Ultimate Guide to Vacationing at Mount Rushmore State Park

If you’re craving an adventure that combines breathtaking natural beauty with a slice of American history, look no further than Mount Rushmore State Park. Nestled in the heart of South Dakota’s Black Hills region, this iconic monument and its surrounding attractions make for a memorable vacation destination. Here’s everything you need to know to plan your trip.


The Mount Rushmore Monument

Mount Rushmore National Monument, often referred to as America’s “Shrine of Democracy,” is a colossal sculpture carved into the granite face of Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The monument features the 60-foot heads of four of the United States’ most influential presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. These figures were chosen for their significant contributions to the country and their representation of the first 150 years of American history.


The idea for Mount Rushmore was conceived in the early 1920s by South Dakota state historian Doane Robinson, who envisioned a monument that would increase tourism in the state. Robinson recruited renowned sculptor Gutzon Borglum, who expanded on the original concept to include national figures. Work on the monument began in 1927 and took 14 years to complete, with Borglum and his team using dynamite, jackhammers, and chisels to carve the massive likenesses.


Mount Rushmore is not just a testament to the skill and determination of the workers who created it, but also a symbol of America’s enduring freedom and progress. Each president was selected for specific reasons: Washington represents the birth of the United States; Jefferson, the growth of the nation through the Louisiana Purchase; Roosevelt, the development of the country as a global power; and Lincoln, the preservation of the nation during the Civil War.


Today, Mount Rushmore National Monument attracts over two million visitors each year. The site includes a museum with interactive exhibits, a walking trail that offers closer views of the sculpture, and an evening lighting ceremony that highlights the faces in a dramatic display. Despite controversies over its creation and what it represents, Mount Rushmore continues to be a powerful symbol of American history and national pride.


Mount Rushmore State Park Location

Mount Rushmore State Park is located in the Black Hills region of South Dakota, roughly 30 miles southwest of Rapid City. This area, known for its picturesque landscapes and historical significance, offers a unique blend of natural beauty and cultural heritage. The park itself is situated near the town of Keystone, which serves as a gateway to the monument and provides a range of amenities for visitors.


Getting to Mount Rushmore State Park can be an adventure in itself. If you’re flying, the closest airport is Rapid City Regional Airport (RAP), about 35 miles away. Major airlines provide regular service to this airport, and car rental services are readily available on-site for your convenience. From the airport, it’s a scenic hour-long drive through the Black Hills to the monument.


For those who prefer a road trip, Mount Rushmore is easily accessible via major highways. From the east or west, you can take Interstate 90 to Rapid City, then follow U.S. Route 16 southwest to Keystone, and finally, take state Highway 244 to Mount Rushmore. From the south, U.S. Route 385 north leads directly to the monument. The drives offer beautiful views of the Black Hills, making the journey just as enjoyable as the destination.


Public transportation options are limited in this rural region, but during the summer months, some local tour companies offer bus tours from Rapid City to Mount Rushmore. This can be a great way to sit back, relax, and enjoy the sights without the hassle of driving. Whether you choose to fly or drive, the journey to Mount Rushmore State Park is sure to be filled with anticipation and spectacular scenery.


Best Time to Visit Mount Rushmore State Park

Mount Rushmore State Park is a year-round destination, but the best time to visit largely depends on what you’re looking for in your trip. Generally, the most popular time to visit is during the summer months, from late May to early September. During this period, the weather is warm and all facilities and programs, such as the evening lighting ceremony, are in operation. The park is bustling with visitors, and the surrounding Black Hills region offers a variety of outdoor activities, such as hiking, biking, and camping.


However, visiting in the summer also means dealing with larger crowds. The park can get quite busy, especially around national holidays like the Fourth of July. Parking can be challenging, and there may be longer waits at restaurants and attractions. If you’re not a fan of crowds, it might be worth considering a trip during the shoulder seasons of spring or fall.


The spring season, from April to early June, tends to be less crowded. The weather can be unpredictable, with warm days and cooler nights, but the landscape is beautiful with blooming wildflowers. Similarly, the fall months of September and October offer stunning autumn foliage, cooler temperatures, and fewer tourists. However, some facilities may start to reduce their hours towards the end of October.


Winter visits, from November to February, can be magical with the monument covered in snow, but be prepared for cold temperatures. Many facilities and attractions in the area, including some at the park itself, close or have limited operations during winter. Also, South Dakota’s winter weather can be harsh, with the possibility of snowstorms and icy roads, so it’s essential to check the weather forecast and road conditions before setting out.


In conclusion, the best time to visit Mount Rushmore State Park depends on your personal preferences and flexibility. Summer offers the best weather and full access to facilities but comes with crowds. Spring and fall provide a balance of moderate weather and smaller crowds, while winter offers a serene, snowy spectacle but with potential weather challenges and limited facility access. Regardless of when you choose to visit, Mount Rushmore is sure to leave a lasting impression.


Price to Visit Mount Rushmore State Park

Visiting the iconic Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a unique experience that doesn’t come with an entrance fee. Yes, you read that right – there is no charge to see the impressive granite carvings of four U.S. presidents. However, while the monument itself is free to visit, there is a parking fee for those who drive to the site. As of 2023, the parking fee is $10 per vehicle for cars, motorcycles, and RVs. Seniors can avail of a discounted rate of $5, and active military personnel can park for free.


In terms of additional costs, it’s important to consider your accommodation and food expenses. Accommodation prices can vary greatly depending on your preferences and the time of year. Budget travelers can find campgrounds or budget hotels in the area for as low as $30-50 per night, while mid-range to luxury hotels can range from $100 to over $200 per night. For a week-long stay, you should budget between $210 and $1,400 for accommodations alone.


On the food front, costs also depend on your dining preferences. If you plan to eat at restaurants for every meal, expect to spend around $10-20 per person for breakfast and lunch, and $20-30 per person for dinner. If you’re visiting the park for a day, a safe budget for food would be around $40-70 per person. For a week’s visit, this could add up to $280-490 per person. Of course, you can save money by packing your own meals or choosing less expensive dining options.


In conclusion, while the monument itself is free to visit, you should budget for parking, accommodation, and food when planning your trip to Mount Rushmore State Park. A rough estimate for a week-long trip, not counting personal shopping or additional activities, could range from $500 to $2,000 per person. It’s always a good idea to bring a little extra for unforeseen expenses or special souvenirs to remember your visit by.


Things to do at Mount Rushmore State Park

Mount Rushmore State Park is a hub of activities that cater to different interests and age groups. For those with limited time, walking the Presidential Trail, visiting The Sculptor’s Studio, and exploring The Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center are highly recommended. The Presidential Trail offers an up-close view of the monument and the surrounding nature. The Sculptor’s Studio provides a unique insight into the creation of Mount Rushmore, showcasing the tools and the 1/12th scale model used by Gutzon Borglum and his team. The Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center houses interactive exhibits that detail the history and making of the monument.


For visitors looking to venture beyond the park, the area surrounding Mount Rushmore offers a variety of attractions. Nature lovers can head to the Black Hills for scenic drives and thrilling hiking trails, where they might spot herds of bison, elk, and deer. The Badlands National Park, another gem in the vicinity, offers stunning landscapes and wildlife viewing opportunities.


History and culture enthusiasts will appreciate the old stagecoach towns near the park. A visit to Rapid City adds to the experience with attractions like Dinosaur Park and Storybook Island. The city also offers the chance to go back in time in Deadwood and see the Crazy Horse Memorial.


There are also some unique experiences to be had in the park itself. Visitors can walk along the Avenue of Flags or try Thomas Jefferson’s Ice Cream at Carvers Marketplace. These activities add a fun twist to the visit, making it memorable.


A List of 10 things to do At Mount Rushmore State Park:


  1. Walk the Presidential Trail
  2. Visit The Sculptor’s Studio
  3. Explore The Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center
  4. Drive through the Black Hills
  5. Visit Badlands National Park
  6. Explore stagecoach towns
  7. Visit Dinosaur Park in Rapid City
  8. See the Crazy Horse Memorial
  9. Walk along the Avenue of Flags
  10. Try Thomas Jefferson’s Ice Cream at Carvers Marketplace


Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast, a history buff, or someone who enjoys unique attractions, Mount Rushmore State Park and its surroundings offer a memorable experience.



Where To Stay in Mount Rushmore State Park

When planning a visit to Mount Rushmore State Park, there are a variety of accommodation options available to suit every type of traveler. For those who prefer to stay close to nature, camping is a popular choice. There are several campgrounds within and around the park, offering both tent and RV spaces. Some of these campgrounds provide amenities like restrooms, showers, and picnic areas, making for a comfortable outdoor stay.


For those who prefer more traditional accommodations, there are a variety of hotels and motels in the nearby towns of Keystone and Rapid City. Keystone, being the closest town to the park, offers a range of accommodations from budget-friendly motels to mid-range and luxury hotels. Many of these establishments provide amenities like free Wi-Fi, complimentary breakfast, and swimming pools, ensuring a comfortable stay.


Rapid City, a bit further away but still within an easy drive to the park, provides even more options. Here, you’ll find everything from well-known hotel chains to charming bed and breakfasts. Staying in Rapid City also offers the advantage of being close to other attractions, such as Dinosaur Park and Storybook Island.


For a unique experience, consider one of the area’s historic lodges or cabins. These accommodations often provide a rustic yet comfortable stay, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the rich history of the Black Hills region. Some lodges and cabins even offer stunning views of the surrounding landscapes, adding to the charm of your stay.


A list of accommodation options near Mount Rushmore State Park:


  1. Campgrounds in and around Mount Rushmore State Park
  2. Hotels and motels in Keystone
  3. Hotels, motels, and bed and breakfasts in Rapid City
  4. Historic lodges and cabins in the Black Hills region


In conclusion, whether you’re a camper, a comfort-seeker, or someone looking for a unique accommodation experience, there’s something for everyone near Mount Rushmore State Park. Remember to book your accommodations in advance, especially during the peak summer season, to ensure you get your preferred choice.


Restaurants in Mount Rushmore State Park

When planning a visit to Mount Rushmore State Park, there are numerous dining options to cater to every palate and budget. Inside the park itself, the Carvers’ Café serves a variety of foods, making it a convenient choice for visitors. The café has a diverse menu that caters to different dietary needs and preferences. From traditional American fare to dishes inspired by the region, there’s something for everyone. The newly remodeled dining area, Carvers’ Marketplace, is another great spot to grab a meal while enjoying the park, offering breakfast, lunch, and dinner options.


If you’re staying at one of the campgrounds near Mount Rushmore State Park or have access to outdoor cooking facilities, preparing your own meals can be an enjoyable and cost-effective option. This not only allows you to manage your food budget, but it also gives you the flexibility to eat at your own pace and according to your dietary preferences. Remember to pack essential cooking equipment like a portable stove, utensils, and cooler. Also, consider easy-to-cook foods such as pasta, canned goods, and pre-marinated meats. Always remember to clean up after your meals and store food securely to prevent attracting wildlife. Cooking your own food can add an extra layer of adventure to your trip, allowing you to enjoy a meal under the stars in the beautiful surroundings of the park.


For those willing to travel a bit further, the nearby towns of Keystone and Hill City offer a variety of restaurants. Keystone’s Grizzly Creek is renowned for its simple yet delicious offerings. If you’re looking for a unique dining experience, Mangiamo Pizzeria in Hill City comes highly recommended. Here, you can enjoy a variety of pizzas in a cozy setting.


If you’re open to splurging a bit on your dining experiences, there are several high-end restaurants near Mount Rushmore. Dakotah Steakhouse and Delmonico Grill are popular choices for their quality steaks and wide selection of wines. The Gaslight Restaurant & Saloon and Sear Black Hills offer an upscale dining experience with a varied menu and comfortable atmosphere.


For those looking to save money on meals, there are plenty of affordable dining options. Restaurants like Black Hills Burger & Bun and Begging Burro in Custer offer great food at reasonable prices. Another budget-friendly option is Peggy’s Place, known for its homestyle cooking. For a quick bite, consider trying out the local fast food joint, Michelle’s Tacos.


Finally, don’t forget to explore the unique dining experiences in the area. The Alpine Inn, Deadwood Social Club, and Dough Trader Pizza are just a few examples of local favorites. Whether you’re looking for a casual dining experience or a luxurious meal, the area surrounding Mount Rushmore State Park has something to offer for every dining preference.


Mount Rushmore Nearby Attractions

Extend your vacation by visiting some of the other attractions in the Black Hills region:


Custer State Park: Custer state park is known for its wildlife, including bison, pronghorn antelope, and burros. It also offers hiking, fishing, and camping.


Crazy Horse Memorial: This yet-to-be-completed monument is dedicated to Crazy Horse, a Native American war leader of the Oglala Lakota tribe.


Wind Cave National Park: The park is famous for its extensive cave system, known for its boxwork formations.


Jewel Cave National Monument: Jewel Cave National Monument is the third-longest cave in the world, offering guided tours to visitors.


So, pack your bags, hit the road, and prepare yourself for a vacation combining nature, history, and adventure at Mount Rushmore State Park!