Mount Rushmore is one of those iconic American landmarks you hear about growing up. The problem is, it isn’t easily accessible from most parts of the country. When we started planning our Midwest road trip, I initially thought maybe it wasn’t worth driving 27 hours just to see some old guys carved into stone. I certainly was wrong. Not only is the Black Hills region of South Dakota beautiful, but there’s a lot more to Mount Rushmore and the area than you’d immediately think! Without further ado, here’s the ultimate Mount Rushmore travel guide.
Getting to Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore isn’t super accessible from most places in the US. It’s located in the Black Hills of South Dakota which is in the western part of the state. The nearest airport is Rapid City Regional Airport which is convenient to Mount Rushmore as well as other points of interest like Badlands National Park. As I mentioned earlier, we drove 27 hours from Boston to get to Mount Rushmore, so it makes for a fun road trip as well! Whether you fly or drive, you’ll need a car for visiting the Black Hills.
Where to Stay When Visiting Mount Rushmore
Keystone, South Dakota is the perfect home base for visiting Mount Rushmore and other points of interest in the Black Hills like Custer State Park. It’s less than a 15-minute drive from Keystone to Mount Rushmore. We chose the Holiday Inn Express Mount Rushmore/Keystone since it is bookable with IHG points. However, there are plenty of hotel choices in Keystone.
Another option is to stay in Rapid City which is about 35 minutes from Mount Rushmore. While still convenient, it’s less scenic than Keystone as it’s located outside of the Black Hills National Forest. Rapid City may be more convenient if you plan to visit other towns like Deadwood or Spearfish.
What to Do at Mount Rushmore
While the main thing to do at Mount Rushmore is to look at the monument (duh), there’s more to the complex than just that.
Avenue of Flags
The Avenue of Flags is the pathway leading up to Mount Rushmore. The avenue displays the flags of every state and territory with the date that each became part of the United States.
Grand View Terrace
The Grand View Terrace is the highlight of Mount Rushmore and is the best place to view the monument. There’s stadium seating which allows you to view the monument free from the view of others.
Learn more about the carving process and Mount Rushmore’s creator, Gutzon Borglum. The Sculptor’s Studio features a 15-minute ranger talk about the carving process and the lives of the workers.
Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center
Lincoln Borglum was the son of Gutzon Borglum who finished the project after his father’s death. The Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center is located beneath the Grand View Terrace. You can check out a 14-minute film describing the reasons for and methods used in carving Mount Rushmore. There are also several exhibits.
The Presidential Trail is a half mile loop starting at the Grand View Terrace. It brings you to a viewpoint at the base of the mountain.
If you have more time to spare, Mount Rushmore offers self-guided tours for $6. This audio tour includes information on the monument as well as historic recordings of Gutzon Borglum, Lincoln Borglum, American Indians, and workers.
Evening Lighting Ceremony
From the end of May until the end of September, you can check out the 45-minute evening lighting ceremony. The timing of the ceremony varies based on the month so be sure to check the schedule here. After the ceremony, the sculpture is illuminated until 11:00 pm.
Mount Rushmore Side View
This was a really cool view we happened to notice when driving to Custer. About a quarter mile past the entrance for Mount Rushmore, there’s a pull off that provides an amazing side view of George Washington.
Tips for Visiting Mount Rushmore
- Visit in the morning for the best photos: If you visit later in the day, the faces may be cast in shadow if it’s too sunny.
- Grab a bite to eat: If you get hungry while viewing the monument, Mount Rushmore has an onsite restaurant called Carvers’ Cafe.
- Hold onto your ticket: While the monument is free to visit, you have to pay a nominal fee for parking which is good for a year. Be sure to save the ticket and return for the evening lighting ceremony.
- Check out other points of interest: There’s more to the Black Hills than Mount Rushmore. Stay an extra day and visit Custer State Park and the Crazy Horse Memorial.
While Mount Rushmore is visible from the road, it’s certainly worth paying $10 to park and thoroughly explore the monument. From the Avenue of Flags to the Presidential Trail, there’s enough at Mount Rushmore to keep you busy for a couple of hours.