Retire In A Cabin In The Woods: Living A Simple And Peaceful Life

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to retire in a cabin in the woods? My dad did it, and I'm here to share some fascinating insights on his experience and how he ended up there.

Who knows, if you prescribe to Lean FIRE, it might be just the type of retirement adventure you're looking for! Or, it may give you a new appreciation for the ease and comforts of city living.

For starters, my dad grew up in a small town nestled between the Allegheny and Appalachian Mountains. And when I say “small town,” I'm referring to just 2,000 people.

It's one of those places where job opportunities are limited, many struggle with substance abuse, and people are always poking into each other's business. You can't go anywhere without being recognized or seeing people you know.

From a young age, spending time in the woods was my dad's way of escaping the lookie loos and trouble makers. Immersing himself in nature provided serenity and endless adventures.

Building A Cabin In The Woods

My dad was very fortunate that his father purchased 50 acres of forest land about a 15-20 minute drive away from their home when he was a boy. They called it “the farm.” It was pure untouched wilderness that my grandfather hoped to build a house on some day.

My dad frequented the farm growing up. He daydreamed of building a cabin there while he chased critters and watched the sky. The land had hills, steep ridges, several creeks, small clearings (open areas in the forest), wildlife, and trees as far as his eyes could see.

He started working and saving from a young age, and quickly developed a knack for building and fixing things. His skills led him into many jobs over the years: landscaper, painter, handyman, bartender, waiter, construction worker, electrician, and foreman.

So if anyone could build a cabin, it was my dad. And that he did with his own two hands!

Building the cabin certainly didn't happen in the course of weeks or months. It took years and is still technically unfinished. But he got enough of it built to live there during his 20s and in the early years of married life.

Retire in a cabin in the woods

Moving To Suburbia

Before I was born, my parents moved into a rental house mostly due to my mom's behest. But he continued to tinker on the cabin in the years that followed.

Whenever he had enough money saved up, he'd tackle a new home improvement project. There were endless things he dreamed of building or enhancing. We also spent many weekends there hiking, collecting moss and pet rocks, searching for salamanders, watching the deer, and star gazing.

When it came time for me to start kindergarten, my parents wanted a stronger school system. So we moved to a central Virginian city with 40,000 people. It felt huge considering it was 20X the population.

Our new home was about a 2.5-hour drive from the farm and my grandparents. We were still relatively close by. But, it became quite a trek to go back and forth often. The cabin grew dusty and the clearings in the forest quickly filled with waist-high grasses, wildflowers, and snakes.

But my dad took as many trips as he could squeeze in to maintain the cabin and the land. And I always looked forward to the times I got to tag along and enjoy the outdoors.

Returning To The Cabin In The Woods To Reset And Retire

Fast forward to my dad's mid-40s and my parents got divorced. My mom kept our small city home to finish raising me in, and my dad moved back to his cabin in the woods. And he's lived there ever since!

All in, that's about thee decades he's lived in a cabin in the woods, about 15 of which have been in retirement.

My dad always dreamed about retiring there. Things just didn't turn out exactly the way he hoped. Nevertheless, he can't imagine himself living anywhere else.

To him, minimalism and early retirement go hand-in-hand.

Could You Retire In A Cabin In The Woods?

If the idea of escaping the hustle and bustle of city life appeals to you, please read on. There may be a lot of things you haven't even thought about yet.

I don't plan to retire in a cabin in the woods given we are used to city living and our children like their current schools. Sure I love nature and being in the outdoors. But from a lifestyle perspective, I'm too attached to technology, conveniences, and modern amenities.

What type of person would be a good fit for retiring in the woods?

Retirement Cabin Life May Be A Good Fit For You If:

  • You're an introvert
  • Love the outdoors, bugs and all
  • Want to be unplugged from the outside world
  • Enjoy being self-sufficient
  • You love the quiet, day after day
  • Are handy with DIY repairs and home maintenance
  • Savor the simple things in life
  • Want to live in a low cost-of-living area
  • You're not the type to panic if a wild animal appears out of nowhere
  • Are comfortable being alone for long stretches of time
  • Enjoy reading a lot
  • You're heathy and don't need frequent medical care
  • Are able to maintain the surrounding lands or afford to hire help
  • You'd rather rough it than live it up

What Is It Like To Retire In A Cabin In The Woods?

Below are some of the day-to-day realities that my dad has lived with in his atypical retirement lifestyle. Keep in mind his circumstances certainly don't apply to every cabin in the woods out there.

And sure, with enough time, money, and resources, you could live in a cabin with all sorts of bells and whistles that he doesn't have. But, perhaps that would defeat the whole purpose of living in the wilderness!

In any case, here's a look at some of the challenges and perks that retiring in a cabin in the woods can offer.

Goodbye Cable TV, Streaming, Cellular, And WiFi

My dad is very much unplugged. Fortunately he likes it like that. He hasn't had cable TV for the last 25 years, nor does he have a land line telephone or WiFi. He doesn't even have dial-up internet! But he can listen to NPR or get newspapers from the grocery store.

Because his location is so far back from the closest road, it would cost several tens of thousands of dollars to have services like a land-line telephone installed.

He does have a cellphone, but there's barely any signal. Sometimes he can pick up calls, but they often drop a minute or two later. He has to drive 15-20 minutes to town for reliable service.

Plus, because he lives within Green Bank Observatory's National Radio Quiet Zone, there are lots of weird restrictions on transmissions and signals.

Hello Crockpot And Home Cooked Meals

Home-made meals are a must if you want to retire in a cabin in the woods. If you don't already like to cook, you better live with someone who does or learn to like it!

Scrambled Eggs With Wild Ramps

My dad was not into cooking much at all when I was growing up, but he was good with a grill. Fast forward to his retirement life in the wilderness, and he is now quite the chef.

Cooking his own meals has been a necessity. And with enough practice and patience, he's learned how to make some amazing stews, roasts, and vegetable dishes.

His signature breakfast is scrambled eggs with wild ramps. If you think garlic has a lot of flavor, wait until you try ramps. “They'll knock your socks off!” he likes to say.

If my dad does want to go out to eat, it requires about a 35-40 minute drive one-way. And the choices over the years have been limited to establishments like Arby's, Cracker Barrel, and a very Americanized Chinese buffet restaurant.

Raccoons, Coyotes, And Bears, Oh My!

Wildlife is a part of everyday life if you live in a cabin in the woods like my dad does. He regularly sees deer, wild turkeys, foxes, coyotes, bob cats, raccoons, black bears, rattlesnakes, opossums, skunks, bats, and a lot more.

His dining room window acts like his TV. He often sits there for hours just looking out the window waiting to see what will walk or fly by. He's even befriended some of the animals, mainly the deer. But usually he just waits and watches nature's free entertainment.

The biggest wildlife safety threat are black bears due to their size and aggression if startled. He's seen and encountered hundreds over the years and can tell bear stories for hours.

Be prepared to encounter wildlife if you want to retire in a cabin in the woods. Understand the dangers, know how to avoid them, and be prepared to protect yourself if needed.

It wasn't until I become an adult that I learned my dad is quite the marksman. It's actually saved his life on more than one occasion. When you're in the wild, unexpected circumstances can arise suddenly that require swift action to save your life. You need smart instincts and quick reflexes.

Get Ready For Insects Galore

And oh, did I forget to mention the bugs? Definitely don't retire in a cabin in the woods if bugs give you the heebie-jeebies. There are bugs e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e, especially in the summer time.

Mosquitos buzzing in your ears at night, gnats attacking your face, spiders of all sorts, ants, biting horseflies, aphids, you name it. You will feel like you're being eaten alive outside if you forget the bug spray.

Potentially Intense Allergies Living In The Woods

And don't forget what comes with all of the beautiful trees, flowers, grasses, and plants – pollen. My dad has struggled with allergies for years and even taken allergy shots much to no avail.

His eyes got so swollen and puffy from allergies a few years ago that his lower lids couldn't even support their own weight. It took surgery and many months for them to return to normal.

Trespassers Beware!

Another trouble with living in a large wooded area is you may have trespassers coming onto your land to hunt or just cause trouble.

My dad's had to run off misfits, hunting dogs, and their owners many times. But fortunately most people know to steer clear of his property now. He's not one to back down.

Social Isolation Has Its Pros And Cons

What's probably the biggest challenge mentally is the high amount of social isolation that comes with retiring in a cabin in the woods. My dad had a dog for about 14 years which was huge for companionship. But now it's just him by himself.

He's always been a rather solitary person. So the perpetual quiet doesn't bother him very often. One perk is rarely gets sick because he isn't in regular contact with folks except when he's running errands.

But not being able to reliably make calls from his cabin certainly makes things hard socially. Loneliness really creeps up on days when he doesn't see any wildlife. He admits to talking to the animals for company, especially the deer, some of whom he's bonded with.

It's quite difficult to get him to come visit us in San Francisco as it requires long driving and a connecting flight across the country. He doesn't like to leave his town and is quite the solitary outdoorsman.

Weathering Mother Nature's Force

There's also the challenge of weathering the natural elements when you retire in a cabin in the woods.

He's experienced hurricanes, floods, lighting strikes, forest fires, droughts, bomb cyclones, snowstorms, freezing rain, black ice, and intense humidity.

And because he has so much land, when Mother Nature wreaks havoc, there's often a lot to clean up and repair. He's had issues with trees falling across his private drive, the road washing out, bridges collapsing, roof leaks, and more.

There's also a lot of cabin maintenance involved due to the natural elements year round. He's had issues with his well water going bad, the creeks drying up, bats getting inside the cabin, field mice moving in, restocking the wood pile in the winter, getting a new outhouse hole dug, keeping animals out of his garden, and so much more.

Limited Local Medical Resources

And another big challenge that comes with retiring in a cabin in the woods is limited access to medical resources. My dad had to go through a lot of hoops to get his cabin an actual street address so that he can receive ambulatory services if he ever needs help getting to the ER. Without a street address, he was told 911 can't dispatch an ambulance to his location.

Access to doctors, medical specialists, and dentists is also rather limited in his neck of the woods. He has to drive about 45 minutes to an hour to the closest VA hospital where most of his doctors are. And he's had to travel 2-3 hours one-way for certain specialists and surgical treatments.

How Much Money Is Required To Retire In The Woods

From a financial standpoint, you don't need much money to retire in a cabin you built in the woods. With no mortgage, no cable, no wifi, no water bill, and covered healthcare insurance, my dad's expenses are low.

He just pays for firewood, electricity, food, gas, a cheap cell phone plan, and car maintenance. On average, my dad spends between $500 to $800 a month, or $6,000 to $9,600 a year. All of his expenses can be covered by Social Security.

If you would like to retire off the grid at an earlier age, all you would need is about $150,000 to $240,000 in invested capital generating a 4 percent annual return. If you want to be more conservative, double the amounts to $300,000 to $480,000.

Retirement expectations are misaligned - another wealth paradox

Retiring In A Cabin In The Woods Takes Independence To A Whole New Level

It takes a lot of independence to retire in a cabin in the woods. You have to be willing to cook your own meals, do a lot of maintenance and repairs by yourself, genuinely enjoy being unplugged and socially isolated, be healthy enough to not need close access to medical care, and be able to protect yourself from nature's elements, wildlife, and trespassers.

It certainly isn't the retirement lifestyle for most people.

But for my dad, it's heaven on Earth.

Reader Questions And Suggestions

Readers, have you ever thought about retiring in a cabin in the woods? What would be the biggest challenges you'd face? What type of environment do you want in your retirement. For those of you who are already retired, are you happy in your rural area, suburb, or city? Or do you long for something quite different?

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33 thoughts on “Retire In A Cabin In The Woods: Living A Simple And Peaceful Life”

  1. I technically live in the woods but not in a cabin, a house. Also fairly close to civilization as most of the woods is just protected land. That being said most of the problems here still apply. Storms cause massive cleanup. The frogs make noise all night long (chirping kind of sound). Snakes, deer, fox, ground hogs mean protecting our garden a full time job. No bears in this part of the world thankfully. Really quiet and neighbors homes can’t be seen.
    That being said the docotomy between this and the article written by Sam a few years ago really strikes home. He talked about avoiding living out in the middle of nowhere due to the risks of solitude (safety and the like).It occurred to me that your nature drives your preference in this regard. Some people prefer the noises of the city. Some prefer the quiet of the cabin in the woods. The opposite of your preference will undoubtably cause a lot of anxiety.

    For the record I grew up rurally. Lived in a city for a few years in college. I don’t need to live in one again, although visiting can be cool. My wife was a towny. So even different then the other two.

  2. I’m a little confused…from this article it sounds like you are a third generation American, but in another article about affirmative action you wrote “as someone who came to America as a high school freshman in 1991…I grew up in Zambia, The Philippines, Japan, Taiwan, and Malaysia.”

    1. Sorry for the confusion. My wife wrote this post. See author name at top and author box at bottom of post.

      How do you think I could have made it clearer in the future or less confusion? Thanks

      1. I see it now at the top and the bottom – didn’t know anyone other than you wrote the posts!

  3. My wife and I lived in a 1,000 square foot cabin built in mid-1800s on 40 acres in the heart of the Rocky Mountains with our two young boys. They spend their days in the woods, building things, tracking wildlife, raising animals, growing food in the garden. It’s a simple life that we combine with traveling when the winter cabin fever sets in.

  4. I’m 40 years old and living on a river in the woods. No cell service (WiFi calling only at the house), 5 mbps DSL internet – although a large national phone/internet provider has been digging around town lately so maybe that will improve, no neighbors close by, the general store sells deli things, baked goods, fishing equipment, guns, ammo and beer. The nearest “city” is 45 minutes away, so not too close/not too far. I joined the local fire department for fun when I moved here 5 years ago. Those guys know how to have a good time and we only get about 100 calls a year.

    I used to be a stock broker on Wall Street until 2008. Now I manage money at a community bank that’s HQ’d in the “city” but 1/2 the time I work from home. House is paid off now and I’m just socking money away in a 401k, an IRA (for more flexibility), a taxable IM and lately t-bills.

    I’ve always wanted to live out here. It’s so darn beautiful and relaxing. I can have a bad day where nothing goes right, and when I turn into my driveway and see the river, everything is better.

    Lot’s of things ring true in this article. I’m thankful for my health because I do just about everything including cutting and splitting the trees to heat my house. I have electric heat as back-up and a 70 gallon propane tank that I top off once a year.

    The one thing to think about if you’re considering this lifestyle and you have children is education. The school is K – 12 all in one building. Schools aren’t exactly top notch when you live in the middle of nowhere. I know some people who home school their children but we send ours to a private school, and they’re happy.

    The one point that I thought contradictory to my situation, “You’d rather rough it than live it up”. Everyone’s mileage may vary here. Who says roughing it isn’t living it up!? I’d take my cottage on the river, with all of its chores, over any other kind of living. God forbid things will get difficult when I’m older, but if they do at least I’ll be in a position to throw money at problems even though I’d rather solve them myself.

  5. I don’t exactly want to go and be a hermit in an isolated cabin, but I’m working towards a hobby farm in the Adelaide Hills… ideally 5-20 acres or so, just space to kinda stuff around and do whatever, plant lots of fruit trees and be away from neighbours and noise. The good thing about Adelaide is you can have that an hour from the city and an international airport

  6. Buddhist Slacker

    Omg sounds like heaven except for the lack of internet lol. Of course when I’m old with dementia,
    I’d need to move somewhere more suitable. I guess I could retire now if I didn’t have so many other obligations….

  7. Canadian Reader

    You always write so eloquently, it would be so awesome to see more posts authored by you!
    I identify with this post 100% because my Dad lives like this too- also on the other side of the country. It’s a situation for sure.
    Take care and thanks for the write up.

  8. Derek, thank you for your kind response,…

    I have indeed purchased properties for them, a 2 bedroom and a 3 bedroom at a golf course community in Fla. We are dual citizens.

    The two townhomes are currently in the rental pool. They visit their units each year for a “fix-up” week, write an inspection report, do simple repairs and play golf with their retired dad (me).

    Moving to Fla. and paying golf membership fees is not currently on their radar.

    I bought the units during the pandemic at $153 per square foot,…so they will get a nice step-up,…

  9. Paper Tiger

    I like the solitude a living environment like this can provide but would not go to quite this extreme to have it. I think there are better happy mediums and more practical options to consider. It seems to suit your Dad so that is all that really matters. Thanks for sharing!

  10. I have two boys each with off the grid cabins outside of Montreal Quebec. One has 42 acres, the other 12 acres and they are minutes from each other. One has a beautiful stream, the other access to a lake. The water is clean.

    While I view the two cabins as a Walden, Thoreauesque type adventure, the two boys found that buying land and helping each other build cabins was cheaper than paying someone else rent or buying a home. An added benefit is that they have become close friends as well as brothers. However there are still some Home Depot bills and a Husqvarna composting toilet to pay for.

    Well one son also shares an apartment in Montreal with his girlfriend, the other is a snowbird/digital nomad and lives in Medellin Colombia during the winter months.

    I think this is the new paradigm for 20 somethings who cannot afford housing at the current prices. An Airbnb in Colombia costs him $500 a month.

    I should also add that winters in Montreal are horrendous and long.

    I once read the book “who moved my cheese.” And I think these two boys are just trying to adapt to the economic realities, survive and thrive as best they can.

    1. Sounds like wonderful adaptation to me. But yes, winters are brutal in Canada. Hard to live year round.

      How about helping your sons buy something? Any possibility of that?

  11. Glendae Ekstrom

    I spent my whole childhood in a large family without any modern conveniences in a remote area. Such as electricity or running water. I remember the days with fondness as well as times when things happened and you either lived or died with no medical care. But so it goes.

    1. Wow you must have so many vivid memories and I’m guessing you developed a lot of grit as well. Not having easy access to medical care must have been challenging with a large family too. It must have felt so strange when you moved to a place with amenities when you grew up, perhaps a bit like culture shock.

  12. I believe it was Saul Bellow who said in the book Seize the Day: “Rural living is glorified boredom”.

  13. I could probably adapt to all of it but the bugs. Thanks for the article, very interesting to read that perspective

  14. I have been in a technical role at a big tech company for about 10 years. My base salary has barely changed since I started, about 30k increase. I did get more rsus in the meantime. But my issue is with the actual work: even now after 10 years I need approval from people in my team that have joined later and they don’t know more than me. They put the breaks on my suggestions and always complain even after I complete a project successfully. I have no control over my work and never have the last word even on technical projects that are assigned to me. What do you think?

    Thanks for the website, I enjoy reading it!

  15. SF Neighbor

    Amazing. Your dad sounds like an amazing person with a unique lifestyle and history. I would love to this type of life but it’s so hard to quit all the city luxuries we’ve gotten used to. But sometimes / a lot of times, those luxuries seem to creep in and almost take over, leaving you a prisoner to your own greed and laziness.

    1. Yeah it’s such a different lifestyle than city living. Very peaceful to visit and escape everything. But too unplugged for most people, myself included, to handle as a day-to-day lifestyle.

  16. Great Post, really interesting. Seems like another world coming from someone who has only lived in cities and gets nervous in the dark. I don’t think I would last a few days and am ashamed to say that I spend 2x your Dad’s annual spending in monthly housing alone! Yikes!

    1. Yeah, crazy but it is what it is. Cities are expensive but they’re also where incomes are the highest. The living costs in his area are very low, but the job opportunities and income levels are also limited.

  17. Very timely! We are in the midst of getting an 8 acre farmhouse upstate ny. All cash. 550k. Taxes are 7k per yr

    Plan is to disappear there if things go sour career wise in ny and get into something like real estate sales and home improvement

    If things stay good, maybe refi the place down the road

  18. Fille Frugale

    This is all well and good when one is healthy, but have you and your dad discussed what would happen should he experience a sudden, tricky medical situation? A stroke, a bad fall, etc, and he could be on the floor bleeding or starving to death for days with nobody knowing. Maybe your dad doesn’t care, but will you be able to live with yourself if something like that happens? Sorry for being so blunt, but this exact scenario happened to me with a relative who insisted on living away from everyone.

    1. Let’s not forget mental conditions like dementia. My mother preferred living alone once my father died. Eventually, she experienced visual and audio hallucinations.

    2. Yeah it’s not great to think about, but there’s a reality to it. I’ve discussed it with him, and he is at peace with the risks and doesn’t want to move anywhere else. Because of that I’m at peace with it too. Both of my parents don’t want to relocate or have help, and I just can’t force them to change.

  19. Well written article. Just be ready to move someone if they are elderly if it becomes too much for them. Isolation can be tough mentally and even dangerous if they aren’t healthy. It can be so beautiful and peaceful.

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