The Ultimate Mountain Cabin Guide: Everything You Need to Know About Buying or Building a Mountain Cabin

Published on | log homes |Josh Horner

Have you always dreamed of owning a secluded log cabin of your very own? For people who love the mountains, a log cabin is a dream come true. You could either build a custom cabin of your own on undeveloped land, or purchase a cabin that someone else has previously owned. Here’s what you need to know about how to build a log cabin, as well as some information about buying a cabin that’s already been constructed.

Buying a Log Cabin

The simplest way to get a mountain cabin of your own is to buy it from someone else. There are always log cabin properties on the market, and you might just be able to find one you absolutely love. Before buying a cabin in the mountains of Colorado, here are some things that you should consider.

  • Easements. You’ll need to make sure you have access to your cabin and the land it’s built on. For that, you will probably need to make sure that you have a permanent easement. An easement is an interest in land that grants or limits is use by someone who doesn’t own it. This often involves negotiation and a financial transaction between you and the owner of adjacent land.
  • Utilities. A remote location lets you truly get away from it all, but buying a cabin in the middle of nowhere can present a challenge if you want power, water, and other utilities. You may want to consider solar power or a generator.
  • Water access. For nearly 100 years, the State of Colorado has granted well permits to landowners. A visit to the state website can help you find out about past ownership, water quality, and more.
  • Septic system. Many older properties may not have a septic system. Unless you’re comfortable with an outhouse, you may need to have a septic system installed.
  • Property insurance. Rural areas in the Colorado mountains are subject to fires, floods, and in some areas, winter storms.
  • Building permits. Make sure the builder or previous owner had the right permits for home improvements. If they do, you’ll be able to renovate and remodel the cabin.

What You’ll Need: A Checklist for Building the Cabin of Your Dreams

If you can’t find a cabin on the market that you absolutely love, you can also consider buying undeveloped land and having one built from scratch.

Make Sure the Property is a Legal Parcel

Before buying a piece of land, you’ll want to get it surveyed, and compare the survey against existing conditions. A property is a legal parcel if it meets any of the following criteria:

  • It is a full lot within a platted subdivision
  • The parcel was approved by an Exemption from Platting
  • The land is at least 35 acres
  • The land was divided by deed, executed prior to 1972

Check Local Zoning & Development Regulations

You’ll need to check the area’s local zoning laws and other regulations that may apply to your property. There may also be county plans that could affect your property. Doing research before you buy land can save you an unpleasant surprise later on. You should also look into who, if anyone, owns the surrounding land.

Verify Proof of Access

Even if there’s an existing road or trail to your property, it’s not guaranteed that you have a legal right to use it. To verify proof of access, you’ll want to make sure of the following things:

  • Check whether the property abuts a state or county owned road. If the road is dedicated but isn’t being maintained, you will need documentation to prove that it meets the right standards.
  • Find out whether there’s a deeded access easement connecting the property to a state or county maintained road. This will allow you to cross land you don’t own to access your property.

Make Sure You Have the Right Building Permits

To get permits, your parcel of land needs to be a legal building site. A legal building site is distinct from a legal parcel. To be a legal building site, the land must:

  • Be a legal parcel.
  • Meet minimum standards for lot size, setbacks, and other requirements laid out by local zoning regulations.
  • Have proof of proper sewage disposal.
  • Have proof of a water source.
  • Have access to a county or state maintained road.

Mistakes to Avoid

If you’re planning on building a cabin from scratch, there are some surprisingly common mistakes that you’ll want to avoid.

Buying Steep Grade Property

Up in the mountains, there are quite a few parcels of land for sale that are very, very steep. Almost any patch of land is going to have some degree of slope, but there’s a limit to how steep it can be before you can’t reasonably build anything on it. This trips up a lot of buyers, because steep land can be alluringly cheap to buy. But, it’s cheap for a reason: building on it is difficult, expensive, and potentially impossible.

If you’re not sure about a particular piece of land, ask a contractor in your area. They can give you an idea of how much it would cost to build your cabin on the slope, and about whether or not it’s even feasible to do so. Steep land might not be as much of a bargain as it looks at first glance.

Acre Cost Averaging

Some parcels of land might look like a great deal, but you need to realize that if you’re buying something like ten or twenty acres, not all of that land will be usable. Land that’s too rocky, too steep, too high, or too low might not be suitable for building your cabin.

Forgetting Well & Water Costs

Even if your cabin is just a part-time vacation home, you’ll need to get running water from somewhere. To do that, you may need to build a well if the property doesn’t have one already. Setting up a means to pump, deliver, and store water isn’t cheap, so it’s something you’ll need to account for, ahead of time.

Failing to Take Accessibility Into Account

How are you going to access your new property? Is it adjacent to a major road, or is it tucked away in a secluded area? There’s a chance you may need to build a road, which can get expensive. If the property surrounding your land is owned by someone else, you’ll need to talk to them before building a means of access. If possible, you should try to buy land that’s already accessible.

Forgetting About Wastewater

Don’t forget about wastewater disposal. If your cabin is in a rural area, you’ll need a septic system. If the property doesn’t have one already, you’ll need to build it. Septic tank regulations are quite strict, and it will need to be at a certain distance from your well, as well as from nearby bodies of water. Plus, you will need to find a suitable location that isn’t solid rock.

Forgetting to Consider Power & Utility Costs

While you can handle running water by installing a well, and deal with wastewater through a septic system, electrical power is something you can’t generate on site. Chances are, you’d prefer to have electricity at your new cabin, as well as phone service and internet service if possible. To do this, you’ll need to talk to the local power and phone companies. The cost can be surprisingly high, so it’s not something you want to forget about until the last minute.

When you’re looking at property in the mountains, you may also want to check whether the pieces of land you’re looking at have cell phone coverage. Carriers are constantly expanding their services areas, but some properties may not get any reception.

A Cabin of Your Own

Building or buying a log cabin can be a great real estate investment, as well as a wonderful vacation home for you and your family. For some people, a rural mountain cabin can even be a full-time residence. By following the guidelines above, and avoiding common mistakes, you can either build or purchase a great cabin that you’ll love.