Is Kentucky a Good Survival Retreat Location for Preppers?

kentucky preppers survivalBy Joel Skousen

Author,  Strategic Relocation and The Secure Home

Kentucky and Tennessee are a couple of my favorite states for relocation for those already in the East looking for safety.  They are both in or beyond the Appalachian chain of mountains which will channel refugee flows coming from the east into known highway corridors, which can be strategically avoided.  First, let me offer some general comments about Kentucky, which is a very diverse state, with 13 distinct geographic regions, each with their good points and bad.

Far western Kentucky includes alluvial plains and small hills with good basement potential but not as much forestation as the east.  But be careful, certain western counties surrounding Madisonville also have large coal deposits. The low lying areas south of the Ohio River, however, are nearly flat and thus poorly drained, thus leading to a lot of wetlands.  Where good drainage allows, the land is fertile and productive. The cities of Louisville, Owensboro, and Henderson along the river are highly industrialized, with pockets of poor crime-prone areas.

The East/central Bluegrass region around Lexington is probably the most sought after area in Kentucky and is known for its horse farms. The land is expensive because of that but you can still find reasonable land away from the horse farms.  I’m partial to the south/central area around Bolling Green, Ky, This is a great small city that has friendly people and low crime. It is surrounded with great country farms with lots of patches of forest and trees.

Kentucky has the advantage of having huge swaths of forested land out in the main farm areas of the state.  If you look on the satellite view at Google Maps you can see a very broad swath of forest land starting just south of Louisville and meandering back and forth, east and west of I-65 on its way south to Bowling Green.  When you find farmland backed up to these forested areas, you get both farm self-sufficiency and forested retreat privacy.

Your choices in Kentucky are broader than you think, but the important thing is to follow these general criteria:  1) find land with basement potential, 2) good water resources (well, spring, or creek), 3) a mix of forestation for shielding and open land for cultivation, and 4) the home site should not be visible from any main or secondary paved road.  

For higher security farms and retreats, a lot of preppers are attracted to the Daniel Boone National Forest which is located along the Cumberland Plateau in the Appalachian foothills of eastern Kentucky—the subject of this briefing.  It encompasses over 700,000 acres of very rugged terrain and characterized by steep forested ridges and deep ravines—less than 15% is in private hands.  

This is also coal country, especially in the regions abutting the national forest, where the most private land is found.  Here, you do have to be careful of pollution from mining as well as the uncertainties of not owning the mineral rights under your property.   Be especially careful about buying land after it has been strip-mined and then “reclaimed,” by bringing in fill dirt of unknown quality.

As a consequence of coal and difficult terrain, the region is highly depressed financially as coal has been strangled by environmental regulation and farming has never done well in small plots—though that’s what we want for retreat farming if they otherwise meet the above criteria.  The eastern counties of Kentucky have hundreds of small, mostly dying towns. The downside of all this is that newcomers to the area are looked upon with some suspicion. Why would anyone want to come to a place where there are few jobs?

Another negative is the political orientation of Eastern Kentucky–a Democratic stronghold due to the mining and welfare mentality that persists in this area.  Even though Kentucky is in the hands of two Republican Senators, Rand Paul is a positive, and future Senate Majority Leader McConnell is a problem—a compromising Republican leader who talks a good story but doesn’t follow through, except to support the Powers That Be.

Weather is often cloudy and rainy in the Appalachians, so you have to be prepared for that.  The rain provides abundant water resources but is not the best for livability.

For a look at the various divisions of the national forest, open up this link to the official map. The long national forest extends almost to the Ohio border in the north down to Tennessee in the south.  It is divided into 3 districts, the Cumberland to the north, the London district in the center and the Stearns district to the south. But, notice that there is a large district to the East called the Redbird district that is rarely shown in green (designating national forest) on most maps.  

That’s probably because it is riddled with private land, which is great for retreat farms.  And there’s a good-sized town in the middle, Manchester, Ky. In this district, you’re surrounded by national forest but there’s plenty of private lands to choose from—unlike the West where most national forests are locked up tight and where “inholders” are few and far between (and treated with some hostility by the Forest Service).  By the time these large forested lands were turned into national forests in the Appalachians, there was already way too much private farming to buy them all out, so they remain as “inholders.”

Normally, in Western states, I discourage the buying of remote inholding lands because there are too few property owners to mount an effective legal battle against the federal government should they choose to arbitrarily close off your access (which they have done in the past).  I don’t think confiscation of inholding land is a danger in this area because there are so many private holdings, and the constitution requires compensation (money the feds don’t have).

Some of the best areas of the National Forest in which to find private land is in the Southern Stearns District, West of Williamsburg along highways 92 and 478.  You don’t want to locate along those particular highways, but there’s a lot of private land and smaller roads branching off from both where you can find secluded homes and forested land.  In the middle of the district are the tiny towns of Stearns and Pine Knot which become the tourist and service centers for those living inside the National forest.

I actually prefer the land outside the forest between the town of Monticello, Ky and the western border of the DB National forest, bounded by the meandering south fork of the Cumberland river. This is where you find real retreat land, already carved out by small farmers, but no major tourist roads or traffic—and less coal mining.

The central London District goes from Lake Cumberland in the south to the Kentucky River farther north.  This district is between the two major towns of London to the east and Somerset to the West, which provides good commercial access to those who find retreat sites amid the forest in between.  I-75 also crosses through the forest from SE to NW so stay clear of that passageway. Much of the good retreat property near Somerset is to the East before you get to the National Forest, so don’t think you have to get within the national forest to be safe.  This central district is one of the few places that has a river running north/south through it (most other rivers simply cross the plateau West-East).  There isn’t much private land along this Rockcastle river, but there is some. Follow it on google maps (satellite view) to find cultivated parcels.

The northern district (Cumberland) is East of Lexington, Ky, a major city so there is more pressure on this area for second homes for the wealthy of Lexington.  But still, there are plenty of rural farms available. If you need to be near a big city like Lexington, locate east of I-75 so you don’t have any major obstruction blocking your access to the mountains to the east. The towns of Winchester and Mt. Sterling are ideal for being fairly close to Lexington but also very close to the mountains.  


This article was writing by a contributor to If you would like to be a contributor then please email us by using the email link in the footer below.

9 Responses

  1. Gordon Rottman says:

    I personally don’ think that any place that has snow even part of the winter can be a good location for a prepper. Cold weather means more fuel consumption, more caloric consumption, more opportunities for cold climate illnesses and injuries, more time and difficulty to perform outdoor work, and less game is present.

  2. M.D. Creekmore says:

    Gordon Rottman,

    “Less game is present” Really? Lol!

  3. P.C. says:

    I wonder where Crab Orchard KY fits in? What area? I am trying to figure that out. Great article Thanks.

  4. Penrod. says:

    Good article.

    An important issue to consider in looking at a new state: how responsible is the legislature, and by extension, the people who elect the legislature?

    Using state debt per capital as a proxy, Tennessee comes out way ahead of Kentucky. Kentucky has the 15th highest state debt per capita in the country. Tennessee is #42.


    Now, you must also look at other measures, because ability to pay that debt is also an issue: a state with high debt but low taxes has the ability to raise taxes to pay off debt. A high debt state which also already has very high taxes, like our state of Hawaii, has a lot less room. Small recessions can cause serious problems in the later. Massive recessions can be a disaster for taxpayers. Laying off half the police and fire departments in a major downturn is a bad thing for most people.

    At a more basic level, high debt combined with high taxes tells something important about the culture of a state: it probably has a lot of irresponsible spend now, pay later voters. Like Hawaii.

    There are a lot of considerations which should go into choosing a state or area within a state, many of them impacting day to day life in decent times. Some may become moot in terrible times, or become even more important.

    If you expect a complete breakdown, like we are seeing in Venezuela, routine city amenities may not make up for potential problems. The flip side of that though is the extreme danger to isolated houses in a major breakdown: one shooter with patience and a scoped deer rifle may have trouble killing a whole family, but the first family member is his.

    During the Lebanese Civil War, many parts of Beirut were in big trouble. Some suburbs changed hands back and forth as fighting continued. In 1977 I briefly stayed in a house in a Phalangist neighborhood which had been captured by the Left, then retaken. The owner had returned to discover over 100,000 rounds of small arms ammunition stored there. He was delighted to sell it to the Phalangists for a dollar a round, but his neighbors were far less lucky: lots of looting, no ammo.

    Some small mountain villages were entirely evacuated. I don’t remember many isolated farm houses there, but they would have been 100% at the mercy of the private militias. Same with a village I had lived in in 1975: it was eventually evacuated at gunpoint. People had two options: start walking, or die right here, right now. Take your pick.

    So, much of planning depends on how bad one thinks things are going to get, and how soon. I like city living. Do I want to live in one in good times? Sure. Do I want to live in one in really, really bad times? Noooooo!

    Somewhere we have to compromise between day to day life and the prospect of serious problems. I’d start with a state which has well run, responsible government because that is an indicator of serious voters who take their political responsibilities seriously. That’s one of several reasons we are planning on abandoning Hawaii to the irresponsible voters who control government here.

  5. 173dVietVet says:

    I have lived in far Western Kentucky for three decades. It is sparsely populated in the three counties bordered by the Mississippi River with each county population being between 6 to 8 thousand. Only has light industry and farming with small towns and many churches. The population is heavily Republican, conservative and Christian.

    These counties benefit from TVA low electric rates and are about the cheapest places to live in the Nation. Yes, Kentucky has had poor Administration from DemonicRats but for the past six years the legislature has been controlled by Republicans and now the governor for three years. This has helped turn the Commonwealth around economically. The debt mentioned above is real but was all put in by DemonicRats and is being corrected now that the adults are in charge,

    Many small farm tracts are available and water resources are abundant. Winters in this Western tip of Kentucky are much more tolerable than in any other part of the state. Snows and bitter cold do not linger.

    Many Amish and Mennonite families have relocated to these counties due to cheap farmland and availability of good crop land.

    Tennessee is only a few miles away and the openness of Kentuckians in welcoming newcomers is obvious. Come to Fulton Kentucky and stay st the Meadows Hotel, rebuilt in its century old building. Check with NCB Realtors for the kind of place you want. You will find that life here in far Western Kentucky’ Fulton, Hickman and Carlisle counties is the kind of place you have in mind for a retreat/ redoubt. (I am not an employee nor related to anyone in either of these firms…)

    Finally, Kentucky is an Open Carry State and it is not uncommon to see pistols on a hip while at Fulton’s Walmart. Tennessee is not an open carry state but is firearms friendly. Retirement income is generally not taxed in Kenticky but seek tax advice from a tax professional who will give you the dollars and cents of why many retirees from high tax states in Yankeeland are moving to the tip of Kentucky..

    Y’all come on down. We will welcome you!

  6. Larry cantrell says:

    Is the area around Johnson Co. Ky. a good place?[Towns like Painstville and areas like Flat Gap are located there]. That would be considered eastern Kentucky. Am seriously considering moving there. Please reply!!!!

  7. INPrepper says:

    Not too for from Bowling Green is the Corvette Museum. Neat place. Even better is Mammoth Caves a little further away. The area is some beautiful country with nice rolling hills and sink holes. I would think some of those caves would make nice cool root cellars with a steady year round temp.

  8. Firesider says:

    I am the present day “owner” of an inholding (DB Forest on my East and West boundaries) in Jackson County, by virtue of it being passed down thru my family for well over 100 years. I have become active in the Kentucky Woodland Owners Association, which is an incredibly valuable resource, and my property is now a listed Kentucky Tree Farm (though harvest is the least of my considerations as a tree farmer). I see local properties being gobbled up by out-of-state folks seeking reinvest profits from their coastal investments and even “challenging” properties have seen a dramatic price increase in the last few years.

    That being said, the cities of Richmond, Berea, Winchester and Lexington are all relatively close and offer a tremendous mix of resources, from the arts to universities to medical and Appalachian oriented skills. You’ll find no finer folks then those associated with these fine towns, and one visit to the “Mountain Mushroom Festival” in Irvine in the spring will provide you with the resources and connections to make an educated decision as to whether this region is for you.

    One must be aware that the “Blue Grass Depot” is a huge government facility just outside of Richmond and is a storage/disposal unit for aging military weapons. The Lake Cumberland region, just to our West and South, offers some great properties and is downwind from the Depot…

  9. KBinKY says:

    I’ve lived in Northeast Kentucky for 40 years. Property taxes in most counties are fairly low, land prices are generally good, and retirement income for the most part is not taxed by the state. Preppier/homesteader places in this part of the state can be very reasonably priced and off the beaten path. Like parts of the western portion of the states we have a growing Mennonite and Amish population.

    Water is plentiful, there are a lot of natural springs, waterways, etc. The growing season is typicall late April, early May through October, and is conducive to growing a wide variety of produce. Produce can be sold or purchased at local farmers’ markets.

    There are lots of registered Dems, but voters tend to be conservative and reject progressive ideas. Kentucky is very Second Amendment friendly, open carry is legal and conceal carry permits are easily obtained in the “shall issue” state.