker and love the cold , i no it like 40-50 below some time, that just somthing ill have to get used to.. from the 90-100 above over here in summer.. i dont like the heat.. well would love some input just send me a Email..

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