It is one of the most iconic landmarks in America. Mount Rushmore in South Dakota has been depicted in many movies and even been the butt of a few jokes along the way. But nothing compares to seeing it in real life. I’ve assembled some of the top tips for visiting Mount Rushmore National Memorial so you can make the most of your trip.
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Tips for visiting Mount Rushmore National Memorial
How was Mount Rushmore constructed?
A sculpture was done by artist Gutzon Borglum. Remember this name. Because on your way to Rapid City, you will see an endless stream of billboards for his museum. You’ll ask yourself as you drive, who is Borglum and why do I care. You may even google it only to find out that he is the one behind Mount Rushmore.
The sculpture was initially planned to be a full length and only include three presidents. As they started to carve the sculpture evolved to add in a fourth president, Teddy Roosevelt. The work on the mountain began in 1927. They convinced over 400 men and women to dangle 500 feet over the side of the mountain to do the carving. Remarkably over 90% of the carving was all done by dynamite. Not a single person was killed attempting this feat. They officially wrapped up creation on the monument on October 31st, 1941. For more information about the memorial and to hear stories of the workers, make sure to go to the museum at the base of Rushmore.
Does it cost money to see Mount Rushmore?
It doesn’t cost a thing to visit Mount Rushmore National Monument. Sounds a little too good to be true, right? Yep, it is. While it’s free to get in, you still have to park. The National Park Service charges $11 per private vehicle to park. This parking pass is good for the whole year, so come back as often as you like.
To avoid paying, you’re going to have to park in Keystone and walk three miles up a windy road or hitchhike up there. Neither of which I really recommend for obvious safety reasons. This is technically a highway with no sidewalk. So unless you have a carpool arranged, just pay the money to help support the park.
When Should I Visit Mount Rushmore?
The summer months are the busiest time for visiting Mount Rushmore National Monument. They estimate that over 2 million people visit each year so you will want to find the least busy time. The best months to visit is in April, May, September, and October. While cooler, all the kids are back in school so you won’t have to deal with the crowds. If you can’t swing that, arrive as early as you can in the day. Sunrise is optimal if you can swing it.
The lighting ceremony is held nightly starting anywhere from 8-9 pm depending on the time of year. It begins at the sun sets behind the mountain, followed by a ranger talk as it slowly gets illuminated. Another fantastic thing to see is Mount Rushmore on the Fourth Of July. The only way to see it on site is if you get there first thing in the morning. Otherwise, you’ll be one of those individuals forced to find alternative means to get there. But they put on one of the best fireworks show in the country.
What is there to do at Mount Rushmore?
The Lincoln Borglum Museum is a something you can’t miss. Take the elevators or stairs down to the ground level, and you’ll get to see how it all happened. And no, this is not the one gimmicky one that you saw advertised on highway 90. This is the real deal. You’ll find replicas of the original monuments plans, the tools used to build it all and what it looks like when you blast away with charges that the side of a mountain. The most interesting thing was the harness they used to lower workers over the edge of the mountain.
The Presidents Trail allows visitors to get close the sculpture. You don’t truly understand that scale of what was accomplished until you see it from this angle. They have ranger-led programs that take you there or choose to do it on your own. The trail is a half mile long, paved and includes 422 stairs. This trail is weather dependent, so if it snows, you may be out of luck.
What else is nearby?
Keystone is, of course, the main attraction nearby. It’s kind of hard to miss. The town only has about 400 people living in it, but you wouldn’t know that by the number of visitors that line the streets. Its filled with zip line, the Cosmo Mystery House and all kinds of other boutique shops that appeal to tourist and young families. If you want to skip that madness for a low key experience, head west towards Hill City. The town has cute shops, a train ride and other fun things to do, without the crowds.
If you want to see the Black Hills, I recommend going to Custer State Park and doing Needles Highway, or their Scenic Drive through the park to see the buffalo. The Crazy Horse memorial is being built and another fun stop. It’s currently a work in progress so admission to it goes to support it’s building. You can also drive a little further west and visit Devils Tower, or head east to the badlands. Another great way to see Rushmore is from inside Custer State Park. Take the Iron Mountain Road North. Similar to Needles Highway with tunnels, but one of their’s frames up Rushmore perfectly.
Where to Stay Near Mount Rushmore?
Ok, this a loaded question. It depends on what all you want to do. To get the closest to Mount Rushmore National Monument, I recommend staying at the KOA just down the hill. But there are also options in Hill City and Keystone. If you want to be closer or regular civilization, stay in Rapid City. You can check rates at TripAdvisor.com for the best prices. If you like to camp, there are campgrounds all over the place, but Custer State Park is the crown jewel.
Have you traveled to the Black Hills before? Did you get a chance to visit Mount Rushmore National Monument? What was your favorite part?