Most rural counties in California

Written by:
May 2, 2022
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Most rural counties in California

A surprising number of U.S. counties have 100% rural land-702, in fact. Stacker compiled a list of the most rural counties in California using data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Counties are ranked by the percent of land area that is rural, as of the 2010 Census, with ties broken by residents per square mile, according to 2019 5-year population estimates.

According to the Census Bureau, rural land encompasses any land that isn't an urban area. To be considered an urban area, a place has to have a densely settled core of census tracts or blocks and count at least 2,500 people, at least 1,500 of whom must be residents of non-institutional buildings. Areas with 50,000 people or more are considered urbanized areas, while areas with between 2,500 and 50,000 people are considered urban clusters.

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SD Dirk // Flickr

#50. San Diego County

- Rural area: 81.9% (3,446 square miles)
- Urban area: 18.1% (760 square miles)
- Total land area: 4,207 square miles
--- #9 largest county in state, #109 nationwide

- Population density: 788.3 people / square mile (3.3 million residents)
--- #50 lowest density county in state, #2,961 nationwide

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Aaronbrick // Wikicommons

#49. Santa Cruz County

- Rural area: 82.2% (366 square miles)
- Urban area: 17.8% (79 square miles)
- Total land area: 445 square miles
--- #57 largest county in state, #2,286 nationwide

- Population density: 615.4 people / square mile (273,962 residents)
--- #49 lowest density county in state, #2,927 nationwide

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Kglavin // Wikimedia Commons

#48. Marin County

- Rural area: 84.5% (439 square miles)
- Urban area: 15.5% (81 square miles)
- Total land area: 520 square miles
--- #55 largest county in state, #2,002 nationwide

- Population density: 499.6 people / square mile (259,943 residents)
--- #46 lowest density county in state, #2,878 nationwide

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#47. Solano County

- Rural area: 86.2% (708 square miles)
- Urban area: 13.9% (114 square miles)
- Total land area: 822 square miles
--- #46 largest county in state, #1,030 nationwide

- Population density: 537.7 people / square mile (441,829 residents)
--- #48 lowest density county in state, #2,899 nationwide

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#46. Ventura County

- Rural area: 87.9% (1,621 square miles)
- Urban area: 12.1% (222 square miles)
- Total land area: 1,843 square miles
--- #26 largest county in state, #316 nationwide

- Population density: 459.7 people / square mile (847,263 residents)
--- #45 lowest density county in state, #2,863 nationwide

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LPS.1 // Wikicommons

#45. San Joaquin County

- Rural area: 88.8% (1,235 square miles)
- Urban area: 11.2% (156 square miles)
- Total land area: 1,391 square miles
--- #33 largest county in state, #433 nationwide

- Population density: 533.7 people / square mile (742,603 residents)
--- #47 lowest density county in state, #2,898 nationwide

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Doug Olson // Wikimedia Commons

#44. Placer County

- Rural area: 89.9% (1,265 square miles)
- Urban area: 10.1% (142 square miles)
- Total land area: 1,407 square miles
--- #32 largest county in state, #426 nationwide

- Population density: 274.0 people / square mile (385,512 residents)
--- #41 lowest density county in state, #2,705 nationwide

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Daniel Orth // Flickr

#43. Riverside County

- Rural area: 90.2% (6,497 square miles)
- Urban area: 9.8% (709 square miles)
- Total land area: 7,206 square miles
--- #4 largest county in state, #42 nationwide

- Population density: 334.6 people / square mile (2.4 million residents)
--- #43 lowest density county in state, #2,765 nationwide

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Fred Hsu // Wikicommons

#42. Sonoma County

- Rural area: 90.9% (1,432 square miles)
- Urban area: 9.1% (144 square miles)
- Total land area: 1,576 square miles
--- #29 largest county in state, #384 nationwide

- Population density: 317.1 people / square mile (499,772 residents)
--- #42 lowest density county in state, #2,753 nationwide

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#41. Stanislaus County

- Rural area: 92.0% (1,375 square miles)
- Urban area: 8.0% (120 square miles)
- Total land area: 1,495 square miles
--- #30 largest county in state, #401 nationwide

- Population density: 363.4 people / square mile (543,194 residents)
--- #44 lowest density county in state, #2,787 nationwide

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Stan Shebs // Wikicommons

#40. Napa County

- Rural area: 94.6% (708 square miles)
- Urban area: 5.5% (41 square miles)
- Total land area: 748 square miles
--- #48 largest county in state, #1,176 nationwide

- Population density: 186.6 people / square mile (139,623 residents)
--- #39 lowest density county in state, #2,569 nationwide

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#39. Butte County

- Rural area: 94.8% (1,552 square miles)
- Urban area: 5.2% (84 square miles)
- Total land area: 1,636 square miles
--- #28 largest county in state, #369 nationwide

- Population density: 138.0 people / square mile (225,817 residents)
--- #34 lowest density county in state, #2,430 nationwide

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Frank Schulenburg // Wikimedia Commons

#38. Nevada County

- Rural area: 95.1% (911 square miles)
- Urban area: 4.9% (47 square miles)
- Total land area: 958 square miles
--- #44 largest county in state, #731 nationwide

- Population density: 103.6 people / square mile (99,244 residents)
--- #27 lowest density county in state, #2,284 nationwide

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Epolk // Wikimedia Commons

#37. Yolo County

- Rural area: 95.4% (968 square miles)
- Urban area: 4.6% (47 square miles)
- Total land area: 1,015 square miles
--- #41 largest county in state, #659 nationwide

- Population density: 214.2 people / square mile (217,352 residents)
--- #40 lowest density county in state, #2,616 nationwide

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DimiTalen // Wikimedia Commons

#36. El Dorado County

- Rural area: 95.6% (1,633 square miles)
- Urban area: 4.4% (75 square miles)
- Total land area: 1,708 square miles
--- #27 largest county in state, #350 nationwide

- Population density: 110.4 people / square mile (188,563 residents)
--- #31 lowest density county in state, #2,325 nationwide

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Ray Bouknight // Wikicommons

#35. Sutter County

- Rural area: 95.9% (578 square miles)
- Urban area: 4.1% (24 square miles)
- Total land area: 602 square miles
--- #53 largest county in state, #1,621 nationwide

- Population density: 159.5 people / square mile (96,109 residents)
--- #36 lowest density county in state, #2,501 nationwide

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#34. Santa Barbara County

- Rural area: 96.1% (2,629 square miles)
- Urban area: 3.9% (106 square miles)
- Total land area: 2,735 square miles
--- #21 largest county in state, #189 nationwide

- Population density: 162.6 people / square mile (444,829 residents)
--- #37 lowest density county in state, #2,517 nationwide

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Mark Miller // Wikimedia Commons

#33. Merced County

- Rural area: 96.4% (1,865 square miles)
- Urban area: 3.6% (70 square miles)
- Total land area: 1,935 square miles
--- #25 largest county in state, #292 nationwide

- Population density: 140.3 people / square mile (271,382 residents)
--- #35 lowest density county in state, #2,444 nationwide

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David Jordan // Wikicommons

#32. Fresno County

- Rural area: 96.4% (5,744 square miles)
- Urban area: 3.6% (214 square miles)
- Total land area: 5,958 square miles
--- #6 largest county in state, #60 nationwide

- Population density: 165.2 people / square mile (984,521 residents)
--- #38 lowest density county in state, #2,525 nationwide

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Naotake Murayama // Wikicommons

#31. Monterey County

- Rural area: 96.8% (3,174 square miles)
- Urban area: 3.3% (107 square miles)
- Total land area: 3,281 square miles
--- #17 largest county in state, #156 nationwide

- Population density: 132.1 people / square mile (433,410 residents)
--- #33 lowest density county in state, #2,406 nationwide

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#30. San Bernardino County

- Rural area: 96.9% (19,431 square miles)
- Urban area: 3.1% (626 square miles)
- Total land area: 20,057 square miles
--- #1 largest county in state, #10 nationwide

- Population density: 107.1 people / square mile (2.1 million residents)
--- #28 lowest density county in state, #2,305 nationwide

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Basar // Wikicommons

#29. San Luis Obispo County

- Rural area: 97.0% (3,201 square miles)
- Urban area: 3.0% (98 square miles)
- Total land area: 3,299 square miles
--- #16 largest county in state, #152 nationwide

- Population density: 85.5 people / square mile (282,165 residents)
--- #25 lowest density county in state, #2,139 nationwide

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U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District // Wikimedia Commons

#28. Yuba County

- Rural area: 97.1% (613 square miles)
- Urban area: 2.9% (19 square miles)
- Total land area: 632 square miles
--- #52 largest county in state, #1,516 nationwide

- Population density: 120.9 people / square mile (76,360 residents)
--- #32 lowest density county in state, #2,367 nationwide

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Armona // Wikicommons

#27. Kings County

- Rural area: 97.2% (1,350 square miles)
- Urban area: 2.8% (39 square miles)
- Total land area: 1,389 square miles
--- #34 largest county in state, #435 nationwide

- Population density: 108.5 people / square mile (150,691 residents)
--- #29 lowest density county in state, #2,314 nationwide

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nickchapman // Wikicommons

#26. Kern County

- Rural area: 97.3% (7,912 square miles)
- Urban area: 2.7% (220 square miles)
- Total land area: 8,132 square miles
--- #3 largest county in state, #33 nationwide

- Population density: 109.2 people / square mile (887,641 residents)
--- #30 lowest density county in state, #2,318 nationwide

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#25. Tulare County

- Rural area: 97.7% (4,712 square miles)
- Urban area: 2.3% (112 square miles)
- Total land area: 4,824 square miles
--- #7 largest county in state, #84 nationwide

- Population density: 95.7 people / square mile (461,898 residents)
--- #26 lowest density county in state, #2,225 nationwide

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CFang // Wikimedia Commons

#24. Lake County

- Rural area: 97.9% (1,230 square miles)
- Urban area: 2.1% (27 square miles)
- Total land area: 1,256 square miles
--- #38 largest county in state, #482 nationwide

- Population density: 51.1 people / square mile (64,195 residents)
--- #22 lowest density county in state, #1,712 nationwide

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Doug Kerr // Wikicommons

#23. Shasta County

- Rural area: 98.0% (3,699 square miles)
- Urban area: 2.0% (76 square miles)
- Total land area: 3,775 square miles
--- #13 largest county in state, #132 nationwide

- Population density: 47.5 people / square mile (179,212 residents)
--- #21 lowest density county in state, #1,640 nationwide

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#22. Madera County

- Rural area: 98.2% (2,097 square miles)
- Urban area: 1.9% (40 square miles)
- Total land area: 2,137 square miles
--- #24 largest county in state, #259 nationwide

- Population density: 72.7 people / square mile (155,433 residents)
--- #24 lowest density county in state, #2,011 nationwide

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Bobak Ha'Eri // Wikimedia Commons

#21. Tuolumne County

- Rural area: 98.6% (2,190 square miles)
- Urban area: 1.4% (31 square miles)
- Total land area: 2,221 square miles
--- #23 largest county in state, #253 nationwide

- Population density: 24.3 people / square mile (54,045 residents)
--- #14 lowest density county in state, #1,048 nationwide

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Bobak Ha'Eri // Wikimedia Commons

#20. Amador County

- Rural area: 98.7% (587 square miles)
- Urban area: 1.3% (8 square miles)
- Total land area: 595 square miles
--- #54 largest county in state, #1,643 nationwide

- Population density: 64.6 people / square mile (38,429 residents)
--- #23 lowest density county in state, #1,908 nationwide

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Cory Maylett // Wikimedia Commons

#19. Humboldt County

- Rural area: 98.7% (3,522 square miles)
- Urban area: 1.3% (45 square miles)
- Total land area: 3,568 square miles
--- #14 largest county in state, #141 nationwide

- Population density: 38.1 people / square mile (135,940 residents)
--- #17 lowest density county in state, #1,426 nationwide

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#18. Del Norte County

- Rural area: 98.8% (994 square miles)
- Urban area: 1.2% (12 square miles)
- Total land area: 1,006 square miles
--- #42 largest county in state, #672 nationwide

- Population density: 27.3 people / square mile (27,495 residents)
--- #16 lowest density county in state, #1,130 nationwide

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#17. Calaveras County

- Rural area: 99.0% (1,010 square miles)
- Urban area: 1.0% (10 square miles)
- Total land area: 1,020 square miles
--- #40 largest county in state, #649 nationwide

- Population density: 44.6 people / square mile (45,514 residents)
--- #20 lowest density county in state, #1,567 nationwide

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Cbl62 // Wikicommons

#16. Imperial County

- Rural area: 99.0% (4,134 square miles)
- Urban area: 1.0% (42 square miles)
- Total land area: 4,177 square miles
--- #10 largest county in state, #111 nationwide

- Population density: 43.3 people / square mile (180,701 residents)
--- #18 lowest density county in state, #1,538 nationwide

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Binksternet // Wikimedia Commons

#15. Mendocino County

- Rural area: 99.2% (3,477 square miles)
- Urban area: 0.8% (29 square miles)
- Total land area: 3,506 square miles
--- #15 largest county in state, #142 nationwide

- Population density: 24.9 people / square mile (87,224 residents)
--- #15 lowest density county in state, #1,057 nationwide

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Michael Patrick // Wikimedia Commons

#14. San Benito County

- Rural area: 99.2% (1,377 square miles)
- Urban area: 0.8% (11 square miles)
- Total land area: 1,389 square miles
--- #35 largest county in state, #436 nationwide

- Population density: 43.5 people / square mile (60,376 residents)
--- #19 lowest density county in state, #1,545 nationwide

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Trance addict // Wikimedia Commons

#13. Glenn County

- Rural area: 99.4% (1,305 square miles)
- Urban area: 0.6% (8 square miles)
- Total land area: 1,314 square miles
--- #36 largest county in state, #453 nationwide

- Population density: 21.3 people / square mile (27,976 residents)
--- #12 lowest density county in state, #935 nationwide

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Frank Schulenburg // Wikimedia Commons

#12. Tehama County

- Rural area: 99.5% (2,933 square miles)
- Urban area: 0.6% (16 square miles)
- Total land area: 2,950 square miles
--- #20 largest county in state, #175 nationwide

- Population density: 21.7 people / square mile (63,912 residents)
--- #13 lowest density county in state, #944 nationwide

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CleanWater17 // Wikimedia Commons

#11. Colusa County

- Rural area: 99.6% (1,146 square miles)
- Urban area: 0.4% (5 square miles)
- Total land area: 1,151 square miles
--- #39 largest county in state, #535 nationwide

- Population density: 18.6 people / square mile (21,454 residents)
--- #11 lowest density county in state, #844 nationwide

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Chmee2 // Wikimedia Commons

#10. Siskiyou County

- Rural area: 99.8% (6,266 square miles)
- Urban area: 0.2% (12 square miles)
- Total land area: 6,278 square miles
--- #5 largest county in state, #53 nationwide

- Population density: 6.9 people / square mile (43,468 residents)
--- #8 lowest density county in state, #448 nationwide

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Kenneth Green // Wikimedia Commons

#9. Plumas County

- Rural area: 99.9% (2,549 square miles)
- Urban area: 0.1% (4 square miles)
- Total land area: 2,553 square miles
--- #22 largest county in state, #213 nationwide

- Population density: 7.3 people / square mile (18,660 residents)
--- #9 lowest density county in state, #462 nationwide

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Finetooth // Wikimedia Commons

#8. Lassen County

- Rural area: 99.9% (4,536 square miles)
- Urban area: 0.1% (5 square miles)
- Total land area: 4,541 square miles
--- #8 largest county in state, #96 nationwide

- Population density: 6.8 people / square mile (30,818 residents)
--- #7 lowest density county in state, #442 nationwide

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clr_flickr from Rocklin, USA // Wikimedia Commons

#7. Mono County

- Rural area: 99.9% (3,046 square miles)
- Urban area: 0.1% (3 square miles)
- Total land area: 3,049 square miles
--- #19 largest county in state, #169 nationwide

- Population density: 4.7 people / square mile (14,310 residents)
--- #6 lowest density county in state, #357 nationwide

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Scott Burley // Wikimedia Commons

#6. Modoc County

- Rural area: 100.0% (3,916 square miles)
- Urban area: 0.1% (2 square miles)
- Total land area: 3,918 square miles
--- #12 largest county in state, #126 nationwide

- Population density: 2.3 people / square mile (8,907 residents)
--- #3 lowest density county in state, #177 nationwide

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Chuck Abbe // Wikimedia Commons

#5. Inyo County

- Rural area: 100.0% (10,177 square miles)
- Urban area: 0.0% (4 square miles)
- Total land area: 10,181 square miles
--- #2 largest county in state, #22 nationwide

- Population density: 1.8 people / square mile (17,977 residents)
--- #2 lowest density county in state, #133 nationwide

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EPoelzl // Wikimedia Commons

#4. Mariposa County

- Rural area: 100.0% (1,449 square miles)
- Urban area: 0.0% (0 square miles)
- Total land area: 1,449 square miles
--- #31 largest county in state, #413 nationwide

- Population density: 12.0 people / square mile (17,420 residents)
--- #10 lowest density county in state, #639 nationwide

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Almonroth // Wikimedia Commons

#3. Trinity County

- Rural area: 100.0% (3,179 square miles)
- Urban area: 0.0% (0 square miles)
- Total land area: 3,179 square miles
--- #18 largest county in state, #161 nationwide

- Population density: 4.0 people / square mile (12,700 residents)
--- #5 lowest density county in state, #307 nationwide

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#2. Sierra County

- Rural area: 100.0% (953 square miles)
- Urban area: 0.0% (0 square miles)
- Total land area: 953 square miles
--- #45 largest county in state, #734 nationwide

- Population density: 3.2 people / square mile (3,040 residents)
--- #4 lowest density county in state, #246 nationwide

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Susan Popielaski // Wikimedia Commons

#1. Alpine County

- Rural area: 100.0% (738 square miles)
- Urban area: 0.0% (0 square miles)
- Total land area: 738 square miles
--- #50 largest county in state, #1,196 nationwide

- Population density: 1.4 people / square mile (1,039 residents)
--- #1 lowest density county in state, #100 nationwide

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