On any given summer Bike Night, anywhere in the USA, especially before August sooner or later the preverbal question comes up, “Hey, ya gonna do Sturgis this year?” From that point on all the “have doners” each take their turn telling their stories trying to out brag the last one and all the “wannabe doers” try to explain in pain staking detail why they haven’t. All the same old questions come up, “Ya trailer or ride out”, and so forth. If you listen long enough, Spearfish Canyon will come up and that starts another braggin’ session and how cool the ride through the canyon is. Make no mistake about it Spearfish is really a super ride. I highly recommend it, and no trip to South Dakota would be complete with out runnin’ the canyon. But if you head a little further west about another 660 miles on I-90 into Missoula, Montana and south on US 93, just south of Hamilton you’ll find a little known road at the base of the Rockies, Montana 38, AKA Skalkaho Pass.
The word Skalkaho is an Indian word meaning many roads. Skalkaho Pass at the highest point shoots up 7,200 plus feet above sea level and is ‘bout 50 miles long. It begins in the serene Bitterroot Valley in Hamilton. It is the only direct connection from Hamilton to Philipsburg or visa versa, cutting through and over the Sapphire Mountains. I prefer starting in Hamilton because there’s a really neat sapphire mine (Gem Mountain), in Philipsburg, at the end of the pass. It’s a nice place to end the ride, grab a cold drink, snack, buy a bucket of dirt and sift for sapphires. Hey I found $300.00 worth of sapphires the last time I was there!
To be brutally honest Skalkaho Pass ain’t had many improvements since the days the Indians used it and later on miners and the farming folks used it to get back and forth from Hamilton to Philipsburg. Through the years parts have been paved but it still ain’t paved 100%. Although it ain’t “officially” listed as a dangerous road, like all mountain roads it has way enough death defying twists, turns and switchbacks to keep your undivided attention, coupled with the fact that guard rails are non-existent. In fact pulling a trailer or driving a land yacht across is highly unrecommended! As you work your way along, on one side the mountain towers hundreds of feet above you and on the other side it’s a sheer drop of a few thousand feet.
The pass twists and turns through some of the most rugged and isolated country you’ll find anywhere in the lower 48. There are some pull offs that offer really spectacular overlooks and views of the area but they’re few and far in between. Most of your sightseeing will have to be done while you ride. There’s just no room to pull off. Keep a keen eye out for wild life, you’re likely to see everything from the elusive Big Horn Mountain Sheep, Elk, and Moose to Bears. Below cutting its way through the mountain roughly following the pass is Skalkaho Creek at certain points it’s very fast running with lots of white water rapids. My favorite pull of is Skalkaho Falls. The falls are just about at the highest point along the pass. WOW! Seeing the falls hurling and cascading down the mountain 150 feet is truly an impressive sight and is in itself worth the trip across. I usually take a lunch, sit on a rock and just enjoy the falls while I fill a hole.
There is some camping along the pass, Black Bear Campground across from Skalkaho Creek that has 6 sites and Crystal Creek Campground near Mud Lake with a whopping 3 sites, but hey on the plus side they are both free. I can’t give ya any details about either one; I’ve never stayed at either. For you more energetic folks there are several foot trails to explore, but that involves walkin’ and these boots are made for ridin’!
So, hey if you like really unique and outta the way places take a close look see at Skalkaho Pass, I guarantee, you won’t be disappointed. Be sure to gas up and pack a lunch before you venture across the pass, it gonna be an all day excursion with no conveniences stores or Suds and Grubs along the way.
Once you’ve run Skalkaho, the next time you’re atta biker gathering and some guy pipes up and says, “Man you gotta do Spearfish”, you’ll grin and chuckle as you think to yourself, BROTHER, YOU AIN”T SEEN NOTHIN’ YET!
Hey folks if you like the high quality of this magazine, be sure to patronize the establishments that advertise in it.
Hope to see ya on the road. Upright that is!
Have a question or comment? Drop me a line RoadTrippinByHuustin(at)gmail.com