Northwest Survival Retreat Ideal Population Map


Click here for full resolution map

I put together this map awhile ago which illustrates perimeter regions surrounding population centers in the northwest.

City regions containing populations of 50,000 (red circles) and those with 200,000 (blue circles) in the states of Montana, Idaho, eastern Washington, and eastern Oregon.

The purpose of building the map was to discover the perimeter regions of cities with populations of 50,000 people – the perimeter being 50 miles out from the city region.

This perimeter is such that while living in a rural area (on the 50-mile perimeter), an approximate 1 hour drive would bring you into the ‘small’ city region for professional services or supplies.

It seemed to me that one possibility of an ideal full-time retreat location may exist along such a perimeter boundary. A boundary that does not overlap with another while still having somewhat reasonable access to services beyond the local area.

It was an interesting exercise (and time consuming to research and build the map). But I plan to do the same for other states in the country as well. (I like maps)

There are two perimeters on the map which you may want to stay away from if you are concerned about higher population centers (Boise and Spokane).

You may also want to stay away from the highlighted area of nuclear missile silos in Montana, particularly ‘down wind’ (e.g. Billings).


Montana Road and Recreation Atlas

Idaho Road and Recreation Atlas

Washington Road and Recreation Atlas

Oregon Road and Recreation Atlas


  1. I looked at this map this morning and kind of giggled to myself. I live 17 miles east of a town of 30,000 in Montana (one that is technically way outside any of your “perimeter zones” and we have all the modern conveniences one might think they needed–KMart. ShopKo, WalMart, Target, Lowe’s, Costco, Home Depot, Applebee’s, Famous Dave’s, etc. In fact, we sometimes long for the days when none of that stuff was here and it didn’t feel like we were living in a suburb.

    So rethinking your criteria might open up even a few more places in this region you hadn’t thought about. You don’t need a town of 50,000 to make life livable out here.

    1. A town of 30,000 with a KMart, WalMart, Target, etc. doesn’t surprise me – there’s evidently enough population to support them. I would be curious to know, since you live there, if in your opinion there are adequate medical facilities (hospital) in your location of 30,000? Looking back on my thoughts when I built that map earlier this year, I had in mind that in addition to a wide variety of choices for supplies and services, the notion that a city of ~50,000 would likely have a decent hospital, in case one needed professional health care. Your right though that the stores you listed would provide quite a-lot of one’s typical needs.

      1. Re: Hospital facilities. Let me put it this way: Shortly after we moved here 18 years ago, I was diagnosed with leukemia. I was diagnosed on a Wednesday afternoon (it took them most of the day to figure out exactly what I had), and by Thursday morning I was on a plane out of here to a major medical center because the doctor who diagnosed me said there were no facilities within the state equipped to handle what I was dealing with, even on a temporary basis. Fast forward to 2011, and now our hospital has an award-winning cancer center and while they still might not be able to deal with the kind of cancer *I* had (I was treated at the Cleveland Clinic), there are very few people who now have to leave the area for cancer treatment. Beyond that one example, I have never felt that we had less than quality medical care here.

        Another thing to consider is that the town near me has a population of 30,000 or so, but the entire valley has a population of twice that. So “population center” might be defined a bit differently out here than elsewhere.

        1. Your example shows that there are lots of variables while searching for a retreat ‘away’ from populous regions – but close enough to areas that provide professional services such as hospital care. There is no one basic rule-of-thumb to follow and each area must be looked at individually (boots on the ground) for its own unique services. Hope all is well with your treatment.

  2. Having lived and traveled extensively in this region I can say it is full of magic. That Idaho panhandle region is bordered by huge mountains on either side and lies at an average 2000′ elevation. The years I lived between Sagel, just south of the “Long Bridge” to Sand Point, and north into Alberta are full of fond memories. The “Hunting Trench” is that dip which makes the panhandle. The path through which man is thought to have come into the lower 48… The weather is as warm as Boulder, CO. on the 40th parallel, the soil is like the Mississippi Delta was; 20′ deep humous, ( At least it was in the 70’s ) The one draw back, make that two, were that the warmth was largely due to the non-stop over cast. I saw the sun 6 times a year on average and that doesn’t mean for a whole day. It did in some years get better in the 2 or 3 months of summer. 2nd you had to be ready for the short days of winter… 9 a.m. sunrise and 3 p.m. set @ the peak of winter. There are 3 of the largest fresh water lakes west of the Mississippi in travel range. The people are or were? very self-sufficient. Largely old school herbal, husbandry, hunting, trapping, and fishing wizards. Ice fishing is big on Lake Pend Oreille ( Lake-Pond-Or-A )… The economy needs to be investigated before you move there unless you are independently wealthy. If you are, you likely already have a home in Idaho. I see Idaho is in the top 6 sales tax brackets these days, it used to be the tax haven across the board thus many money people had spreads there for tax purposes. Well the one thing we can count on is Change… The “Trench” is still a good to great bug-out route, though I get the word that as the northern hemisphere goes, you may have to make your way to the Yukon or west to eastern Alaska to hope to survive if the invisible poisons continue to bulk up north of the equator. The “Cartel” may be storing seed banks up north but it looks like a move to the southern hemisphere is the plan when “They” turn on the fan. All of this presupposes the lack of a dooms-day event. ( Just the implementation of martial law, the loss of the “Bill of Rights, & Constitution” ) We really do have to get all of this Nuke $**t shut-down and somehow, someway, stowed… Forever!… Well thank you Ken for your research, I’m sure you continue to over-lay the myriad of growth, weather patterns, FEMA Camps, Nuclear reactors, pollution zones; all of which I stopped tracking by the early 80’s and I’m sure that changes have befallen that region. Thanks again for the work and the memories… Survive-All…

  3. Now with Fukushima and the big radiation dump, I think South America is more in order.

  4. I live in the Pacific NW, and agree that this area is wonderful for the natural beauty and the bounty that comes with it. Those who are willing to learn how to survive in the wild here will find nature bountiful with lots of wildlife, fishing, and fertile farmland to the east and south in WA state.

    One thing to consider is to remove yourself from the major highways. While the mountains are beautiful, they restrict possible bug out paths. My recommendation would be to find a place on one of those circles, then find a place that is ~30 min drive from the highway if you can swing it. 15 min is more like it as the infrastructure to penetrate the hills and forest are spotty, and can bite both ways in a disaster.

    Western Canada is another option. In a disaster scenario (pandemic, nuclear fallout), I would guarantee you that the border is porous. There’s only three highways going north, but the land is so vast that any good 4×4 will be able to traverse the expanse. Canada has also been very amenable to Americans who flee their country in the past so long as they have something to contribute. In the event of civil conflict, I’m 100% certain they’ll declare themselves neutral. In the event of nuclear fallout or pandemic it might be harder, but not too terribly much. I have friends in Alberta that I can bug out too in case the US gets too hot. I’m used to cold winters anyway :)

    1. While Western Canada may offer an attractive alternative to escape calamity in the USA, one would have to disarm themselves prior to making the move. How wise would that be in the midst of upheaval?

  5. With the common denominators here being honor and self-sufficiency; I would like to add something similar to what Otter wrote about (securing things).

    Survival and relative comfortability are only half of my plan. I plan to do “things” for my country (if need be), that requires me to be in a geographical vantage point(s) at the right time(s).

    I am going at least one step beyond the equally respectable ideas of self defense and survival; I intend on honoring the Oaths of our Founding Fathers with my life if necessary.

    Hence: me being too far away from the “realms of opportunities” won’t allow me to do what I swore I would do (for life) which is what I do best; justly defending the constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic.

    God willing, it will never come to that again, because I like being retired.

  6. I used to live in a prime ‘survival’ location in Idaho and for me, the people, even more than the geography is what made it so. I greatly appreciated the fact that I would step out my back door into superb wilderness and that I could go to ‘town’ and enjoy the companionship of great, self-sufficient and honest people. However, population density is not everything. I now live in a rural, even pastoral part of coastal Virginia, on a peninsula with a low population, farms and watermen. It’s good for producing your needs and even a few ‘wants’, yet still having medical and a few stores.

    UN-fortunately, we also have a bit over 1/3rd of the local populace who are of the ‘entitlements’ mentality. Those who, for generations have lived off of the hard work of others and produced their many and varied children with these same traits. Crime in this area is almost exclusive among them and semi-rare outside of their areas as long as the welfare checks are arriving. This pays for their shiney cars, 3″ false nails & hair extensions, Mickey-D’s & KFC, cigarettes, drugs & etc. When the checks stop, I am anticipating at least weeks, probably months of atrocities and governmental push-back, not against the criminals, but against those of us who will fight crime the old fashioned way. I am certain that ‘they’ will be portrayed as the “inocent victims” and we will be the red necks, ‘vigilante’, militia, etc. Name your poison lable, but it will mean ‘armed Christian families defending themselves as an organized block’ when we’ve had too much of it.

    In short – population density and a rural setting are important and CERTAINLY better than living in urban sprawl, but pay attention to what is lurking just beneath the surface of the society that you live in, because the semi-criminal who ‘only steals a little bit’ when they have a full belly and feel the counter pressure of an operating infrastructure with police and sheriff, will likely go full-up felon on the earliest opportunity when the welfare checks stop, if that is their pre-disposition and around here it is. This does not mean those who are genuinely poor and honest. I am talking those who are dishonest opportunists who despise actually working when they can steal so much more easily. Then there are their family ties to the big city gangs and the invitations that they give to even today, their family members who ‘are havin a hard time up in DC…” to come here to graze off of the unsuspecting population of ‘crackers’ like me.

    Be certain to look very closely for those signs of habitual/chronic welfare mentality, because this will be the first threat when their second meal is missed. Also, ensure that you do not live near the REAL and long-term threat: politicians, because they – as a class – generally live off of us, by using ‘them’ as a weapon and excuse for sinking their fangs into We The People. You DO understand – right?



    Ps. What’s on Popeye’s menu? Spinach for mee shipmates and plenty’o knuckle-sammiches fer swarthy pyrates!

    1. True, But I believe the objective is to live among like minded people with strong moral values. The tricities for the most part holds to conservative constitutional values. True the place is growing, But the politics are not leaning left as a result, at least not willingly.

      Further example of this is the moratorium on Marijuana. True the west side of State has chosen to legalize it, yet locally on the east side all three cities have placed a moratorium on it’s sales..

      I believe a visit to any of the stores selling guns, (notably griggs and ranch and home just to name a couple ) proves that the 2nd amendment is alive and well.. Further, I personally emailed the Benton county sheriff with concerns over DC’s attack on Black rifles and their magazines. I believe the The sheriff has a firm understanding of his role with respect to the rights of the citizens.. In short, I wouldn’t be to overly concerned with the tricities as a destination spot to put down roots in the RD…

      Its a great place to live, the job market isnt bad, and the weather is great..

  7. I’ve already bought property in a 2,500pop town that has a hospital, next to a wilderness area in the NW with the full expectation that escape from populated areas will be necessary at some time in the future. Though I can’t retire for five years from now, I’m prepared for the 1000mi bug-out if it’s necessary and still possible. In this town live citizens who truly uphold the constitution and are banded to protect against any thing that would threaten us. We are organized and believe in God. We are genuinely helpful and friendly but dangerous too. If you are a law-abiding constitutionalist and believe in the Christian version of God, you are welcome here. If you’re not and you come here, don’t rest.

  8. I’m not really a prepper but sometimes get this ‘feeling’ that I should GTFO of Southern California. I find myself looking at Google maps satellite images and just thinking.

    The one thing that always catches my eye is the number of CROP LANDS compared to the local population. Try it sometime and you’ll notice Southeastern Idaho and small parts of Western Montana have massive amounts of agricultural land compared to the small local population.

    As long as you have food, the ability to make food, and the guns to keep the golden hordes and the fedgov from stealing your food most people (irregardless of city size) will be fine.

    Being far away from nuclear targets (both civilian and military) is nice too…

  9. How do you define “downwind” for the nuke sites?

    Is there an assumption that the wind blows a certain direction? if so, then relative to what? How does the continental divide relate to this subject?

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