Would you like a camp site that is free to camp? Has spectacular view? With plenty of sun for solar panels? And has good cell signal? This sounds too good to be true, so what’s the catch?
There is no catch, but you have to visit Idaho. We found this boondocking spot, just outside of Stanley, Idaho. It is by far our best free dry-camping spot since we hit the road in 2016.
In two years of being on the road we had stayed at many lovely dry-camping spots. Like the time we boondocked at the Alabama Hills in California, dry-camped on the canyon rim at Goosenecks State Park in Utah, stayed in free BLM campground at Sacramento Pass outside of Great Basin National Park in Nevada, or the Klondike Bluff Road near Moab, Utah. None of these places, however, has as many pluses as this place—Alabama Hills had lots of dust and no cell signal. We had to pay to camp at Goosenecks. There was no cell signal at Sacramento Pass. The view at Klondike Bluff Road wasn’t as pretty. I wrote about the location of this spot, which is on Nip and Tuck Road (FR 633), at the bottom of this post.
Stanley is a little town on the Salmon River at the base of the Sawtooth Range. It is the gateway to many outdoor activities in this area—fishing, hiking, rafting, boating, kayaking, biking, ATVing, you name it.
Things to do along the Nip and Tuck Road
Not only this is a stunning boondocking spot, there are a few nearby walking paths that we took on the days that we didn’t feel like going anywhere, which were most of the time.
There are many places to explore around Stanley. For great information about hiking to beautiful lakes in the Stanley Area, you should visit this post from Kym and Kevin. Although where we camped there were hardly any mosquitoes or other annoying bugs, the area around Iron Creek, where many trails begin, were full of mosquitoes in early July. So, you will want to be equipped with bug repellent if you think about hiking near creeks and lakes this time of the year.
Driving the Potato Mountain Road and Joes Gulch Road
From the Nip and Tuck Road (FR 633) and the Kelly Creek Road (FR 653) junction, we took a drive on FR 653 to explore the area around where we were. We wanted to see whether there were boondocking spots on the other side of a valley from the Nip and Tuck Road. Although this section of FR 653 had a great view of the Sawtooth, there weren’t really any camping spots.
From FR 653, we turned left on Potato Mountain Road. The Potato Mountain Road was much rougher than FR 653. I would say that it’s not for passenger cars. The Potato Mountain Road goes through an old burnt area. A sign on the road warned about potential hazards on the road. If you’d hiked through burnt forest, you know that it’s a prime spot for wildflowers. This road was no different.
After leaving the Potato Mountain Road and getting back on FR 653, we took Joes Gulch Road. Joe Gulch Road definitely requires a high-clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle. We drove the road when it was dry. From the look of the road surface, it’s probably not passable when wet. If your vehicle is capable and the weather has been dry, this road is worth taking a drive.
Joes Gulch Road dropped us on Utah-75 just north of Stanley.
We had a wonderful time boondocking here for 16 days. We stayed through the Fourth of July holiday and it never was crowded. Occasionally, there were a few people camping close by, but most of them stayed for a night or two. Most of the time we had the place to ourselves. There were some traffic and ATVs using the Nip and Tuck Road, kicking up some dust. But it wasn’t that noisy and the road was never really dusty. If you, like us, camp on the windward side of the road, you escape most of the dust.
Our boondocking spot was on Nip and Tuck Road (FR 633) just outside of Stanley, Idaho. FR 633 can be accessed from either Utah-21 (west end) or Utah-75 (east end). The road on the east end was much rougher than the west. Bigger rigs should access from the west end.
To get to the west end of FR 633 from Utah-21, take Utah-21 from the junction of Utah-21 and Utah-75 in Stanley for approximately 5 miles. Turn right onto FR 653, cross a bridge, and continue down the unpaved road. When you get to a junction of FR 653 and FR 633 (Nip and Tuck Road), you will see an information board stating that camping is allowed up to 16 days. Continue on FR 633. The road from this point is a narrow, unpaved with some potholes.
About 2 miles from the start of the Nip and Tuck Road, you will be able to see the Stanley Basin valley with Utah-21 below and a full view of the Sawtooth Range. Stop. Get out of your vehicle and walk around. This is the place where if you see part of Stanley should have cell signal. You can look for any spot your rig could fit in. You can continue pass this point until you come to a cattle guard. There is a spot next to the cattle guard and a spot on a short spur road to the right. These two spots should also have cell signal. Go beyond this point and the town will disappear from your view. So will the cell signal.
There aren’t many spots on this road that could accommodate big rigs like Stimpy. Since the place wasn’t busy the whole time that we were there, it’s might be worth your time checking it out first. If nothing is available, there is a well-used dispersing area near Stanley Lake that can accommodate many big rigs, but no cell signal.
Tip for large rigs: Once you’re on Nip and Tuck Road, it’s best to find the first spot that you could pull off to unhook. Then use your tow vehicle or a toad to scout the site. There is also a large area at the junction of FR 653 and FR 633 where you could unhook.