The attraction that first comes to mind when most of us think of the Black Hills or South Dakota is Mount Rushmore. We have all seen photos and movies and replicas and even parodies of this iconic monument for our entire lives. Since I felt like I had seen it a million times, I did not expect to be as awestruck as I was when I finally stood in front of it.
Mount Rushmore is spectacular. It is an impressive feat of art and engineering set in one of the most beautiful parts of our nation. It stirred feelings of patriotism and reverence in me to a degree that I did not expect.
After leaving the parking area, visitors enter a wide long plaza with a view of Mount Rushmore at the end. A display of flags from every U.S. state flanks both sides of the plaza. Lots of seating can be found just past the gift shop for viewing the monument, or the stage and amphitheater below. Stairs on each side of the plaza lead to the amphitheater.
A loop trail allows visitors to get a closer look at Mount Rushmore. Expect lots of stairs and some distance – about half a mile – but most visitors should not have much trouble with this trail. On the trail, enjoy the scenery and watch for wildlife. A hands-on Native American exhibit and an artist’s studio can also be found along the way. At the artist’s studio, see the finished product that Mount Rushmore’s sculptor originally intended. There was a working artist talking with visitors on the June day we visited.
The ranger desk and visitor center are located below the plaza. We stopped there to get free Junior Ranger information for our children. The Junior Ranger activities helped our children learn about the history, nature and wildlife in the area. When they completed the required number of activities, they took the books back to the ranger who quizzed them on the activities and swore them in as junior rangers. They received a plastic gold Mount Rushmore badge.
Visitors to Mount Rushmore National Memorial can also find an ice cream shop, a cafe and a large gift shop, which was my daughter’s favorite part of our visit. We visited Mount Rushmore twice during our stay and were there for a couple of hours each time.
When to Go
Mount Rushmore National Monument and most of its amenities are open year-round. It is located in a mountainous area where the road twists and turns and changes elevation frequently. I assume the road is well maintained in the winter, but warmer months are obviously the most popular times to visit.
We visited during the first week of June and it was warm one day and chilly on another. We shared the monument with many other visitors, but not so many that we could not enjoy our stay and get some good photos. This monument is built for crowds.
An evening lighting ceremony is held each night in mid-May through late September. We did not attend this, but I expect that it is a special experience.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial was the highlight of our Black Hills vacation. It is an artistic and engineering feat celebrating four of the United States’ great leaders. Don’t miss an opportunity to see it.
Good to know
Where: Just outside the tourist town of Keystone, South Dakota and about 20 miles from Rapid City.
When: Year-round, but many attractions and visitor services are only open from May-September.
How Much: No charge to enter the monument, but parking is $11 per vehicle. (Updated April 2015) National parks passes do not cover this parking fee. At the time we visited, the parking fee was good for 7 days.
How Long: 1-4 hours
Amenities: restrooms, gift shop, cafe, ice cream, audio tour
Planning a trip to the Black Hills?
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