The Skalkaho Highway is a forty-five mile drive that runs between the Bitterroot Valley and the Philipsburg Valley, in the Sapphire Mountains in southwest Montana, USA. This paved and gravel route climbs through the Sapphire Mountains, a remote and seldom visited part of Montana.
The drive follows Montana Highway 38 for its entire length and climbs up the Skalkaho Pass, a high mountain pass at an elevation of 7,258 feet (2,212 m) above the sea level. The road over the pass connects the towns of Hamilton in the Bitterroot Valley and Philipsburg in Flint Creek Valley and remains the only direct route between these two important agricultural areas. Originally an Indian route, Highway 38 was built in 1924 to link mountainous mining areas with the agricultural settlements in the valleys.
The route is closed during winter due to heavy snowfall. Highway 38 is a seasonal shortcut from Hamilton, Montana to Philipsburg, Montana. It can be closed anytime when the access is not cleared of snow. Avalanches and heavy snowfalls can sometimes block some sections of the road and can be extremely dangerous due to frequent patches of ice. Conditions can change quickly and be harsh. Road closures can be frequent, so check conditions before traveling to this area.
This road is very exciting and sometimes very exposed and unsecured driveway in innumerable twists and turns. This infamous road is tightly hairpinned and bumped, an exquisite winding mountain drive with sharp and blind curves and hairpin switchbacks leading the traveler over the mountains. This road has a lot of sweeping curves and a few tight and twisting it is partly made of pavement and dirt in the middle of the route and pavement on the end. Make sure you have fulled up and have your needed supplies with you that you will need. Once you leave Hamilton there really isn't any places to purchase anything until ll you reach Phillupsburg. With this being a relatively short ride there shouldn't be much you would need other than extra batteries for you camera The road is difficult and it’s a nightmare in the wet or dark (or both).
The road still remains an adrenaline-pumping journey and is definitely not for the faint of lungs, heart, or legs. A quick glance at the map, at its sheer drops and serpentine twists and turns, confirms that this is no hype. This is a scenic drive over the isolated and mountainous Skalkaho Pass, located between Hamilton and Phillipsburg, and see lush meadows, dense forests, and alpine vistas.Elk, mule deer, badgers, coyotes, and black bears can be seen along the highway. The drive is definitely worth it. Don’t forget your camera!
Watch out for sudden loose-gravel breaks. And that pavement can ripple like a roller coaster track in places where “frost heaves” are caused by seasonal freezing and thawing of the ground. The surface on this gravel road is often loose, especially along the sides of the road. This drive into the Sapphire Mountains takes you on some of Montana's least traveled mountain roads. The road was once a heavily used trail for Indians. A road was built over the route in 1924 to link the mining areas in the mountains with the agricultural communities of the Bitterroot Valley. This is a narrow winding drive that offers some excellent views and takes you past Skalkaho Falls. Trailers are not recommended as there are narrow curves with limited pull-outs. It makes necessary to drive carefully and slow down whenever approaching an oncoming car.
The unpaved sections of the road can be impassable when wet. After rain, sections of road can become decidedly hazardous when fast-flowing creek crossings and slippery mud can cause road closures. As always, check road conditions before departing. In any case, driving 4WD is recommended due to uneven surface. During and after a storm the road may be impassable, even with a four-wheel-drive vehicle and can easily get muddy if it rains making it challenging to get through.