- Most land in Alaska must be purchased through the Department of Natural Resources.
- The homesteading program is no longer available, though private sales are still offered.
- Think about how you will access basic services and utilities on your Alaska land.
- Look into other zoning laws or restrictions for your new property as well.
- Land in Alaska can be a great investment for tourism, agriculture, or conservation.
Alaska is far and away the largest of the fifty states, with plenty of land available for tourism, conservation, residence, or other purposes.
There are a number of ways to buy land in Alaska, although most avenues require purchasing your land directly from the state government. Once you do decide to buy, you should consider a host of potentially mitigating factors about how you will make the most of your land investment.
We’ve reviewed the latest information on how you can buy land in Alaska, and every investor should consider before making their decision.
Table of Contents
Can I Buy Land in Alaska?
The short answer is yes, you can absolutely buy land in Alaska. However, only one percent is available for purchase from private landowners.
Nearly 60% of the land area of Alaska is owned by the federal government, and the rest is managed by the state government. If you are interested in purchasing land in Alaska, though, there are several options for you to consider.
Ways to Buy Alaska Land
Perhaps the easiest way is to simply review properties or parcels that are owned by private citizens. Purchasing land in this way is what most people think of when they think of buying land: browsing available listings held by individuals or businesses, then engaging in a real estate transaction.
As we will see, buying land from the government carries numerous requirements and restrictions, but none of these will apply from an outright land purchase.
Remote Recreational Cabin Site
If you are a resident of Alaska, you can participate in the Remote Recreational Cabin Site purchase program as well.
The government announces which parcels are available each year, and Alaska residents can stake out their chosen plot as a recreation site. These lots are not intended for permanent residences, but allow Alaskans to own an area of land for recreational purchases.
Once the prospective buyer stakes out their land, they are allowed to lease it at market value while the government performs their required surveys and assessments on the land. Once those are complete, the individual is allowed to purchase the land outright.
Most of these plots of land are in highly remote areas, however, and are not ideal for year-round living.
Department of Natural Resources
The Alaska Department of Natural Resources manages the majority of land sales in Alaska. These land sales are also limited to state citizens.
Sealed-Bid Land Auctions
The process of buying state land begins with a limited auctioning process that takes place each year. The Department of Natural Resources announces the sale period, and what parcels of land are available for purchase.
During the auction period, prospective buyers will submit “sealed bids,” meaning they can only submit one bid per parcel and are not allowed to know the details of any other bids that have been submitted.
Once the auction period is over, the Department of Natural Resources will review all of the bids collected and will award the land to the winners.
Over the Counter Land Sales
The next step of selling land through the state process is an over-the-counter land sale. Any properties that were not sold during the initial sealed-bid auction process are then put up for sale to the general public.
This phase of the sale is opened up to members of the general public; you would not need to be a resident of Alaska in order to participate in this type of land sale.
A piece of land may become available to over the counter sales if no satisfactory bids were submitted during the auction process, or if one of the previous deals fell through for some reason.
In addition to individual private ownership, businesses and corporations may engage in over the counter land sales as well.
One other type of land sale offered by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources is an agricultural purchase. This type of sale is also open to the general public and to businesses.
It is important to remember, however, that there are far more restrictions on how this type of land can be used, so the potential buyer pool is more limited than for land that is sold for personal or recreational use.
History of the Homesteading Program
The ways to purchase land in Alaska are more limited nowadays, but it wasn’t always this way. Alaska was the last state to repeal its homesteading laws, which is how many current Alaska residents were able to acquire the land they own today.
Homesteading was a federal practice enacted in the 1860s by President Abraham Lincoln. The Homesteading Act was passed by Congress in an attempt to encourage people to move into the western territories.
Homesteaders were promised the deed to 160 acres of land if they agreed to live on the land for five years, build a house there, and develop it for agricultural use. This practice was meant to encourage cultivating the undeveloped western territories as farm land.
The program was popular, and was one of the driving factors of the westward expansion. Alaska was also part of the homesteading program, and people flocked there due to the homesteading program as well as through the Klondike Gold Rush.
The federal government repealed all homestead laws across the country in 1976, which removed homesteading possibilities under the original law and subsequent supporting laws. However, since Alaska had only recently become a state, the program was extended there until 1986.
No further homestead ownership claims have been permitted, although interest remains high for those who wish to move to Alaska.
Considerations When Buying Land in Alaska
As with any property purchase, there are a number of legal and practical considerations to think about when choosing to buy a piece of land.
Remote and Rugged
Alaska is unique as one of the two non-contiguous United States (not sharing a border with any other state in the Union), and much of the state is completely undeveloped land not easily accessible by most modern services.
The Alaskan terrain is harsh and difficult to manage, not at all like most of the rest of the country. State land boasts a wide array of topographical land features like mountain ranges, dense forests, glacial lakes, and frozen tundras.
While these locations are majestic and beautiful, they can make the land difficult to develop for most commercial uses.
Climate and Weather
The climate of Alaska is also notoriously unforgiving. Summers are relatively mild, but winters are frigid. Snow and ice closing in during the winter months can make access to remote locations almost impossible, so any prospective property would need to be completely self-sufficient in order to be viable.
Temperatures during the winter can drop to -30 degrees Fahrenheit. Weather patterns may be reliably predictable, but the conditions themselves are only conducive to the hardiest residents.
Along with the weather patterns, sunlight itself can be vastly different from other parts of the country. Because Alaska is close to the North Pole, it sees extreme shifts in how much sunlight it receives in a given day due to the earth’s rotational axis.
During the summer months, the sun never seems to set, with most areas getting an average of 19 hours of sunlight per day. During the winter, that time plummets to only five hours a day at most, with the rest of the time spent in total darkness.
It bears repeating that most parcels of land are also very remote, not just due to environmental factors but also how close they are to other pockets of civilization.
The ability to get to some of these locations may be hampered significantly unless you have access to private air or water travel. This can also make developing these areas more difficult as well.
Other Environmental Factors
As with other parts of the country, Alaska is also prone to other types of natural disasters. Additionally, certain key environmental factors should be taken into consideration.
Wildfires rage during the right seasons, sometimes consuming hundreds of thousands of acres at a time. Whether manmade or naturally occurring, wildfires can decimate wide swaths of land across the state, making them unusable for certain purposes.
Some areas of the state sit in flood zones, as designated by FEMA. If you do purchase land in Alaska, be sure that you perform a full land survey to locate safe areas to build on, and consider your evacuation plans if a flood scenario should arise.
Alaska is home to lots of wildlife, some of which is endangered. By building in the natural habitat of some of these animals, you may open yourself to the risk of an animal attack.
Drainage is an important issue during seasons of heavy snow or rain, since the topography of your parcel may cause heavy runoff that could damage structures and cause injury or death.
Even the ground itself could be cause for concern. You may choose what looks like an idyllic piece of land, but if the ground is not fit to soundly support structures, you may need to rethink your development plans.
Proper zoning laws should always be observed wherever you make a land purchase, and Alaska is no exception.
Some areas may be zoned for general use, meaning you can use the land however you see fit. However, some areas might be limited to residential use or have other restrictions imposed.
Agricultural land is another zoning that carries heavy restrictions. This can be helpful if your plan is to cultivate crops or livestock, but understanding these zoning restrictions can help you make the most out of your purchase.
Certain other naturally occurring elements may also be under restrictions based on the zoning for that parcel. For example, some plots may dictate who owns any minerals or precious metals that are discovered on the property; be sure to research your land ownership deed thoroughly to understand those guidelines.
Ordinances and Covenants
There may be other ordinances and covenants involved that could limit how you can use your land based on other residents that may occupy your property. These terms will also be spelled out in your land ownership deed, and should be plainly spelled out before the buying process comes to a close.
Basic Services and Utilities
While many of us take for granted the ability to connect with the outside world, such luxuries are crucial when thinking about how to develop your land in Alaska.
Access to clean water may be plentiful if you have a locally available source that you can tap into, but some areas may require a connection to a public or private water utility.
This is especially critical if you plan on using your land for any kind of agricultural purpose.
You will also need access to some kind of reliable power source. An electrical utility may not be able to reach your location without significant investment in their infrastructure, meaning you might have to provide power by some other means.
Alternative energy sources such as wind or solar are good choices for those who need or want to live “off the grid” and not be reliant on utility companies in this way.
Communications and Internet
Remote areas can be notorious “dead zones” when it comes to remaining connected to the outside world from a communications perspective.
Connectivity through telecommunications and the Internet can be difficult, so make sure that you are able to reliably access these technologies on your property. If you are too far from an existing cellular tower or a delivery point for Internet services, you might be able to work with other nearby landowners to petition a telecommunications utility to add access in your area.
Parcels that are near populated areas should have nominal access to main arteries of transportations. However, areas that are further removed from established cities may require additional support to get there and back.
Some opt for private air or water travel, but some areas can only be accessed by motor vehicle or even more primitive means, like dogsled. Think about how you will get to and from your property, and plan accordingly.
Garbage and Sewer
These may seem like secondary concerns, but dumping by private citizens is forbidden in Alaska. You will need to think about how solid and sewage waste will be handled on your property.
How will you receive mail or other deliveries on your land? It may take more time for these services to reach you, or you may need to make arrangements to collect these items when you visit a more populated area.
Much of the state of Alaska is dedicated to the conservation of the natural environment, including areas protected as habitats for endangered species. Pay close attention to the guidelines and limitations placed by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources that dictate how you are allowed to develop your land with regards to conservation.
Even a practice like bird watching that may seem more related to tourism could be linked to conservation, and the state may allot parts of your land as easements for this purpose.
Other nominal restrictions can affect how you use your Alaska land. Things like public right of way, building and zoning codes, and more can affect your plans for construction.
Examples include what type of buildings you can erect on your property, the size of those buildings, and their proximity to each other.
Return on Investment
As with any real estate purchase, the return on investment should be of the utmost importance. How will you recoup the cost of purchasing that piece of land? Will you be able to earn your money back in a meaningful way?
In addition to the upfront purchase cost, substantial investments will be required to develop and maintain the land regardless of how you use it (unless you purchase it purely for conservation and don’t plan to develop at all). You should have a business plan in place that not only outlines how the land will be used, but how you will financially benefit from it as well.
About THE AUTHOR
Brittany has been in the land business since 2020 when the world was starting to shut down. Since then, we’ve sold to dozens of people from ATV weekend warriors to camping enthusiasts to retired truck drivers. Our inventory spans mostly in the western United States. We’ve been trained by experience, land acquisition courses, and hundreds of hours meeting with county assessors and clerks, zoning officials, realtors, and land investors. We’ve answered hundreds of questions from people regarding the buying and use of land.Read More About Brittany Melling