Skalkaho Highway an adventure in Montana

Skalkaho Highway
Skalkaho Highway

The untamed and remote Skalkaho Highway is one of Montana’s best-kept driving secrets, and it can be found tucked away in the western state’s Bitterroot National Forest. This unpaved backcountry road offers adventurous travelers breath-taking scenery around every curve as it winds through the towering Sapphire Mountains. The Skalkaho Highway is sure to please with its cascading waterfalls, forested valleys, rocky peaks scraping the clouds, and more. The road is part of the Montana Highway 38

Where is Skalkaho Highway?

About 70 miles south of Missoula, in the Bitterroot National Forest of western Montana, is where you’ll find the Skalkaho Highway. It travels 56 miles through the Sapphire Mountains, following the path of Skalkaho Creek, from Hamilton to Philipsburg.

The map below shows where this road is located:

Enlarge the map

Information about Skalkaho Highway:

The Skalkaho Highway, a scenic byway that is not paved and winds through the Sapphire Mountains and Bitterroot National Forest, reaches elevations of more than 7,000 feet. Drivers can anticipate steep inclines, switchbacks, and gravel roads. The path runs alongside the picturesque Skalkaho Creek and its cascading waterfalls. To view the mountains, cliffs, and wildlife, pause at one of the many pullouts.

The majority of the road is gravel and dirt, so driving slowly is necessary to avoid potholes and flying rocks. For a non-stop trip the entire distance, allow at least 2.5 hours. Also, don’t count on finding any amenities like gas stations or shops along the way; instead, be prepared!

History of Skalkaho Highway:

The Skalkaho Highway follows old Native American trails and mining paths from the late 1800s silver and gold rush. The route was established as a National Forest Scenic Byway in 1957. The word “Skalkaho” comes from a Salish word meaning “bitter root”.

Road preview:

Watching this YouTube video that displays a portion of the road will give you a preview of the journey:

How to get to this road?

To reach the Skalkaho Highway from Missoula, take Highway 93 south for about 70 miles to Hamilton, Montana. In Hamilton, turn east onto Highway 38 and follow it for about 15 miles to the start of the Skalkaho Highway (Forest Road 711). The highway is mostly gravel and unpaved. Allow 2-3 hours to complete the scenic drive.

Another dope road in Montana is the Beartooth Highway.

You can obviously visualize how to get there on this approximative map of the drive:

Is Skalkaho Highway open?

Depending on weather and snow closures, the Skalkaho Highway is open from late spring to fall. Road segments may briefly become closed due to winter snow. Before leaving, look up the most recent road closures and conditions on the Bitterroot National Forest website. Because there are very few services along the highway, make sure to resupply in Hamilton or Missoula before setting out on your trip.

The Skalkaho Highway offers breathtaking scenery, pristine wilderness, and activities like hiking and hot springs, making it the ideal way to discover the Sapphire Mountains of Montana’s natural beauty.

So next time you’re road tripping through western Montana or looking for that off-the-beaten-path experience, be sure to include the unforgettable Skalkaho Highway on your itinerary. Its raw natural beauty and opportunities for outdoor recreation make it the quintessential Rocky Mountain drive. Just be sure to have a camera ready – you’ll want to remember the magic of this mountainous landscape for years to come.

Picture credit: Paul S on Google Maps

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