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. We did not attend the evening lighting ceremony, which will include active military personnel and veterans in the flag folding ceremony in 2012, but I am sure it is a special experience.
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 day we were there.
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 Monument 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 eighty degrees one day and jacket weather 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.
Patriotic festivities are scheduled around Independence Day (July 4) every year. I’m sure it would be a great experience, as long as you don’t mind sharing it with 21,000 other people.
Mount Rushmore is just outside the tourist town of Keystone, South Dakota and about 20 miles from Rapid City, which was our base. There is no admission charge for the monument itself, but there is an $11 per vehicle parking fee. National Parks annual passes do not cover this parking charge. However, the parking pass is good for a week and we used it a couple of times during our trip.
I did not see any practical way to park outside the monument and walk in, though we could see the monument from a distance a few times as we drove through the Black Hills. Once we had paid, we had no trouble finding a space in one of the four parking structures.
Mount Rushmore National Monument 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.