Mount Rushmore is so much more than a windshield tourist attraction! The National Memorial sits on 1,278 acres and offers it’s more than 3 million visitors a year many activities, including exploring the grounds around the monument, two interpretive museums, free ranger-guided tours and much more! Located in the Black Hills, it’s just one of the many, many things to do in South Dakota! Check out my 10 tips, as well as some of our favorite things to do in the area.
- It’s FREE!
One of the cool things about Mount Rushmore is that it’s FREE! You can spend all day exploring this amazing park, which I recommend, and and only pay for parking! The Parking Fee is $10 per vehicle
$5 for Seniors (62 and older), and Free for Active Duty Military. Remember to KEEP YOUR PASS! Your parking fee is good for an entire year. We came twice during our South Dakota stay, because we already had the pass! There’s so much to do that you might need 2 visits to do it all!
2. Do A Little Research Before You Visit
Have you ever wondered how the huge mountain was sculpted into the faces of our presidents, or why these four were chosen? The history of Mount Rushmore and it’s sculptor, Gutzon Borglum is almost as amazing as the Memorial itself. Click HERE to read a little more.
Great White Fathers: The Story of the Obsessive Quest to Create Mount Rushmore by John Taliaferro gives a different view point of the Memorial, and helps to give you an open mind when visiting.
Hanging Off Jefferson’s Nose: Growing Up On Mount Rushmore by Tina Nichols Coury is a perfect book for kids about the creation of Mount Rushmore and Borglum’s son, Lincoln.
Both of these selections are available on Amazon. Should you purchase using the above link, I do receive a small commission. Thank You.
We watched a couple of movies on our DVD player on the way to South Dakota, including Alfred Hitchcock’s North By Northwest and National Treasure Book of Secrets, both of which were filmed on location at Mount Rushmore.
The secret Hall of Records that is part of the plot of National Treasure Book of Secrets does in fact exist, although it’s not completed. In 1938, Borglum secretly began construction for a museum that he envisioned holding the most prized national documents, but when Congress found it, they immediately demanded he stop. However, in 1998 a sealed vault was added to the unfinished hall.
3. Tour the Lincoln Borglum Visitors Center and Sculptor’s Studio
The Visitors Center offers amazing insights into the creation of the Monument, as well as a short film.
The FREE Ranger-led Tour of the Sculptor’s Studio gives you some insights into the Borglum’s insights!
Mount Rushmore, which was named for businessman Charles E. Rushmore, was chosen by Borglum, and carving began in 1927 and completed in 1941. Over 400 men worked on the sculptures, although most were not artist but miners who had come to the Black Hills searching for gold years before. It was a necessary skill because they used a lot of dynamite carving the mountain.
Here’s A Tip: Only service dogs are allowed. If you’re traveling with your dog, there are kennels in Rapid City who offers doggie day care while you explore, but they all book up quickly, so make your reservations as soon as you make your plans to travel to South Dakota!
If you do need to bring your dog with you to Mount Rushmore, dogs are allowed in the areas around the parking, and you can still see the carvings on Mount Rushmore.
4. Eat Thomas Jefferson’s Ice Cream at Carver’s Ice Cream Parlor!
When not busy writing the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson spent “some” of his free time making ice cream. He is credited with bringing the first written ice cream recipe back to the states from France in 1780, and his recipe is still used to make the Mount Rushmore ice cream. We all know there are no calories in Historical Ice Cream!
The Ice Cream Parlor is also named for and decorated for the Mount Rushmore Carvers, the Mount Rushmore amateur baseball team, which won the state competition in 1939!
There are also 3 dining areas at the Mount Rushmore National Monument, and a coffee shop.
5. Check out the FREE telescopes at the Grand View Terrace
There are many different places to view the Memorial, and the Grand View Terrace gives you great views. There are complementary telescopes located here, also. This is also one of the best places to get a selfie at the Memorial.
The Memorial is open 365 days a year. It’s even open Christmas Day, however all the buildings are closed.
6. Hike the Presidential Trail
While you can’t hike up to the top of the Memorial and walk out the president’s noses, as television led me as a child to believe, but the 1/2 mile, paved Presidential Trail take you up closer for a different view. This one is in a cave on one of the trails.
7. Ponderosa Pines
The Black Hills get their name from the huge stands of Ponderosa Pines that cover the hills, and make them look black from a distance. You can even see the Ponderosa Pines growing up through the blasting rubble at the bottom of the Memorial. You might think that these trees seem impervious to most acts of nature, but another Black Hills native, the Mountain Pine Beetle, often gets the better of these beautiful trees, and after infestation can kill a tree in less than a year. When at the National Monument, or in the Black Hills, look for Ponderosa Pines that appear yellow or red in the Spring and early Summer, and have a blue stain from the fungus that takes over the dying tree. These trees will have been attacked the year before, and are beyond saving. Mountain Pine Beetles infestations are cyclical, lasting from 5-10 years before dying down for 10-15 years, and can result in a loss of trees in the hundreds of thousands.
The Monument has used many of the destroyed trees in it’s buildings, such as the gift shop. Most of the exposed wood and wooden furniture you see has been harvested from Ponderosa Pines that were killed by Mountain Pine Beetles.
The Gift Shop also sells Mountain Pine Beetle Walking Sticks, which are made of Ponderosa Pines that have been killed by the beetle, and the blue staining of the fungus is often visible in the sticks, making them very unique, and a perfect accompaniment for your hike on the Presidential Trail or one of the many amazing hikes in the Black Hills.
8. Keep an Eye Open for the Local Wildlife
The National Park employees have a building in the back, and there we spotted these Rocky Mountain Goats in the parking lot. The momma goat is tagged. Rocky Mountain goats can be seen throughout the Black Hills, although they are not native to the area. Click HERE to read more about how these western goats came to thrive in the Black Hills.
9. Stay for the Lighting Ceremony
There is plenty of seating for the ceremony and lighting of the Memorial.
During the ceremony, which last under an hour, and includes having all U.S. Military, past and present, come down to be applauded, the lights are then turned on the Memorial! It’s really spectacular!
While you might beat some of the crowds by arriving in the morning, I really recommend about 2-3 hours before the ceremony to explore and see all the exhibits, then watch the lighting ceremony.
It’s impressive at sundown, too. The faces of Mount Rushmore face Southeast, so they are lit up in the morning and highlighted by the evening sunset.
10. Earn Your Junior Ranger Badge
The Junior Ranger Quest has you search for 12 different things in the park, then kids can earn their Junior Ranger badge.
Here’s A Tip: When you leave the Memorial, there are some impressive viewing sites on the road, as well as the tunnels on the Iron Mountain Road from Custer State Park are constructed so that you can see the Memorial when you are driving through the tunnel.
More Things To Do Near Mount Rushmore
Take a ride through the Black Hills on the 1880 Train from Hill City to Keystone
When in South Dakota, a visit to Wall Drug is a Must!
The Badlands National Park offers incredible hiking, camping or just an amazing driving tour!
Still unfinished after a over a half century of construction, The Crazy Horse Memorial is a testament of determination!
Rushmore Tramway Adventures is at the top of my Bucket List for our next visit!
Custer State Park and Resort was our home while in South Dakota, with incredible hiking trails, wildlife tours, horseback riding, swimming, fishing and so much more to see and do, whether you are camping or staying in the lodge. The drive from Custer State Park to Mount Rushmore along the Iron Mountain Road is a scenic experience as you pass through tunnels with views of Mount Rushmore at the end!
Mount Rushmore National Memorial
13000 SD-244, Keystone, South Dakota
Click HERE to visit their website.
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