Boondocking in Stanley, Idaho — Our best boondocking spot

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.

Would you like some of this view?

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.

You can include outdoor cooking to the list of activities to do in Stanley. 😉
And wildlife watching. Actually these two bucks were all we saw other than birds, lots of birds.
Abundant wildflowers in late June to early July
Daily sunset over the Sawtooth Range never gets old.
The nighttime temperature was cold, perfect for evening campfire.
The full moon rose over the nearby hill.
If you zoom in closer to the moon in this picture, you will see a white dot near the right edge of the moon. It’s the Saturn.
My attempt to shoot the Milky Way using a point-and-shoot camera yielded a grainy picture, but it should give you an idea of what it’s like camping there.

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.

Trail up a hill. Although the sign said no motor vehicles, we saw a motorbike and tire tracks on the trail.
Nip and Tuck Road seen from the trail up the hill.
The expansive view of the Sawtooth Range from the top of the hill looking south. Mariposa lilies appeared to be at peak bloom here in early July.
And looking west
Our regular afternoon walk
After only about 30-40 minute walk from our camp site depending on how many picture stops I took, we had this goegeous view.
Another shot with the Sawtooth in the background
Picture taken from another trail from our camp site

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.

Little Redfish Lake
Valley Creek
The Sawtooth Range from Utah-21

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.

Wildflowers on the side of Potato Mountain Road

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.

More flowers
Bloody geranium
Then we reached a small reservoir on Sawmill Creek. The road beyond this point looked quite rough from being washed out. We decided that this was our turnaround spot.

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.

Ren going down Joes Gulch Road

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 last evening walk during sunset
The moment before the sun setting behind the Sawtooth Range
We could have stayed here longer, but 16 days is the limit.

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.

18 thoughts on “Boondocking in Stanley, Idaho — Our best boondocking spot

  1. I enjoyed every moment of it and told you so, but lost it. I spent a lot of time in my camper in Idaho in 2010 and for many years before that with my husband in our RV. We love that for years few people knew how beautiful Idaho is.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Nancy, for sharing your travel story. Sorry to hear about your husband. Idaho wasn’t in my radar until last year. But thanks to other bloggers and comments from folks that inspired me to plan our travel here. We won’t be able to make it to northern Idaho on this trip to Idaho. Your feedback definitely put it on my radar for future planning to eastern Washington/northern Idaho.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the detailed directions on how to find this spot. So often, I go looking for boondocking sites only to find comments that discourage big rig owners from trying to access the spots. It’s nice to know we’ll definitely be able to fit in the sites here.

    Liked by 1 person

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