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Skalkaho Falls, Montana

Skalkaho Falls is one of the most amazing falls in Montana. This 150-foot cascade of water tumbles down the mountainside, and under Montana Highway 38.

The trip to Skalkaho Falls is a challenging drive. While the road is considered a highway, Highway 38 is unlike any highway most of us have encountered before. Often called the Skalkaho Highway, this route connects Hamilton and Philipsburg.

The highway is open only during the summer months when the weather is ideal. This unpaved road twists and turns through the Sapphire Mountains.

skalkaho falls
Image: Tim Bocek

Once a heavily used trail for the Native Americans of the area, the trail was turned into a road in 1924 to provide a “shortcut” between the towns of Hamilton and Phillipsburg.

The road offers many amazing views but one of the most popular is Skalkaho Falls. The falls tumble down the mountain at the side of the road, just a few miles below the top of Skalkaho Pass.

The drive on Highway 38 can be very dangerous and should be taken with caution and at low speeds. At the falls there is a small amount of room for a car or two to pull off and enjoy the view.

Fortunately, this road is not heavily used, and you can enjoy the falls in peace.

Skalkaho Falls Statistics

  • Elevation: 6,400 feet
  • Height: 150 feet
  • Trailhead: No trail access is necessary
  • Season (when can it be accessed): June to September

Recreational Activities Near Skalkaho Falls

recreational activities near skalkaho falls
Image: USDA NRCS Montana

Skalkaho Falls are located in the Sapphire Mountains which are part of the Bitterroot National Forest and the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.

The National Forest offers plenty of great recreational activities near Skalkaho Falls.

Hiking

Along Highway 38 there are plenty of trailheads that offer a variety of hiking opportunities. Many of the trails in this area are considered to be difficult, however, they also offer some of the best views in the area, and most trails are fairly quiet.

Because hiking trails are in the National Forest, many trails are multi-use. You may encounter mountain bikers in this area, but horses are not frequently used in this area due to the difficult drive and lack of available parking for trailers.

Camping

Along the Skalkaho Highway, there are two Forest Service campgrounds. The Black Bear Campground has 6 camping sites and is operated by the Bitterroot National Forest.

The other campground is the Crystal Creek campground which is smaller, with only 3 camping sites. This campground is operated by the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. Both campgrounds are well maintained and clean.

They do not have many amenities outside of fire rings and maybe picnic tables. There are options for dispersed camping within the National Forest areas, but along the Skalkaho Highway, you’ll find minimal opportunities for dispersed camping.

Snowmobiling

In the winter, Highway 38 is not plowed and is inaccessible to cars. However, this means that the road becomes a great place for snowmobiling in the Hamilton and Phillipsburg areas.

From Highway 38 and the summit of Skalkaho Pass, there are more than 26 miles of groomed snowmobile trails.

Outfitters in Hamilton and Phillipsburg offer snowmobiling excursions in this area or rent equipment for the experienced snowmobiler from out of town.

Trail Routes Near Skalkaho Falls

trail routes near skalkaho falls

Fuse Lake

Fuse Lake is a moderately challenging hike that starts off of Highway 38 just above the Crystal Creek Campground. The hike is a 5.2-mile out and back trail with 944 feet of elevation gain.

The trail is a bit rocky, which is why it is considered to be slightly challenging. The trailhead has decent parking considering that it isn’t a very busy trail.

The trail is well used and is fairly easy to follow. Much of the trail stays snow-covered well into June so trekking poles and hiking boots with good tread are a must. 

Stony Lake

The hike to Stony Lake starts at the trailhead directly across the street from the Crystal Creek Campground on Highway 38. This trail is a moderately challenging, 7.4-miles out and back hike with 1,738 feet of elevation gain.

This trail is well used and is easy to follow. You may find that there are numerous downed trees on this trail, so be prepared to do a bit of scrambling.

This trail is great for wildlife watching, and there are fish in Stony Lake, making it a nice spot to try your hand at fishing.

There are a few creek crossings in the area, which make for nice cool spots along the trail and pleasant points to rest. The lake is small but pretty and has nice views. In the spring during the runoff, a small waterfall feeds the lake.

Dome Shaped Mountain

This is a difficult 13.4-mile out and back hike, with 2,493 feet of elevation gain. You’ll start your hike on the same trail as used to access Stony Lake.

To reach Dome Shaped Mountain, you’ll turn off of the Stony Lake trail before you reach the lake. The trail to Dome Shaped Mountain is decently marked.

Portions of the trail pass through old burn scar so there are plenty of opportunities for great views of the area.

At the summit of Dome Shaped Mountain you will have amazing views of the surrounding area as this is one of the highest points in the Sapphire Mountains.

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