5 Creative Ways to Make Money With Forest Land

Forest land is possibly one of the most personally-rewarding assets one can own. They can provide a source of lumber, recreation, and even meaning as you watch your trees grow. Even so, many owners of forest land understandably want to get more than just personal reward: they want financial reward. The most common and well-known means of financial reward is of course timber harvesting, and that is the method we at the Timberland Investor dedicate most of our time to. That said, it has a lot of drawbacks, namely long intervals between cashflow and a decrease in aesthetics after harvest. So how else can you make money from forest land? You are only limited by your creativity.

First Off: The Obvious, Traditional Methods

Let’s get the obvious methods of making money with forest land out of the way. These are the means of income that, while perfectly valid, are well-known and explored. If you are reading this article, you are likely familiar with them, but they are still worth mentioning in the event you are not.

  • Timber Harvesting: Sell the right to harvest your timber to loggers who will then sell logs to a mill to be made into lumber, paper, and other forest products. Read more about the financial benefits of timber harvesting here
  • Firewood: Cut small volumes of timber and split them to sell firewood for campers or for home heating purposes.
  • Hunting Leases: Lease the right to access your land to hunters who are looking for exclusive properties to increase their chances of hunting success.
  • Maple Sugar and Christmas Trees: Sell specialty forest products such as maple syrup, christmas trees, and even certain types of fungus like chaga.

Ok, with those out of the way, let’s get to the interesting stuff. Here are 20 unique and creative ways to make money from your forest.

Get Our Free 76-Page Forestry Guide

Subscribe to our newsletter and get our free guide to become a better forester.

Success! You're on the list.

Primitive Campsites

The first method is also one of my favorites because of both how easy and potentially profitable it can be. A primitive campsite can be established and rented out on a per-night basis to campers. All you need to do is clear a small, flat surface, construct a small outhouse, fire pit, and (maybe) provide access to water, which could be as simple as a natural stream that doubles as a nice setting to a campsite or as complicated as installing a spout to a pressurized water system.

Such campsites are in high demand by recreationists who enjoy sitting by the fire and travelers who want the cheapest stays possible. Personally, I enjoy going on long-distance motorcycle journeys, and I always seek out campsites to stay at. Unfortunately, they are rarer than you would think, so I often end up staying in national forests.

Primitive campsites can be a great way to make money from your forest land.
The Author’s Moto-Camping Setup

Skills and resources Needed:

  • Basic construction/land clearing.
  • Enough technical skills to build a website and get some online search engine visibility and potentially build an online booking system with the help of pre-built plugins. Alternatively, you can use AirBnB. When just starting out, AirBnB is best, as it takes a while for businesses to show up on Google, but fees are higher.

Potential profitability and Intensity:

If you rented out at $40/night and had a 60% occupancy rate for 4 months of the year, you would get about $3,000/year with minimal expense. If you built two, you could double that. If with two, you further improved your bookings with improved visibility and multi-platform compatibility to achieve a 90% occupancy rate, that increases to $9,000/year. Moreover, if you learn to fell trees on your property, you can enhance income by up to $30/night by selling firewood on site to guests.

While not a life-changing amount of money, it is a scalable and low-stress business model. The good thing about primitive campsites is that as long as there is a place to pitch a tent, guests don’t expect much!

Cabins, Lean-tos, and Tree Houses

This is simply the same rental model as the previous, but a higher-risk, higher-reward version. Developing the property a little more to build a lean-to structure, cabin, or tree house (in order of least involved to most), can command a higher per-night fee with a correspondingly higher cost in development. However, bear in mind that in either case, the primary value from the business is derived from the forest. I’m not suggesting you develop your forest with high-end cabins with granite counters and stone fireplaces, but building a simple structure in a beautiful forest can be just as alluring to guests, and its a different model than most rentals.

A cabin can be a great way to make money from forest land

Skills and Resources Needed:

  • Considerable capital or construction skills.
  • Enough technical skills to build a website and get some online search engine visibility and potentially build an online booking system with the help of pre-built plugins. Alternatively, you can use AirBnB. When just starting out, AirBnB is best, as it takes a while for businesses to show up on Google, but fees are higher.

Potential Profitability and Intensity

The numbers here are going to be Considerably variable based on your location, forest value, structure complexity, and more, but here is an example:

Small woods cabin with a woodstove in a northerly/high altitude climate around walking trails, snowshoe trails, and other activities.

  • Revenues: $70-150/night for a 10 month season (summer, fall, winter) and 80% occupancy rate ($17,360- $37,000/year)
  • Expenses: $20,000-$100,000 initial invest and $2,000/year maintenance costs with potential house-keeping costs.

Outside of the capital expense, the largest downside to this business model is the intensity of management. Guests of developed structures expect more than guests of primitive campsites, and so communication will have to be more frequent, and more amenities provided, such as clean bedding between each guest.

Tip: Don’t forget the main value is provided by your forest. Trying to provide a luxury stay alters the business model greatly and potentially decreases other values. For example, larger construction necessitates larger clearings. Building a small cabin right under a closed canopy provides a value that cannot be obtained through construction. Think smaller. Many people around the world live their lives with simple appliances and systems such as propane stove tops, rain collection systems, and blue-jug drinking water. Don’t complicate it.

Trail Subscriptions

Let’s face it: We live in a subscription economy. While it can be annoying to have subscriptions pile up, it comes with key benefits for both consumers and businesses. For consumers, it gives access to services at a cost independent of consumption levels. For businesses, it provides steady, predictable, recurring revenues. Why not extend that model to the woods?

Trail system in a forest.

The model is simple: Use your beautiful forest as a setting for recreational trails. In the summer, these could be walking trails, but in the winter, they could be snowshoe trails. For $10/month, customers could gain access to these trails to use whenever they want, controlled by passcodes and an online subscription system (or just a cash-based ledger system if you are old school).

Trail building is a fairly simple process, and once they are built, maintenance is minimal. 100 acres is more than enough to build 2-3 miles of trail systems, and I’ve even been on 20 acre public properties that had well-developed trails with plenty of foot traffic.

Skills and resources Needed:

  • Trail building skills
  • Basic business skills (local marketing, understanding transaction systems)

Potential Profitability and Intensity

If you have the land, the trails are easy. The make-or-break for this model is the availability of customers. That said, I have lived in some fairly remote places, and I feel this model would still have been able to attract enough customers to make it worthwhile in those areas. By definition, most of you live in places dense enough to make it work.

That being said, this model is 100% about marketing and pricing. Could you get 100 customers at $10/month? Could you get 200 customers at that price? What about 300? Would it be too crowded then? Would it make sense to raise the price to $20 and get the same (or more) revenue from less people? What if you lived next to a population center and had exceptional trails? Could you then charge $40/month and get 100 people to subscribe?

Again, maintenance is negligible, and as long as people can get through the gate ok, customer service is minimal. Once you experiment with pricing, it can be easy to make anywhere between $1,000-$5,000/month, with almost all being profit.

Paintball/Airsoft Arenas

Once more, the title of the article is “creative” ways to make money from forest land. While it may be niche, creating a forest environment in which people can play paintball or airsoft can be profitable–and fun, especially if you are into the hobby yourself.

If you know anything about airsoft, you know that people can REALLY be into airsoft. Its not uncommon to see guys dressed in full-on tactical gear to shoot each other with plastic balls. So it will come as no surprise that this hobby is mostly incompatible with public spaces. If you want to play paintball or airsoft, you need private land.

Now I’ll preface this by saying this model can be as simple or complex as you want it to be. You can go off the deep-end and have a full-on business with hosted/organized games and a shop, or you can simply provide access. Seeing how this article is about making money from owning forest land, I am going to focus on providing access and having a limited role as a landowner.

This is what you can do: Go to a few local airsoft/paintball shops and say, “hey, I’m opening my land to this hobby with these rules for this price, can I put a flyer up in your store?” Likewise, find some local Facebook groups for the hobby and do the same. Done. The community is small, so it won’t take long for word to spread.

Airsoft in the woods.

Skills and Resources Needed:

  • Lemonade stand Level business skills.
  • Familiarity with the hobby helps.

Potential Profitability and Intensity

This model is very similar to the trail subscription model in its potential for profit. In other words, it will depend on population density and pricing, but the more niche something is, generally the higher price it can command. As mentioned previously, public spaces arent friendly to dudes in camo carrying fake firearms, so if you want to play, you have to pay, and a single game at a professional arena can cost between $20-$50. In that case, is $30/month a fair price for land access? That’s your decision. But at that level, you only need 33 people to make $1,000/month, certainly not a bad way to make money from forest land.

And if you wanted, you could have some fun and fell some trees for fire cover or dig some holes to look like shelling scars.

The biggest problem would be ensuring you are covered from a liability standpoint (but some states like Maine have great laws protecting landowners from recreational liability provided certain conditions are met), so consult with an attorney.

Hosting Species ID Classes

Many people wish they could more easily identify the tree and plant species of their local woodlands. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to learn on your own, especially when learning to identify non-leaf characteristics, such as bark and tree shape. Thus, it can provide a great deal of value to nature lovers in your area to use your forest land to host one or two day workshops teaching people how to identify local species and to learn more about their properties and commercial uses, potentially delving into other aspects of the forest, such as wildlife and the ecology of vernal pools and woodland aquatic environments.

Sugar maple samara.

Skills Needed:

  • Competence in species ID and forestry/wildlife knowledge.
  • Basic marketing and promotion skills.

Potential Profitability and Intensity

Startup costs for such a project are minimal, so success is dependent on the frequency of classes and acquired customers, but to use an example, you could host four, two-day classes a year for $100/person. Assuming you could find 15 attendees each time, you could make $6,000/year. That’s the same potential revenue as our first idea of building two primitive campsites, and without the hassle of construction, it can be a great way of making money with your forest land. Moreover, such a business is low stress, as you only need to dedicate a few weeks a year to planning and teaching.

What’s more, you don’t even need to use your land. In fact, it may be worthwhile to use a public space closer to a population center, provided you have permission and that public space has sufficient bio diversity.

You Are Only Limited by Creativity

Though many believe that timberland is not a worthwhile investment, the truth is it can be one of the most profitable and diversified assets you can only if only because of all the ways you can make money with forest land. The only limit is your creativity, but with a few basic business skills and determination, side incomes can easily be derived from your trees.

Become a Forester.
Build an Asset.

Subscribe to our newsletter and get a free 76-page guide to understanding and managing your forest.

Success! You're on the list.

Similar Posts