Go Stake Your Claim

MOUNTAIN

The Vista, near Weaverville, Trinity Alps, California     Photo: Sian Kennedy

FEW RETREATS ARE MORE APPEALING than a cozy hideaway in the hills. But if you intend to build on mountainous terrain, consider that the very characteristics you find so captivating about it—the slopes that afford such gawk-inducing views—tend to snarl construction. Building houses on steep terrain takes longer and costs more, and structures can suffer from soil erosion and even mudslides. It's wise to visit a mountain lot during a rainstorm to see firsthand how water drains. And even if you find a level homesite, it still must pass all the other commonsense tests. Will the soil allow for a septic tank? Is there southern exposure for crucial winter sunlight? Might shallow bedrock make it difficult and pricey to drill a well? If the area has been or is being mined, find out whether any hazardous abandoned mine shafts remain. If someone else owns mineral rights to the property, find out whether they intend to use them. Mountains also amplify the importance of access. Your remote hilltop hideaway may seem a lot less appealing if you have to negotiate a double-black-diamond driveway during a blizzard to reach it.

TRINITY ALPS, CALIFORNIA
LAND DOESN'T LANGUISH on the market in northern California's Trinity and eastern Humboldt Counties. Reason one: bikeable back roads and fire trails, Wild and Scenic Rivers alternating tame flatwater with Class II to V chutes, 9,000-foot peaks overlooking one of the country's largest vestiges of ancient forest, and the Pacific just an hour or so downhill. Reason two: Prices might shock a Dakotan, but the remoteness (it's a four-and-a-half-hour drive southwest to San Francisco) keeps them palatable by California standards. A tip: Shop around for a real estate agent knowledgeable enough to steer you clear of logging, helicopter racket, and other nuisances.
RECENT LISTING: Four acres of meadows and old-growth Douglas fir on the Trinity River, with three-bedroom trailer, near organic farms and redwoods, $199,000. Doug Thron, 707-822-4870.
PICTURE YOURSELF: Sitting on your front stoop, munching pesticide-free watermelon from the farm down the road.
FORGET IT IF: You'd feel queasy having either militia wingnuts or cannabis farmers for neighbors.
CHAFFEE COUNTY, COLORADO
SIX OF EVERY SEVEN ACRES in Chaffee County, 75 miles west of Colorado Springs, is public land, and all that green ink on the map is both blessing and curse. It means unmolested scenery—the broad valley of the Arkansas River, lined by the imposing Collegiate Peaks (Mounts Harvard, Yale, and Princeton)—and year-round playtime (with paddle, skis, boots, or pedals). It also means a relative dearth of private land, which has helped spike prices. But you still get more charm per greenback here than in nearby Summit County—without the I-70 infestation of faux-chalet condos.
RECENT LISTING: Five acres shaded by tall ponderosas at the base of 14,269-foot Mount Antero, 20 minutes from Salida's fetching Victorian downtown, $150,000. Colorado Backcountry Realty, 719-539-0188, www.coloradobackcountryrealty.com.
PICTURE YOURSELF: Soaking in the Mount Princeton Hot Springs at eyeball level with a rushing stream.
FORGET IT IF: You want rapids all to yourself: The Arkansas draws more than 300,000 paddlers a year.

HIGHLAND COUNTY, VIRGINIA
RESIDENTS OF "VIRGINIA'S SWITZERLAND"—all 2,536 of them—claim their county has the highest mean elevation east of the Mississippi, and no one seems to be arguing. A four-hour drive southwest from Washington, D.C., the lush hardwood ridges of the nearby Appalachian Mountains top out above 4,000 feet. But it's what surrounds the peaks that often seals the deal: sheep farms hemmed by miles of split-rail fence, trout-stuffed rivers, even a syrupy spring Maple Festival. Saunter one county to the south and you'll find the hot springs where Jefferson himself dipped.
RECENT LISTING: Sixty-five wooded acres on Jack Mountain with poetic views, a Disneyesque cast of critters, and a stream, $136,500. United County/Shamrock & Stephenson Realty Inc., 540-468-3370; www.monterey-va-realestate.com.
PICTURE YOURSELF: Devising a vacuum-tube system to tap your own maples for pancake breakfasts on the deck.
FORGET IT IF: You think the Civil War is no longer controversial.

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