Mount Rushmore in beautiful South Dakota is truly an American symbol. Visiting iconic Mount Rushmore National Memorial is historical, fun, family-friendly and a place to make a lot of great memories.
There is no mistaking the faces of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. More than 3 million people visit this landmark and it’s easy to see why it’s become almost a rite of passage for so many people.
Are you and your family ready to visit Mount Rushmore? Read on to get all the tips you need before you go!
Visiting Mount Rushmore Basics
Standard Hours are 5:00am to 11:00pm
From October to March, Mount Rushmore closes at 9:00pm
There is no fee to visit Mount Rushmore, but there is a fee of $10 to park. However, the parking fee is valid for an entire year from purchase so you can visit Mount Rushmore several times during your visit.
The visitor’s center and Lincoln Borglum visitor’s center typically closes at 5:00pm
History of Mount Rushmore
In 1923, historian Doane Robinson thought of the idea for what would become Mount Rushmore to promote tourism to South Dakota. He reached out to sculptor Gutzon Borglum and the two began to collaborate. Robinson originally wanted the project to depict Lewis & Clark, Oglala Lakota Chief Red Cloud and Buffalo Bill Cody. However, Borglum thought the sculpture would have broader appeal by sculpting US Presidents. Washington, Roosevelt, Lincoln and Jefferson were chosen because of their part in expanding US territory and their role in preserving the Republic.
Congress approved funding for the project in 1925 and construction began in 1927. Originally, Mount Rushmore was to sculpt the four Presidents from head to waist, but due to lack of funding construction stopped in 1941. Interestingly, Borglum had also originally envisioned a Hall of Records at Mount Rushmore. He wanted America’s greatest historical documents and artifacts to be protected and shown to tourists. After cutting only 70 feet into the rock, work was stopped to focus on the main sculptures. In 1998, Borglum’s vision for a Hall of Records was somewhat recreated by a repository being constructed inside a cave with 16 enamel panels that have the historical information about Mount Rushmore and texts of America’s important documents like the Declaration of Independence.
Things To Do At Mount Rushmore
Avenue of Flags
As part of America’s 1976 Bicentennial celebration, the Avenue of Flags was established and remains very popular with visitors. It also makes for some great pictures! Flags are an amazing symbol and every state, district, territory and commonwealth are represented.
Since the flags are in alphabetical order, definitely take time to find your home state and get a picture!
Admire Mount Rushmore From The Grand View Terrace
The view from the grand terrace can’t be beat! The wide expanse provides plenty of room to admire Mount Rushmore. Also, we highly recommend staying to see Mount Rushmore at night.
From late May to early Fall, there is a special program that begins at 9pm to light Mount Rushmore.
Walk The Presidential Trail
The .6 mile paved loop is a wonderful trail that is wheelchair and stroller suitable. This family friendly trail gives you a closer view of Mount Rushmore plus you may even see some wildlife!
Join The Junior Ranger Program
We love all of the NPS’ Junior Ranger Programs! At Mount Rushmore, there are several options:
Junior Ranger Trainee
This is for children aged 3-4. Your children learn about Mount Rushmore and natural resources found in the Black Hills with activities that are in the Junior Ranger booklet. Your child will earn a Junior Ranger Badge after completion of the booklet and the Junior Ranger Trainee is a free program.
Junior Ranger Activity Book
This one is for children aged 5-15 and there is no fee. Your child will learn even more about Mount Rushmore through the activities within the book. After completing the book, your child will receive a Junior Ranger Badge and a certificate.
Rushmore Ranger Activity Booklet
This is for ages 13 and up and again, no fee. This program is great for older kids and even adults to make their experience at Mount Rushmore even better. Your teen will receive a certificate after completion of the book.
Junior Ranger Quest
This newer program is part of the Mount Rushmore Self-Guided Tour that is available to rent for $8. The quest is an adventure that lets you participate in up to 16 challenges at the different tour stops around the park. After you complete 12 challenges, you will receive a Junior Ranger Badge.
Go To The Lincoln Borglum Visitor's Center
The Lincoln Borglum visitor’s center offers many fun interactive exhibits and a very interesting short film. “Mount Rushmore: The Shrine” is a 14 minute film that really gives great history about Mount Rushmore and your kids will certainly come away with a better appreciation of what it took to make Mount Rushmore. The film shows every 20 minutes and it’s definitely worth the time.
Where To Eat
At Mount Rushmore, you can dine at Carvers’ Cafe. Enjoy the spectacular view of Mount Rushmore while you eat some buffalo stew or a buffalo burger. A must is a vanilla ice cream cone from Memorial Ice Cream Station! They use the original recipe used by Thomas Jefferson after a trip to Europe.
In Rapid City, we chose Firehouse Brewing Company located in Downtown Rapid City. We had read really great reviews and thought it would be a great stop. Overall, the service was good and it’s a neat place for kids. However, we don’t recommend the BBQ, but we’re from the South and maybe we’re biased. The menu is varied and will have something for everyone. Plus, downtown Rapid City is really pretty and we enjoyed walking around after dinner.
Know that there are a lot of dining options within walking distance from the below-recommended hotel that you may enjoy more.
Where To Stay
There are a lot of lodging options in Keystone that are very close to Mount Rushmore. Rapid City is a short 30 minute drive from Mount Rushmore so staying in Rapid City is also an option.
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Keystone. This Holiday Inn Express is rustic and has a lovely lobby. Although the rooms are a bit dated, they are spacious. When possible, we choose Holiday Inn Express due to the free breakfast which can save quite a bit of money over the course of a trip.
TIP: All lodging around Mount Rushmore books well advance so keep that in mind when planning your trip
Things To Do Nearby
There a lot of fun activities in the Keystone & Rapid City area and the below is a sampling of some of the most popular.
Additional Attractions Within Driving Distance
One of the great things about this area of South Dakota is that you’re so close to other amazing National Parks and Monuments. We’ve incorporated many of these into a fantastic family road trip! If you’d like to read more about our family itinerary road trip to some of America’s best National Parks and Monuments, click HERE.
We’ve been lucky enough to have visited Mount Rushmore a few times now and each time has been an amazing experience! We definitely recommend using your time in South Dakota to see not only Mount Rushmore, but all of the fun and beautiful National Parks nearby.
This is one of those trips that you and your kids will always remember.