The gates have opened up, and it’s time to visit some of the most precious jewels of North America. The Mount Rushmore Memorial in South Dakota has been eye candy for many, many years and never ceases to surprise its visitors.
Nestled amidst the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore is the iconic landmark that, before the pandemic, welcomed around 2.5 million visitors annually. While the post-pandemic era might not have that much to witness, the numbers are predicted to swell in coming times.
If you are planning on taking a trip to the iconic Mount Rushmore, spontaneity helps. But if you are a planner, we have a list of things you must do when you visit the monument! From hikes to sightseeing, we have everything for your adventures.
Things to do at Mount Rushmore
One cannot peel their eyes away from the face sculptures of legendary American presidents George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln. So we will suggest you admire the craftsmanship for a while, talk to people about history, and get the unknown nuggets of knowledge from the locals.
However, you cannot and should not spend your day admiring the sculptors when there is so much more to do!
1. Take a Walk Down the Avenue of Flags
You might not have paid attention to the Avenue of Flags when entering the memorial, towards the mountain. However, retrace your steps and walk down the Avenue of Flags, where you are greeted by the majestic sight of the country’s all 50 state flags adorning the side of the path. These flags are arranged alphabetically and have information like the name of the state, commonwealth, district, and territory below each. Walk straight up as you admire the flags and enter the Grand View Terrace for an unobstructed view of Mount Rushmore.
2. Pay a visit to the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center
The Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center, Museum, Theater, and Bookstore are right below the Grand View Terrace. Ideal for the history buffs, this visit is highly recommended for all those looking to know more about the history and construction of Mount Rushmore. The entry to the center is free, where you are welcomed by exciting and interesting displays as well as a 14-minute film on everything Mount Rushmore.
3. Walk the Presidential Trail
The Presidential Trail is a half a mile observation loop, starting from the Grand View Terrace and ending at the areas near the mountain base. The trail is family and wheelchair friendly, allowing visitors to get away from the crowd and see the monument up close and personal. The trail also offers a magnificent view of the exciting flora and fauna in the region and requires at least 45 minutes to be enjoyed thoroughly.
4. Attend the Evening Sculpture Lighting Evening
Mount Rushmore Memorial has a unique evening light sculpture program from 9:00 PM from May to late September. The program starts with a brief ranger talk and the screening of the documentary Freedom: America’s Lasting Legacy. The show lasts for 45 minutes and does not require any reservations.
5. Visit The Lesser-Know Monument – Devil’s Tower
Given the status of a monument by Teddy Roosevelt himself in 1906, the 500-foot tall volcano was widely recognized only in the 1970s. Drive two hours northwest of Rushmore, towards the Wyoming side, and you will be greeted by a rocky yet enriched greenery landscape. It does not witness the rush like Mt. Rushmore has several rocks on the surface, making it the ideal spot for hiking during the summers.
6. Enjoy the Charms of Sylvan Lake
Often called the ‘Crown Jewel’ of Custer State Park, the Sylvan lake is a beauty to adore. The scenic background is excellent for picnics, the water is perfect for a swim, and the surroundings are ideal for an immensely satisfying hike. If you are planning on camping around, lodges near the lake offer great sunset views and comfortable accommodations at great prices. Book these accommodations beforehand as they tend to be booked during the camping season.
7. Drive Down the Needles Highway
Needles highway has a rocky charm to it that is very different from the quintessential South Dakota. Drive 14 miles from Mount Rushmore down the Needle Highway, and you will be greeted by a long one-way tunnel and massive granite walls. The rush of driving through these elements offers a thrill of its own.
8. A Visit to the Blackhills National Forest
The term ‘Black Hills’ comes from the native name given by the local Lakota tribe. Perfect for all nature aficionados and hike enthusiasts, the Blackhill National Forest is home to the highest point east of the Rocky Mountains. If you are visiting Mount Rushmore, this place is a must-visit. This national forest is packed with scenery, comprising 1000 mile long rivers & streams and more than 45 miles of trails.
9. Drive Down to Wind Cave National Park
The Wind Cave National Park has one of the longest caves in the entire world, around 140+ miles long. A short drive from Mount Rushmore, this national park is one of the most incredible travel experiences. You can live the experience by joining a cave tour organized by park rangers.
10. Check Out the Badlands National Park
A beautiful blend of the rocky surface combined with the lush greenery of the prairie land, the Badlands National Park offers a panoramic view of green grasslands and the blue skies. Great for picnics and long hikes, this national park is perfect for a family trip from Mount Rushmore.
Can You Take Your Pet to Mount Rushmore?
While pets are not allowed in the main monument spot, two pet walking areas cater to visitors with pets. There are additional pet exercises areas located at each end of the upper-level parking.
However, service dogs are allowed within the premises but not without proper paperwork.
There might be cases where you will have to leave your pet in your RV since many areas near the monument do not allow pet owners to leave their pets. In this case, it is vital to install the Waggle Pet Monitor in your RV to keep a check on your pet and ensure that they are safe while you are away. But don’t be too long!