Mount Rushmore National Memorial is one of the most recognizable images in the U.S. National Park System, and no wonder! With nearly three million visitors a year, it’s one of the most visited national memorials in the United States.
Mount Rushmore is also the perfect starting point for a western South Dakota vacation. So are you ready to explore this incredible national treasure for yourself? Great! Here’s seven tips to help you make the most of a day at Mount Rushmore National Memorial.
1. Arrive Early!
The crowds get larger as the day goes on, with the heaviest visitor volume about mid-day. Traffic to get into the park as well as parking vehicles are also more challenging during the mid-day hours. The earlier morning hours are much less crowded, rewarding you with better views, and better photo ops! And if you are fortunate enough to have clear blue skies, your photos will be spectacular.
The Mount Rushmore grounds open at 5:00 am. You can arrive in time to watch the sun rise! Which, by the way, is a spectacular way to kick off your Mount Rushmore day.
2. Tour the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center
Walk through the exhibits detailing the story of Gutzon Borglum and the creation of Mount Rushmore. Watch the 14 minute film on the reasons behind Mount Rushmore, and how the sculptures were carved into the mountainside. Listen to stories about the making of Mount Rushmore with a self-guided audio tour.
The Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center opens at 8:00 am and is located below the Grand View Terrace.
3. Walk the Presidential Trail
Get about as close as you possibly can to those grand and towering sculptures with a walk along the Presidential Trail. Along the way you’ll encounter several optimal vantage points for photo ops beneath those famous mugs. The trail is also a scenic stroll through nature, past stands of Ponderosa Pines with wildflowers sprinkled beneath and critters scampering by.
Keep a keen eye open as you walk along the trail. You might just catch a glimpse of a local – local wildlife, that is! Especially if you are on the trail in the early morning hours.
4. Visit the Sculptor’s Studio
Wander through the very building where creator Gutzon Borglum worked on his designs for Mount Rushmore. Gaze upon a 1/12th scale model of Mount Rushmore. Examine the intricate detail of the sculptures. Learn about the tools and techniques used to carve those famous faces into the mountain.
Time permitting, take the ranger lead guided tour and listen to stories about the Studio and the man behind the sculptures.
5. Enjoy a Guided Tour of The Heritage Village
Learn more about the area’s original residents, the Lakota, Nakota and Dakota Indians. Listen to park rangers discuss the history of the Black Hills and the American Indians who lived and worked this land long before everyone else. Learn about local American Indian communities, customs and traditions.
The Heritage Village can be found along the first section of the Presidential Trail, and is one of five guided tours available to further enhance your Mount Rushmore experience.
6. Catch the Evening Lighting Ceremony
Stay into the evening hours and catch the Evening Lighting Ceremony. After a short park ranger lead program, watch the sculptures light up in splendor as the National Anthem is played. It will be worth the stay.
The full lighting ceremony program is held nightly from May to September at the memorial’s amphitheater. Check the National Park website for exact dates and times.
7. Detour To The Crazy Horse Memorial
Ditch the mid-day crowds and drive over to the Crazy Horse Memorial. It’s just 17 miles down the road and is an easy detour. The Crazy Horse carvings were begun in 1948 by sculptor Korczak Ziolkowkis and Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear to honor the culture, tradition, and living heritage of North American Indians.
The Crazy Horse Memorial is not a federally funded site. Admission fees and donations help support the carvings, museum and the Indian University of North America.
More Mount Rushmore Travel Tidbits
Ready to plan your own trip to Mount Rushmore? Here’s more helpful tidbits of information to consider when planning your day.
- Mount Rushmore is about 35 miles from Rapid City, South Dakota.
- Mount Rushmore does not have overnight accommodations onsite.
- Plan on at least two hours to explore all Mount Rushmore has to offer.
- The Mount Rushmore grounds open at 5:00 am, the buildings at 8:00 am.
- There is no entrance fee to enter Mount Rushmore.
- There is a parking fee of $11 per car, motorcyle or RV.
- Parking spots for vehicles pulling trailers or very long RV’s is limited. All the more reason to get here early!
Consider staying in nearby Keystone, SD the night before your Mount Rushmore visit. You’ll be that much closer for an early arrival. Check out Tripadvisor for a list of Keystone area hotel options.
Don’t forget to also check the National Park’s Mount Rushmore National Memorial web page. It’s chock full of visitor information.
Have You Been To Mount Rushmore?
Have you been to this national treasure, come face to face with the history of a nation? Explored the surrounding area of western South Dakota? If you have, let us know what was your favorite experience in the Comments section below.
What’s that? You’ve never been to Mount Rushmore or western South Dakota? Then you are missing some fun! Read more about our own travels to a destination that’s chock full of adventure in these blogs:
- Stop the Car! Three Fun and Funky Roadside Stops In South Dakota
- 5 Amazing Experiences That Make Hot Springs South Dakota A “Must Visit”
- 9 Favorite Things To Do In Custer State Park
- Bear Country USA Wildlife Park – Another Fun Adventure In South Dakota
- Your South Dakota Road Trip Round Up
Happy travels! Hope you too will soon explore this fun and exciting destination.
Images: National Park Service ( Mount Rushmore), Black Hills & Badlands Tourism (Night photo), J.StephanConn via Flickr (Heritage Village), fritzmb via Flickr (Crazy Horse). All others by C.Biederman,