Cool off at Skalkaho Falls

By DONNA L. HULL

How many waterfalls are in the Missoula area? I’m sure long-time residents could fill me in on where to search out a cooling waterfall to stave off Montana’s summer heat. My suggestion as a newcomer—Skalkaho Falls.

On a boomer road trip, my husband Alan and I discovered that accessibility is one of Skalkaho Falls’ greatest assets, that and the cool mist wafting off the falls on a hot, summer’s day. Located in a curve along Skalkaho Highway, it’s a matter of parking your car in one of the pullouts and walking a few feet to the falls. Of course this means you won’t be the only visitor admiring the cascading waters of Skalkaho Creek that roar down a hillside of the Sapphire Mountain range.

While Skalkaho Falls are easily accessible, you might not feel the same about getting there. It all depends on your tolerance for the narrow gravel road that makes up a portion of the Skalkaho Highway, also known as Skalkaho Pass Road, which crosses the Sapphires between Philipsburg and Hamilton.

Photo by Terrance Sweeney,www.terrancesweeney.com

This time, we’re approaching the falls from the Hamilton side. If you’re in Missoula, I recommend an early start for the 50-mile or so drive south on Highway 93 to Hamilton, with a stop at the Coffee Cup for breakfast. On our boomer road trip, my husband Alan and I also purchased sandwiches from Subway to add to our picnic lunch.

After fueling up—there are no services on Skalkaho Highway—turn east about three miles south of Hamilton onto Highway 38/Skalkaho Highway for the 22-mile ride to the falls. After 10 miles of paved road, you’ll hit gravel. Also, take note of Skalkaho Steakhouse located at mile marker #7. If you’re out for an all-day adventure, this could be a good stop to rest, relax and enjoy a steak on the return trip to Missoula.

After entering the Bitterroot National Forest, you’ll be tempted to explore the many forest roads that veer off left and right. To avoid a crowded situation at the falls, I recommend heading there straight away, saving your explorations for the return leg of the trip.

After arriving at the Skalkaho Falls area, take time to enjoy the cool mist, taking plenty of photos, before heading back down the way you came (we’re saving a full drive on the Skalkaho Highway for another day). Choose one of the picnic areas by the creek to enjoy lunch. Then, spend the rest of the afternoon exploring those Bitterroot National Forest roads. Let me know if you see a bear or an elk.

Boomer travel advice:

  • Skalkaho Highway is under construction during weekdays so expect long delays. Arriving early on a weekend is a much better plan.
  • The road is closed during the winter due to heavy snowpack; however, it’s open to snowmobile traffic. Now that’s the way I want to experience my next boomer road trip to Skalkaho Falls.

Tell me where to go. Please leave a comment to share your favorite Missoula area waterfall. We still have a few more weeks of Montana heat to go.

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Flatlander to mountaineer could be the title of Donna Hull’s latest boomer adventure. The freelance writer and her photographer husband Alan (both baby boomers) have recently relocated from Arizona to the Missoula area for full-time living in the most beautiful spot in the world. Follow along as Donna writes about Western Montana travel fun that you may have forgotten about. Or, you might discover a new travel adventure waiting just down theroad.

Donna Hull publishes My Itchy Travel Feet, The Baby Boomer’s Guide to Travel., the internet’s go-to site for active boomer travelers. Donna is also the author of My Itchy Travel Feet, Breathtaking Adventure Vacation Ideas.