What to see at Mount Rushmore: 8 things you can’t miss
Learn about what you can’t miss when visiting this national monument.
When you think of South Dakota, Mount Rushmore is typically the first thing that comes to mind. Located in Keystone, the Mount Rushmore National Memorial pays tribute to four US presidents who symbolize the ideals of freedom and democracy.
The 60-foot four presidential figures were carved into Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills region of South Dakota. Gutzon Borglum was the visionary behind the sculpture’s design and oversaw the project’s execution, done in an exhausting pace, from 1927 to 1941 with the help of his son.
Borglum selected the four presidents he believed represented the most important events in American history: George Washington, the first president; Thomas Jefferson, who drafted the Declaration of independence; Theodore Roosevelt, who spearheaded the nation into the future while protecting its most valued resource by creating National Parks; and Abraham Lincoln, who preserved the Union in its most difficult period.
Over 450,000 tons of rock were removed from Mount Rushmore to be able to sculpt the four presidential faces. In all, 90% of the rock had to be removed with dynamite, just to being sculpting; the remaining work involved drilling with jackhammers and wedging the rock off the mountain.
We visited Mount Rushmore twice: once in the morning and we went back in the evening for the lighting ceremony. Below are a few considerations and tips you should know about when planning a visit to Mount Rushmore.
You don’t need a lot of time in Mount Rushmore and you can combine your visit with Crazy Horse. However, we do recommend you walk the Presidential Trail – it was the highlight of our visit. Plan to spend between 1-2 hours.
When should you visit Mount Rushmore?
Over 2 million visitors visit Mount Rushmore every year with the busiest months being June, July, and August. I recommend you visit Mount Rushmore in the early morning, as it’s the best time to take the iconic photo of the four presidents. You’ll not only have great lighting but the park will be fairly empty.
There are several activities you can do when visiting Mount Rushmore. See below our favorites:
What can you do in Mount Rushmore?
Walk the Presidential Trail: The Presidential Trail is a 0.6 mile walk which has a total of 422 steps scattered throughout. It’s not difficult to do, so if you have time, I highly recommend that you walk the whole trail. Watch for the wildlife – we saw a few deer when walking the trail.
Tip: If you are feeling tired, walk the trail in a clockwise direction, as you will go down the stairs instead of up for most of the trail. However, in my opinion the best pictures (the presidents’ faces framed by trees) are closer to the end of the trail, so if you are short for time walk the trail on the opposite direction.
As you “get closer” to each of the presidents, there are a few signs where you can learn some basic information about each, including when they were born, career and national highlights, among others.
Take an amazing photo of George Washington from stop 15 of the Presidential Trail: Stop 15 in the trail is a cave. Please go in as you will be able to take a great shot of George Washington. When you walk into the cave you will notice a whole where you can see George Washington’s face.
Walk the Avenue of Flags: The Avenue of Flags showcases flags which represent 56 states and territories. There is a great photo opportunity here where you can capture the flags and the presidential faces in the background.
Get an ice cream made with Jefferson’s original recipe: Head to the Carvers Café to try the vanilla ice cream based on Thomas Jefferson’s original recipe from 1780. It’s delicious! Note that you can purchase ice cream at the café from 11:00 am to 9:00 pm. There was quite a line when we decided to get the ice cream so be prepared to have to wait. The best part: they serve massive portions!
Witness the lighting ceremony: From May through September, you can watch a ceremony at the outdoor Amphitheater. This is an opportunity to watch a video, the flag lowering ceremony, and the salute to veterans. The ceremony culminates with the lighting of the memorial.
- August 15 – September 30, 2021 – 8:00 p.m.
- October 1, 2021 – May 26, 2022 – No ceremony, sculpture is illuminated nightly at sunset.
- May 27 – August 13, 2022 – 9:00 p.m.
- August 14 – September 30, 2022 – 8:00 p.m.
Tip: Since it was full of people and we didn’t want to spend a long time waiting in line when the crowds all left at the same time, we paid for parking in advance, snapped the pictures quickly, and ran to our car so were among the first ones to leave. It’s like leaving a stadium at the end of game.
Take several shots of the presidents’ faces: There are several places where you can get different perspectives of the presidents’ faces, so do not only take a picture from the Grand View Terrace. The Presidential Trail offers magnificent shots throughout.
Visit the Sculptor’s Studio: Here you will learn about Gutzon Borglum, the carving process, demonstrations of the tools, and the details of the lives of the workers. The studio is now open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. during the summer. Schedules are posted at both the Information Center and Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center.
Join Ranger walks (30 minutes): You can join these at various locations throughout Mount Rushmore. Schedules are also posted at the Information Center and Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center.
How much does it cost to visit Mount Rushmore?
The entrance to Mount Rushmore is free. However, you will have to pay for US$10 to park. Parking fees can be paid with cash or credit card at the several automatic ticket machines located throughout.
No visit to South Dakota is complete without a visit to Mount Rushmore. Take the chance to soak up the history of Mount Rushmore by exploring this amazing monument.
What should you bring to Mount Rushmore?
Make sure you bring comfortable shoes to walk around the National Monument as well as water and a hat to protect you from the sun.
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