Go Stake Your Claim

Clear into the next state: The view from North Carolina, near the town of Tyron, into South Carolina.     Photo: Cameron Davidson

THE STARTING POINT: What follows are six elemental landscapes—forest, desert, inland waterfront, prairie, mountain, and coast—featuring 18 blissfully unsullied locales, from Alaska to Florida, Arizona to Maine.
THE COST: Our survey largely showcases undeveloped private land, which remains plentiful and cheap, in a few areas, however, prices creep up to $200,000 an acre or higher. But in a nation where the median home price now tops $150,000 (or even $300,000 in California), consider what you get for your money.
THE PAYOFF: A place that may feel more like home than home. Happy hunting.

FOREST
WHEN EUROPEANS FIRST ARRIVED on this continent, historians claim, an enterprising squirrel in a pine tree on the New England coast could, theoretically, have leaped from branch to branch and made it all the way to the Mississippi without ever touching the ground. To attempt the same stunt now, the rodent would need a 12-foot wingspan and a tailwind. Sizable islands of sylvan serenity still exist, of course. But so does the timber industry. Consider yourself a shrewd buyer? Then examine the impact that logging in a nearby forest might have on a property that interests you. Lumber must come from somewhere, and that fact will be cold comfort if the chainsaws and downshifting trucks are going at it within earshot of your retreat. Or worse, if they thunder across your land because a timber company obtained a road easement.
GRAHAM COUNTY, NORTH CAROLINA
FIRST THE BAD NEWS: Although this last frontier, perched just across Fontana Lake from Great Smoky Mountains National Park, had nary a stoplight a few years ago, it now has—the horror—three. But fear not. To residents, a traffic jam means getting stuck behind a stopped school bus. For those looking to vanish from the radar, this is as rough-and-tumble as it gets east of the Big Muddy—densely wooded black-bear and wild-boar turf. Sensational hiking awaits in the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest and in the Snowbird Wilderness.
RECENT LISTING: A gentle ridge for your cabin and a year-round spring on 38 acres down a cratered dirt road (four-wheel-drive only), $51,300. High Country Property, 888-525-5263, graham.main.nc.us/~bclaybon/.
PICTURE YOURSELF: Napping in a shaded May thicket of blooming rhododendrons, not another human in sight.
FORGET IT IF: Any of the following are important: a broad selection of restaurants, nightlife, golf, or a nearby hospital.

FOREST COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA
THE GENERAL VICINITY OF northwestern Pennsylvania's half-million-acre Allegheny National Forest harbors some of the sweetest terrain in the state. Here, morning mist curls off deep-valleyed rivers like the Allegheny and the Clarion, thick moss and ferns underlie old-growth patches of white pine and hemlock, and autumn hardwoods contrast brilliantly with the evergreens. People have been tubing and canoeing on these rivers and hiking and camping in these woods for generations. Those who don't require riverfront—which is getting scarcer and costlier—can usually find a wooded lot perfect for a family "camp" (Pennsylvanian for "cabin") for $700 to $1,000 an acre.
RECENT LISTING: 1.5 acres bordering national forest, with an 1860s three-bedroom frame house, plus a fireplace and year-round stream, for $47,900. Timberwood Realty, 800-480-4373, www.timberwoodrealty.com.
PICTURE YOURSELF: Grilling native trout on a glowing bed of campfire coals while learning to whittle (badly).
FORGET IT IF: You get nauseated plucking ticks off your dogs.

NORTH-CENTRAL ARKANSAS
BUSES FULL OF TREE-GAWKERS rumble through the Ozarks like clockwork: in springtime for the blooming dogwoods and redbuds, in autumn for the turning maples. A few retirees and assorted other downshifters have stuck around, thanks to the combination of low crime, low property taxes, and relatively low asking prices, all wrapped in a mild four-season climate.
RECENT LISTING: 180 scenic hardwood acres near the Buffalo River with pond and views of the Ozarks, $89,500. United Country/Roth Realty, 870-741-7557, www.unitedcountry.com/harrisonar.
PICTURE YOURSELF: Perfecting your cannonball on the Buffalo, on a languid afternoon when the air smells like pine.
FORGET IT IF: You're frightened of people who visit Branson, Missouri, on purpose.

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