Whilst travelling around the different small towns of Montana we ended up in Hamilton and visited their historic downtown. Once finished we saw a road on the map that was described as a scenic shortcut connecting Hamilton with Philipsburg to the east. So off we went.
The road is called mountain road 38 (MT 38) but is also know as Skalkaho Road. The map showed that it was a bit wiggly, but was the quickest route from Hamilton to Philipsburg and then on to Helena where we were staying.
First, here are some photos of Hamilton historic downtown where we stopped off for a coffee before heading on to the Skalkaho Road. The coffee shop we ended up at was called the Big Creek Coffee Roasters and it was pretty cool inside. It turns out the guy who owns it set it up in 2010 in an old garage and now has two larger locations. He was once a lawyer, but preferred coffee! His name is Randy Lint and he calls himself the Chief Bean.
When we found the Skalkaho Road it was surrounded by farmland and residential houses and paved. Then the houses started to disappear and we found ourselves in beautiful mountains and trees.
The road was originally built in 1924 to link the mining and agricultural areas of the Sapphire Mountains which it winds through. In total it is 54 miles long and sits at 7,258 feet above sea level. It is closed during the winter months due to snowfall and as it’s unmaintained it is completely inaccessible.
The first ten miles are paved and apparently, in winter this part is popular with snowmobilers. All too soon the paved road turns to loose gravel and dirt It becomes much windier and narrower and there are sheer drops to the right, but it was really nice and we seemed to be the only people on the road. The weather was wonderful and the scenery stunning.
The tranquillity and wonder of the road very soon turned to craziness as the road gets even windier, narrower and unbelievably bumpy. I cannot imagine travelling this road in a normal car. It was bad enough in a 4×4 truck with upgraded suspension, so God knows what it would be like otherwise.
I got this video of us travelling along and you need to have your sound up for this one. It’s worth pointing out that my camera has stabilization, but even that cannot compete with this road. The laughter you hear is a cross between enjoyment and being scared shitless!
About halfway along the road we went round a tight bend and suddenly came upon a beautiful waterfall. It is unsurprisingly called Skalkaho Falls. Fortunately, there was a pull-off area, so we parked up to get some photos.. It was also a welcome rest for our battered bones!
There was a slo some beautiful scenery around the waterfall.
After this short break, we were back on the road again and there was more bumpiness, windiness and general holy crap moments! But the scenery is absolutely stunning.
The road eventually comes out on MT1 which is the Pintler Veterans Scenic Highway nr Philipsburg and you are back to normality. Phew!
I am really glad we took this road. Yes, it was scary at times and you do start to wonder if you will make it to the other end. The drops are sheer and crazy steep, but the excitement, joy, scenery and just the pure thrill of it make it so worth it.
If you are ever in the area and have a decent vehicle, I would strongly suggest you take the time to drive the Skalkaho Road. Whilst you’re on it you might be thinking, WTF, but after you will be so glad you did it. Might be an idea to pack some spare underwear though!
As we were driving back to the hotel we passed several large birds of prey either flying in the sky or perched on poles and power lines. One of those birds was a Bald Eagle. Although we have seen bald eagles flying around, we have never been fortunate enough to be close enough to a perched one to get a good photo. This time we were. This beautiful creature was sitting on top of an electricity pole and sat patiently whilst we took photos and video.
I also managed to get some video of him. It’s a shame the power lives are in the way, but I didn’t want to get out of the truck and scare him off.
After this wonderful encounter, we headed off back to the hotel. We had an amazing day from the Garnet Ghost Town experience to the small towns we passed through and of course “that road” ending with this amazing bald eagle.
It doesn’t get much better than this!