Planning a trip to Mount Rushmore?
We have all seen a million photos and movies and replicas and even parodies of Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota. For that reason, I did not expect to be as awestruck as I was when I finally stood in front of it.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial 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.
I have visited Mount Rushmore twice – several years apart. The first time was with my husband and two young children. The second was a family reunion with my parents and my sisters' families. It was a group of 18, ranging in age from 7 to 70.
Here are my tips for making the most of a visit to Mount Rushmore.
Mount Rushmore is located in the Black Hills of South Dakota. It is a rugged and rural area located about 20 miles from Rapid City on a winding mountain road. The road is wide, paved and well-maintained.
Mount Rushmore does not charge admission, but you will need to pay $10 per car for parking. There aren't any other parking options.
Your parking pass is good for a full year, so return all you want during your stay in the Black Hills. Mount Rushmore has several parking structures to accommodate large numbers of visitors. The parking lots are a great place to spot hard-to-find plates for the license plate game.
What to 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 little distance – about half a mile. Most visitors will not find it strenuous – especially if you stop often.
On the trail, enjoy the scenery. A hands-on Native American exhibit and an artist's studio can be found along the way. At the artist's studio, see the finished product that Mount Rushmore's sculptor originally intended. On both trips, we enjoyed live presentations from dancers and artists.
Back at the amphitheatre, you'll find a small museum and short film in the visitors center.
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. The weather can be cool, even in summer.
Most people visit in the summer. If you want to avoid crowds, visit any other time.
We have visited in early June and early July. Mount Rushmore was busy in early June, but still relatively laid back.
The monument was packed the first week of July over Independence Day. Nevertheless, we didn't have much trouble getting a parking space first thing in the morning or before the evening program. At its busiest, Mount Rushmore is still very doable. It's built for crowds.
How Much Time Do You Need?
Half a day is plenty of time to visit Mount Rushmore. If you just want to see it and get a few pictures without spending much time at the exhibits, you can do it in an hour or two.
There are a lot of other things to do nearby. Mount Rushmore might be a check off your bucket list, but you might find that it's not even your favorite part of the Black Hills. My favorite place is Custer State Park. Reptile Gardens, Storybook Village and Bear Country U.S.A. are also fun for families.
- 5 Fun Things to Do at Custer State Park
- Why Storybook Island is Rapid City's Best Park for Kids
- Tips for Visiting Reptile Gardens
- Tips for Visiting Bear Country U.S.A.
My husband and I attended the Evening Lighting Ceremony on our second trip to Mount Rushmore. It's a patriotic program held every night from late May through late September.
The program begins with a short ranger talk and a short patriotic film. Veterans from all branches of the U.S. military were invited to the stage and then the U.S. flag was lowered for the night. The monument is lit to the applause of the crowd. Watching the program with a large, enthusiastic crowd was truly stirring.
There are lots of seats in the amphitheatre, and on one of the busiest nights of the year there were still seats available until about 15 minutes before the program started. We arrived about an hour in advance and had our pick – which was the very back row against the wall.
Junior Ranger Program
The ranger desk and visitor center are located one level below the plaza. We stopped there on our first trip 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.
Need a place to stay?
Narrowing down your options can be one of the biggest challenges to staying in the Black Hills. On our first Black Hills trip, we stayed at Howard Johnson Rapid City, which gets strong reviews on Trip Advisor. Click the button to check rates and availability at TripAdvisor.
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 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: There is no charge to visit the monument, but parking is $10 per vehicle. Seniors pay $5 and active military park for free. National parks passes do not cover the parking fee. Your parking pass is good for one full year!
How Long: 1-4 hours
Amenities: restrooms, gift shop, cafe, ice cream, audio tour