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A Visitor’s Guide to the Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Mount Rushmore is a national memorial that features the heads of four United States Presidents. These are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. They were all chosen to represent the country’s birth, growth, development, and preservation respectively. Each year the memorial attracts close to two million visitors. The memorial park covers 1,278 acres and the mountain is 5,725 feet above sea level. Let us take a deeper dive into what to expect when you visit the Mount Rushmore Memorial and how to reach there.

Mount Rushmore National Park 1

Getting there

The memorial is located along the Black Hills of South Dakota and is the main tourist attraction of the state. The official address is 13000 SD-244, Keystone, South Dakota. 

The best way to reach Mount Rushmore National Memorial is to fly to Rapid City and then rent a car from over there as it is just about 30 miles away from Rapid City. It is however recommended that you take the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway that passes through the Curser State Park and then take the Iron Mountain Road toward Mount Rushmore. This Iron Mountain Road is very scenic and is an engineering marvel and offers great views of the Mount Rushmore Memorial. 

When to Visit Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Late spring to early Fall is the best time to visit Mount Rushmore. The peak season is of course Summer, and many families come to visit Mount Rushmore on long weekends and the week of the 4th of July. To avoid large crowds, try coming during April-May or September and try skipping summer. Going on weekdays during the summer season is another alternative to having fewer crowds surrounding you. Most of the amenities of the memorial are open throughout the year and you could visit it during the winter season as well although timings may vary.

Things to do

Apart from taking photographs of the memorial, there are a variety of things to do at Mount Rushmore. Here are a few of them listed below

  • Avenue of Flags – You can walk around the avenue of flags and look for your state’s flag in there. It is situated at the Grand View Terrace and is a pillar with all 50 flags of states, territories, commonwealths, and a district of the United States. Also inscribed are the dates on which each state was admitted to the Union on the pillars.
  • Presidential Trail – If you are wishing to see the carving up close and personal then the Presidential Trail is designed just for you. It is a 0.6-mile trail with 422 steps that goes around the base of the monument, and it also takes you close to the broken granite pile below the sculptures. Other than offering wonderful scenic views, there are also opportunities to see some wildlife such as deer, sheep, and goats. Anyone can do the trail and you do not need to be in any peak physical condition to go up the steps.
  • Junior Ranger Program – Mount Rushmore has the  Junior Ranger Program, and it is available for rangers of all ages. The activity book has a wealth of information about nature, wildlife, and the history of the Black Hills plus the surrounding areas. Families can take their young ones to the program and get them a Junior Ranger Program book.
  • Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center – You can visit the visitor center and understand the work involved in creating the sculptures. It has a variety of maps and exhibits that provide information on the carving process. There is also plenty of information regarding the 4 presidents and the sculptor. The sculpting process is fascinating to learn for adults and kids of all ages. You will learn how the granite was chipped away and removed until the face resembled that of the President.
  • Sculptor’s Studio – It is open only during summer and it is where Borglum worked to create the sculptures. You will be able to see a 1/12th model of the original vision of the sculpture of Mount Rushmore. There are also several plastic models, and they also provide a short lecture on the mountain carving process.

Evening Sculpture Lighting Ceremony – It is held during the summer months and can be a very patriotic and thrilling experience, especially for residents of the United States. Rangers give a short talk about Mount Rushmore which is followed by a lighting ceremony. The end is accompanied by the national anthem of the United States. Every night the lighting ceremony is held at the Amphitheatre which is located below the Grand View Terrace.

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  • The initially conceived idea was for Wild West Heroes that included Lewis & Clark. It was later suggested by Borglum to be the four great Presidents of the United States.
  • There is also a hidden chamber which is behind Lincoln’s head called the Hall of Records. It has a copy of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.
  • The memorial is open every day of the year from 5 am to 11.30 pm during the summer season. The rest of the year it is open from 5 am to 9.30 pm daily. The Mount Rushmore visitor center is open from 8 am to 10 pm in summer and closes at 5 pm during other seasons.
  • Entry to the memorial area is free but you will have to pay $10 to park your car at the Memorial garage. The parking pass is valid for a year.

Other activities near the park

Here are some of the best places to visit and activities to do in and around Mount Rushmore. 

  • Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway – It is a great delight to drive on this byway and enjoy the scenic view and the grand memorial as well. In total, it is composed of three sections of the Black Hills roads: – Iron Mountain Road, Wildlife Loop Road, and Needles Highway.
  • Custer State Park – It is a great place for camping and looking for wildlife. It has many campgrounds and four large mountain lakes which you can explore.
  • Crazy Horse Memorial – You will cross this monument on your way to Mount Rushmore memorial from Custer State Park. It is still under completion and when it is completed, it will be the largest sculpture in the world. It is open to tourists.
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The local Carver’s Cafe serves burgers and chili but the most popular item here is the Thomas Jefferson Ice Cream. This is the only dining facility present near the monument and in the park. Thomas Jefferson tasted ice cream in Europe and on his way back to America developed his recipe for vanilla ice cream. You can taste it at Carver’s Cafe as it is still made with the same recipe.


Mount Rushmore National Memorial is only for day use and does not offer any sort of camping, lodging, RVing, or backpacking. If you wish to you a city as a base camp the nearest city is Rapid City. You can also stay in Keystone; it is a small town with limited accommodation though. Keystone is just 10 minutes away from Mount Rushmore Memorial and you can make it a base camp if you’d like. You can also make the Memorial a day trip while you camp at Custer State Park’s many campgrounds. 

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