Mount Rushmore National Memorial South Dakota

The most recognized site in South Dakota, and one of the most in the entire West, is Mt. Rushmore National Memorial. No matter how many times you’ve seen those famous busts in films and photos, nothing can prepare you for the enormous scale of this project. Although visitors view the mountain from a distance, the busts of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt still seem to loom over the Visitors Center. A look at the dimensions and it’s no wonder: the height of the figures from chin to forehead is 60 feet. The length of a nose is 20 feet; an eye is 11 feet across. And the mouths of these great giants? 18 feet wide each.

Admission to Mount Rushmore is free, and the park is open year around. You’ll find the best viewing (and the smallest crowds) in the morning. Save time during your visit for a look through the Visitor’s Center, with its continuous film on the project, and a visit to the sculptor’s studio where you can learn more about John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum. The son of Danish immigrants, Borglum started the project in 1927 – when he was 60 years old.

Are We There Yet?

You can’t miss this park–just look for the carved mountain. It’s located 24 miles from Rapid City (which is located off I-90). From Rapid City, take Highway 16 southwest to Keystone then Highway 244 to the park.

What’s There To Do Here?

No, you can’t climb the mountain. You can take a hike to the base of the mountain, though, called the Presidential Trail, a half-mile walk to the base of the mountain for a different perspective on the giant statues.

The best view is from the Grandview Terrace. It’s easy to find–just follow the Avenue of Flags, flags from each of the states and territories.

Be sure to save some time for the visitors center. The center, like the other facilities in the park, has recently been redeveloped and has new, expanded displays. Over 20 exhibits explain the monument, how it was made, and more about the workers and the sculptor.

When Are We Going?

The park is open year round but crowds peak in July and August. Avoid weekends if you can (especially the 4th of July weekend) and go early in the summer if possible.

The best time of day for viewing the mountain is usually morning, both to avoid crowds and to miss possible afternoon showers that sometimes develop during the summermonths.

How Long Are We Staying?

You’ll want at least two hours to view the visitors center, view the mountain, take a hike to the base of the mountain, and just experience the park.

What Should We Bring?

Sunscreen, sunglasses, hats, and good walking shoes are must-haves for summer visitors. Binoculars are a good items, too, for having a closer view of the mountain.

What Are We Doing Next?

Mt. Rushmore is tucked in the heart of the Black Hills, an area that’s rich in visitor attractions.

Today the “capital” of the Black Hills region is Rapid City, the second largestcommunity in South Dakota. It’s a town filled with motels to accommodate the many vacationers who head to these hills every year. The town is also dotted with shops selling “Black Hills jewelry” made from tri-color gold, alloys that produce gold, pink and green hues.

Just at the edge of Rapid City lies an unusual attraction that, while it may not be as well known as other Black Hills sites, should not be missed. Reptile Gardens, six miles south of Rapid City, Tel. 800/335-0275, may sound like just another collection of lizards and snakes, but for over 60 years this family-owned attraction has delighted visitors with its huge collection of poisonous snakes and lizards from around the world, including king cobras, rattlesnakes, mambas, and bushmasters. You’ll probably want to stop to have a look at the two story Sky Dome, home to free flying parrots and finches. Among the orchids and tropical greenery there are also a few harmless reptiles as well.

To get an idea of what Mount Rushmore was like while under construction, make a stop at Crazy Horse, a mountain sculpture in progress. Crazy Horse Memorial is located 15 minutes away from Mt. Rushmore. Like the well-known national landmark, the Crazy Horse sculpture is also a mountain carving, but it is being done in the round. When completed, it will be larger than its presidential neighbor.

The memorial honors the Sioux leader Crazy Horse who defeated General Custer in the Battle of Little Big Horn. For generations, the Black Hills have been sacred to these Indians, so they felt this was an appropriate place to honor their leader.

Both Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse are just minutes from another Black Hills attraction: Custer State Park, five miles east of Custer on US16A, Tel. 605/255-4515. Although you may have never visited this 73,000-acre park, chances are you’ll recognize some of its rolling hills and open prairies. The nation’s largest state park has been used in movies including How the West Was Won and Stagecoach.

Today the park is a popular stop for the two million travelers who view Mount Rushmore every year. It is a welcome retreat for vacationers looking for quiet campsites, miles of hiking and walking trails, scenic vistas, bountiful wildlife, and a chance to see the beauty of the Black Hills. The park is so large that you’ll feel like you’re returning to the wild west and can imagine how the pioneers saw the land over a century ago.

For a view of the largest public buffalo herd in the western hemisphere, take a guided jeep tour. The herd was started here in the 1920’s and has expanded to over 1400 head. The jeep tour follows the Wildlife Loop and onto some smaller park roads. You can drive the loop in your car as well (although you’ll find some sections rough, and some park roads are not recommended for RVs and passenger cars).

If you travel in your own vehicle, do not step out to approach buffalo. Bulls can weigh over 2000 pounds, jump a six foot fence, and run for 30-35 miles per hour for short distances. Although the buffalo are accustomed to vehicular traffic, they consider people on foot to be a threat and may charge unexpectedly.

Where's Our Room?

There are no accommodations or campsites in the park but you’ll find plenty nearby. The Black Hills claim to have enough sites to bed 25,000 campers nightly and there’s no shortage of motel rooms either. You’ll find beautiful historic lodges in Custer State Park as well, so whatever your interest or budget, you can find a good home away from home.

Rapid City is home to over 4,000 motel rooms.

Evening Lighting Ceremony

If you’re at the park in the evening hours, don’t miss the Evening Lighting Ceremony. This 30-minute event is held at 9pm.

Practical Information

Address: Mount Rushmore National Memorial, PO Box 268, Keystone, SD 57751
Telephone: 605/574-2523
Operating Season: year round; closed Dec. 25

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