PLEASE call 511 for road conditions and closures along this highway before traveling Highway 38, a primitive seasonal road three miles south of Hamilton also known as the Skalkaho Highway, links Hamilton and Philipsburg. Trailers are not allowed as there are narrow curves with limited pull-outs.
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. There are two campgrounds along Highway 38, Black Bear Campground with 6 camping sites in the Darby Ranger District of the Bitterroot National Forest and Crystal Creek Campground with 3 camping sites in the Pintlar Ranger District of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. Skalkaho Pass sits at 7,260 feet above sea level.
This isolated, mountainous 23,000-acre wildlife area is forested with dense spruce and subalpine fir, amid beautiful lush meadows. The area is closed to hunting. In the spring and summer, look for Gray and Steller jays, dark-eyed juncos, Brewer's sparrows, olive-sided Flycatchers, and Hairy woodpeckers.
Visitors in the fall may see large concentrations of elk and hear bull elk bugle from the high basins in early morning or late evening, especially east of Fool Hen and Kneaves Lakes. Hikers can see mountain goats around Dome Shaped Mountain, near the junction of trails 313 and 86, which follow the ridge around Skalkaho Basin. Watch for moose along trail 321 in the Burnt Fork drainage. Mule deer, badgers, coyotes, and black bears are common throughout the area. Mountain biking is a good way to see wildlife. Trail 313 offers prime opportunities for overnight cross-country ski trips.
Since only the first 10 miles of Montana Highway 38 are plowed and this area becomes a popular snowmobile destination during the winter months. Skalkaho Pass Area offers 26 miles of groomed trails.