While I was visiting Mount Rushmore, I was surprised to meet many people who were going to Mount Rushmore from all of the world because it was a bucket list item. I met Germans, French, English and people from all over the United States who were visiting this national monument. After speaking to many people, I have thought through these tips to help you make the most of this trip.
Where is it
Mount Rushmore is in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The Black Hills are a vacation stop of its own with several national parks, state parks and national monuments close together. I would recommend at least five days to travel in this area. The closest city to Mount Rushmore is Rapid City South Dakota. Rapid City is a town of about 70,000 people and is about a half an hour away from Mount Rushmore. There are plenty of places to stay in Rapid City and is a great starting place to exploring the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore. The closest town to Mount Rushmore is Keystone. Keystone is a tiny town of about 350 people, it is historic as it was a mining town from the late 19th century, but now its purpose is to be a place to stay when you are visiting Mount Rushmore. Mount Rushmore is right next to it and it is also close to Custer State Park.
When to go
The most popular time to visit is in the summer. It is crowded and hot. Everything in the Black Hills are open and there is a lot to do. But if you are able to, I would recommend going in May or in September. People have gone back to school and it is less crowded. A lot of things close up in the fall and the area is very seasonal. It does get quite cold in the winter and road conditions can be an issue so I would avoid winter it if you can.
Mount Rushmore is free, however, it cost $11 to park. Even if you have a National Park Passport which gets you unlimited access to the National Parks, you still have to pay for parking. They say that after paying for parking you can get in for the rest of the calendar year, but most people do not use the parking pass more than once. There are some pull offs on highway 244 that you can park at and walk into Mount Rushmore but I recommend paying the $11 to park.
What to do
The main thing to do when going to Mount Rushmore is to go to the viewing platform and look at it. However, there is a couple of other things you can do. There is a museum called the Lincoln Borglum Museum where you can watch a short film and learn about why and how the monument was built. Another popular activity is to walk the Presidential Trail (0.6 miles long, 422 stairs, weather permitting). This will offer different angles of the monument and get you a lot closer to the mountain. On this walk you will also find the Sculptor’s Studio, where Gutzon Borglum spent much of his time refining his scale model of Mount Rushmore. Open May to September only. If you are there is the summer you can visit the Lakota, Nakota and Dakota Heritage Village. This is only open 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. mid-June through mid-August so if you follow my advice and go in May or September you will not be able to see this. I recommend going to Mount Rushmore twice, since you have paid for a year of parking, you might as well use it more than once. I would go in the morning and visit the monument and take the walk. This time of day will be the best time to get photos of the mountain. The sun will be shinning on the faces and you will get the best photos at that time of day.
I would then recommend coming back at dusk for the lighting ceremony. This is held mid-May through September. There is a ranger program followed by a twenty minute movie then they light up the mountain. Something special that they do is they invite all active and retired military personal to come to the stage for the flag ceremony. It is very moving to see all of those people of all ages come forward. There is a restaurant that serves decent food and a gift shop.
if you have any questions or tips please feel free to leave a comment.