Can You Build A House On Recreational Land?

If you own recreational land or are considering buying some, you may be wondering what you can do with it. The answer is many things! However, you may not be able to build on it due to zoning laws. Today, we will explore information about these laws and recreational property. 

Most zoning laws in the United States will not allow permanent structures on recreational land. However, there are many variations in these laws depending on the state. 

To learn more about these laws and what your options might be, keep reading! 

Scenic of green landscape, public outdoor park for leisure and picnic in summer. Greenery environment, lush field and trees and white clouds in blue sky. Recreation and relaxation place with nature. - Can You Build A House On Recreational Land

Can You Build a House on Recreational Land?

While most of the zoning laws in the United States will not permit the building of a house on recreational land, some will allow small cabins for hunting on the property. These cabins adhere to strict guidelines, such as being less than 500 square feet and only habitable for short periods. If you get to build a cabin, you might enjoy "17 Amazing Exterior Log Cabin Ideas."

While a cabin might not be possible, you may be able to get a camper or similar vehicle. However, some states do not permit these on the land either. Even if they allow them, most will also have a time limit for how long they can be on the property. These limits are typically 120 days out of the year. 

Zoning Laws

You may wonder why there are so many restrictions on recreational land. This is because of how the property is zoned and the local zoning laws. These laws are what decide how the land can be used. The first step in the process is determining which of the six categories a property belongs to. 

  • Agricultural
  • Residential
  • Recreational
  • Industrial
  • Commercial
  • Transportation

When a property is deemed recreational, it means the best use of this land is for human enjoyment. This could mean a variety of activities. Because of this zoning, building a permanent home on the property will be prohibited in most, if not all, states. 

Many factors go into consideration when zoning an area of land. For instance, commercial properties are more convenient when close together. No one wants to travel great distances to visit two stores. Residential areas will likely be away from industrial land to avoid being close to large factories. 

Another factor in zoning recreational land is guidelines neighborhood developers may need to follow. Developers of residential areas sometimes have to keep around 10% of the land as open areas or recreational spaces. This keeps developers from overcrowding land with residential buildings and increases the value of the neighborhood.

Zoning land with these details in mind helps local governments keep properties organized to better benefit people. There are many reasons land may be unfit for residential use but perfect for recreation. For example, the property could be in a flood zone or unable to receive utilities for year-round living. 

Sunset over green field


The good news for anyone wanting to build on their recreational land is the possibility of getting it rezoned. Three options may make it possible to build your dream home on your dream property. However, each one has a few drawbacks. 

Rezoning the property is probably the most difficult of the three options. This is because local government officials have to determine the best use of the land for everyone in the area. Because the zoning for the property has already been done once, the odds are that the decision will not change. 

Another possibility is a zoning variance. This would allow you to do things you usually couldn't on this property type. However, you will have to prove hardship from special circumstances to get this. 

Lastly, you can apply for a special use permit. This would lift a specific restriction for the land, but only for the owner who received the permit. In short, if you receive a permit to build a house on recreational land and decide to move, the next owner will not be allowed to keep the house on the property. 

Examples of Recreational Land Uses

Most people will instantly think of parks and hiking trails with recreational land. However, recreational areas are places for nonessential, fun activities. Many recreational lands will undoubtedly be used for parks, trails, and playgrounds. But there are several other ways to use the property. 

The list of ideas for outdoor recreation is quite extensive. Here are just a few of the activities.

  • hiking
  • swimming
  • hunting
  • fishing
  • skateboarding
  • walking
  • horse-riding
  • skiing

A handful of indoor recreational places can also be built on recreational properties. Some of these options include:

  • museums
  • roller- and ice-skating rinks
  • theaters
  • aquariums
  • indoor sports centers

Golfer putting golf ball on the green golf, lens flare on sun set evening time.

Investing in Recreational Land

Now that we know about housing restrictions on recreational properties, you may wonder how you can use your own. Fortunately, owning recreational land can be a good investment. If done with careful planning, this can be a very rewarding way to make extra money. 

One reason to consider investing is you may not have to build anything. Buildings are not required if you use the land as a picnic area or hiking trail. Different options, such as golf courses or playgrounds, may require only a little structure.

Another thing to consider is if the surrounding area already has good recreational locations. People love having a fun place nearby. If your neighborhood doesn't have a nice recreation area, you can easily make your property the go-to place for the neighborhood. 

You can also get creative with how you use your property by doing something different. One option is horseback riding lessons. Or you can rent sections of land for a small community garden. Box gardens would be an excellent way to do this. For more ideas, check out "21 Box Garden Ideas". The possibilities are endless!

Why Recreational Land is Important

Scenic of green landscape, public outdoor park for leisure and picnic in summer. Greenery environment, lush field and trees and white clouds in blue sky. Recreation and relaxation place with nature.

Having properties specifically for human recreation has many benefits for everyone. Though it may be frustrating not being able to build on land you own or wish to purchase, the other possible uses for it are seemingly endless. 

Investing and opening the land to the public provides safe entertainment for local people while also helping yourself financially. You also would be increasing the property value of all housing close to your recreational area. This could improve the real estate in the area, leading to more money for you too. 

Even if you choose to keep the land for the enjoyment of your family and friends, there are many benefits. It gives you and your loved ones an excellent place for fun, quality time that costs much less than a standard vacation. Not only will this save you money, but you can enjoy the outdoors without worrying about a crowd.

Another easily overlooked perk is the benefit to the local wildlife. By having a property that stays largely natural, wildlife is given a safe area to live without fear of losing it to large amounts of construction. It can also keep animals from sneaking into neighborhoods looking for food. This can be a welcome benefit if you are in a rural area. 

It can be disappointing to learn you can't build on land you have. However, thinking through some potential benefits to the property may help you feel better about your purchase. Recreational land can still be a smart asset.


Lush green forest with dense undergrowth Green lung Local recreation area City forest Experience nature

In conclusion, if you own or plan to own recreational land, it is important to remember that building a house on the property is against zoning laws. Though there may be a few loopholes to the rule, finding a way to use the land for recreational activities will be easier. By doing this, the property becomes a fun place for your friends and family or an excellent investment the local community will adore. 

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