When most people think of Mount Rushmore National Memorial, they think of the single point on the mountain where the carvings of past presidents’ faces are visible. In fact, I’ve known some folks who have skipped going to the park simply because they thought that’s all there was to experience.
However, the national memorial, managed by the U.S. National Park Service, has a lot more to it than this single point of interest. There are interesting things to do in the general area as well, including multiple other state parks with impressive hiking trails, historical sites, and more.
Getting To Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore is located in the Black Hills area of South Dakota, a region made famous by historical figures such as Calamity Jane, Wild Bill Hickok, and William Cody, better known as Buffalo Bill. The area offers incredible backdrops, mountain ranges unlike any others, and historical hot spots for those fascinated with the Wild West.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial itself can be reached via airplane if you’re looking to get there in a hurry. You’ll land at the Rapid City Regional Airport, just 35 miles away from the park. The airport is modest in size, so you’ll find a few major airlines that fly in, along with some local and regional airlines that work in conjunction with larger brands.
Driving to Mount Rushmore is fairly easy. From the airport, you’ll take 44 toward Rapid City, then 16 out of town and into the parkland, eventually navigating to 244. Your GPS will get you there easily since the National Memorial — though remote — is regularly visited.
If you’re coming from the north, take I-90 to the Rapid City exit and follow the same route outlined above. If you’re coming in from the south, take Highway 385 north to Highway 244.
If you don’t have your own car, you can rent a vehicle at the airport or connect with a private tour group like Black Hills Tour Company to get to the park.
The Best Time Of Year To Visit
Peak tourism season for Mount Rushmore is, of course, the summer. Crowds gather during school breaks and vacation months from June to August, but if you’re hoping to avoid the masses, visit during September and October or April and May.
As for the weather, summer months bring sunny days — often with afternoon thunderstorms — from July to August. May and June, however, tend to be the rainiest months in the region. September and October are dry and warm to cool with incredible foliage-viewing opportunities. The winter season tends to be the longest in the area, though snow usually melts within a few days of falling.
How Much Does It Cost To See Mount Rushmore?
There is no park entry fee for visiting Mount Rushmore. However, though parking is abundant, it is run by a company that partners with the National Park Service to provide various services. No federal funding was used to construct the parking lots and related facilities, so parking fees help to cover the cost of maintaining and operating these amenities.
Seniors 62 and older pay a $5 parking fee to park a car, RV, or motorcycle. Standard fees are $10 per vehicle, but active-duty military personnel pay no fees. Fees can be paid with cash, Mastercard, or Visa.
If you have an electric vehicle that needs charging, there are six stations available on the second level of the parking garage. There are bike lockers on the first level for those who wish to park and ride their bikes to and from the facility.
Where To Stay Near Mount Rushmore
Keystone, South Dakota, is the closest spot to find lodging for your time in the Mount Rushmore area. There are several hotels there, ranging from high-quality options with stunning amenities to budget chains. Some accommodations are seasonal and won’t be available from late autumn to early spring.
If you prefer to stay in a community that’s larger than Keystone, you’ll wind up in Hill City. There are houses, hotels, cabins, and more to rent here. The area is rich with exciting activities and beautiful views, so you may wish to stay longer to visit spots in the nearby Black Hills and Deadlands.
You’ll also find hotels in Custer and Rapid City, and still be within a 40 to 45-minute drive of the memorial. The price range will vary from hotel to hotel, of course, but Rapid City is probably your most affordable option if you’re traveling with a budget in mind and willing to drive a little further.
As is typical with holiday destinations, hotel rates will vary by season, rising in the summer months.
Where To Camp Near Mount Rushmore
If you’re gearing your trip toward camping, you’ll be happy to know there are several highly-rated campgrounds in the area.
Horsethief Lake is a good place to start your search for great campsites. It’s only two miles south of the memorial on Highway 244 and not only provides you with a convenient and comfortable camping spot but also offers additional activities for the family. Check the calendar on the park’s main page to see if there are upcoming events you’d like to add to your itinerary.
Kemp’s Kamp is another popular option near Mount Rushmore. The grounds are nestled into Battle Creek Canyon and offer fantastic views along with modern cabins, campsites, and RV facilities. Kemp’s Kamp is located on Old Hill City Road, just under five miles from Mount Rushmore.
There’s also the Mount Rushmore KOA at Palmer Gulch in the Hill City area, a little over six miles from the memorial. The grounds offer heated pools, spas, a waterslide, mini-golf, a 25-foot climbing wall, and more to keep the family entertained during the summer months. The campsite also offers guided horseback rides, movies, and prepared meals.
Lodges in the area you may wish to consider over tent camping include State Game Lodge in Custer, Sylvan Lake Lodge in Custer State Park, Backroad Inn and Cabins in Keystone, and Rock Crest Lodge and Cabins in Custer.
What Else Is There To Do Near Mount Rushmore?
After viewing the presidents from below, you can take a short stroll along the Presidential Trail for more intimate views of the carvings, or hike to the Borglum View Terrace or the Sculptor’s Studio. Guided tours are available, along with Junior Ranger programs and interpretive programs during the summer months.
While Mount Rushmore is definitely worth an afternoon’s visit, there are tons of other fantastic things to do in the area, starting with the other parks, memorials, and monuments in the area.
Custer State Park is full of stunning scenic drives through over 71,000 acres of land. You’re likely to spot many of the 1,300 bison in the park, and you’ll want to take a hike on some of the many beautiful trails. Black Elk Peak is worth the trek if you can handle climbing the moderately advanced trail that peaks at 7,242 feet elevation. Black Elk Peak is the highest point in the state and will afford you stunning views. Custer State Park is also home to the incredible Sylvan Lake, which by itself legitimates spending a day in the park.
Needles Highway is a short drive with stunning views near Mount Rushmore. The highway is 14 miles long and transports you into wonders you wouldn’t expect to find in South Dakota. The road takes you by giant granite walls and through one-way tunnels including the iconic Needles Eye. The highway does close during the off-season if there’s massive snowfall blocking the passage.
You may want to spend a day in Rapid City seeing the sites here as well. The city has stunning art in its fine art gallery and one of the largest publicly owned displays of artwork: The City of Presidents, an art installation that lines the streets of the town with life-sized, bronze statues of the presidents of the United States, adding an additional educational element to your visit. You can also pencil in time for the South Dakota Air and Space Museum, or the hands-on Outdoor Campus – West.
For a different perspective on the historic region, take a scenic ride on the 1880 Train out of Hill City. You’ll wind your way through the beautiful Black Hills and be able to snap some photos while listening to two hours of narration on the history of the region. The route is 20 miles round trip and affords passengers views of Black Elk Peak as it follows the original route of the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad that was laid in the late 1880s.