Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse – American Monuments of the Heartland

Written By: The Planet D

The Black Hills of South Dakota are a sculptor’s dream. Jagged granite rock faces have been waiting for centuries to be molded and manipulated to works of art.It’s no wonder they attracted artisans in the early 1900s to create masterpieces on the side of these South Dakota hills. 

Two of the most iconic monuments of the United States are located in the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial.

Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse

This article is split into two sections. We start with Mount Rushmore and then talk about our experience at Crazy Horse. If you want to skip directly to Crazy Horse information and the History of Crazy Horse and the Lakota Sioux People of South Dakota you can click here.

Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

Mount Rushmore in South Dakota
The faces of Mount Rushmore

Our trip to Mount Rushmore started off about 30 min outside of Rapid City, SD with an evening tour of Mount Rushmore. Arriving a couple of hours before sunset, we had the chance to explore the grounds and the museum and learn about the monument before watching the lighting ceremony.

History of Mount Rushmore

museum at Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore at night

Mount Rushmore opened in 1941 after 14 years of construction. It was sculpted by Danish-American sculptor Gutzon Borglum and his son Lincoln Borglum.  The idea was to create a sculpture that would lure tourists to the Black Hills of South Dakota. Four pivotal American presidents would do the trick.

Originally they considered sculpting western American heroes such as Lewis & Clark, Sacagawea, and Buffalo Bill Cody to be the faces of Mount Rushmore, but after careful consideration, they decided that great presidents would attract a broader spectrum of tourists. So they settled on the faces presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.

Faces of Mount Rushmore include: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.

Construction of Mount Rushmore began in 1927 at the height of the Great Depression with George Washington being the first president. On October 31, 1941, Mount Rushmore finally opened and the idea worked because Mount Rushmore attracts 3 million tourists a year.

For more information on Visiting Mount Rushmore check out the Mount Rushmore National Monument 

The Mount Rushmore Experience

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Night ceremony at Mount Rushmore

The lighting ceremony of Mount Rushmore in the evening was interesting to watch if not a little bit Kitschy. It tells the story of the making of the monument and some American history skirting over the dark Native American past.

I found the bandstand and bleachers a little too touristy and I think it would have been far more beautiful to have left it in a more natural state.

It was interesting watching the video to see the history of Mount Rushmore, but I found it to be a bit dated and I think they should replace it with something that has a little more production value and to include more of the Native American history.

I visited Mount Rushmore as a baby. I would have loved to remember my visit when I was a baby and my parents took a cross country road trip through America. Back then they tell me that you simply drove up beside it to have a look. Today it is a huge tourist extravaganza. Complete with all the American regalia.

Tributes at Mount Rushmore

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Enjoying the view of Mount Rushmore

After the video, the faces are lit up. A touching ceremony occurs where the national park ranger invites all active and retired military onto the stage to commemorate their sacrifice for their country. It’s a fitting venue since the Mount Rushmore National Memorial is probably one of the most patriotic monuments in the entire country.

Mount Rushmore Details

Mount Rushmore is definitely a monumental site to see. If you want a more in-depth experience, you can grab the audio tour for $6 at the information center that tells you the whole history.

The high season is in July to mid-August and it gets really crowded. Our recommendation is to visit on the shoulder season when the crowds are thinner.

If you plan on visiting during the day and you have a couple of hours, check out the Presidential Trail, that gets you right up to the faces themselves. It is not too long (about .5 of a mile), but beware, it has 422 stairs!

To think that these four 60 foot tall faces were sculpted and carved using dynamite and sandblasting more than a century ago is amazing. I cannot imagine someone taking on a feat like that today.

The cost for entry to Mount Rushmore is free, but there is a parking fee for cars (no matter how many people) $11.00 per vehicle.

Crazy Horse Memorial

mount rushmore crazy horse
The Crazy Horse Memorial

Crazy Horse is just 16 miles down the road from Mount Rushmore and is still in the process of being created. Dedicated to the Lakota People it is 74 years in the making. Construction began in 1947 by sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski and is still a work in progress to this day.

Why is construction on Crazy Horse so slow? Ziolkowski promised the Lakota People that no federal funding would be involved and the project has relied on public funding for more than half a century. While Mount Rushmore had 400 men working on its face with 1 million dollars in funding back in the 1930s, Crazy Horse had one man plugging away at a massive piece of rock.

His children and grandchildren have now taken over the project, and you can visit the museum and monument on a tour.

The Story of Crazy Horse

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Lakota people dancing

The Lakota People of South Dakota wanted a monument to show that they too had heroes. Mount Rushmore was built on sacred Lakota Land and the Lakota Sioux People searched for a way to counter the insult of white faces on their native land. Crazy Horse led rebellions against the US army and was their hero of choice.

About Crazy Horse – The Man

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You feel really small when you stand next to the head of the Crazy Horse Memorial

Crazy Horse was one of the last hold outs of the Native Americans to surrender to troops. He had no intention of living on a reserve but negotiated a surrender to bring his ailing people in. He was then going to leave them in peace and live out his days on his own. Instead of sticking to their word, the United States military double-crossed him and stabbed him in the back murdering him.

The Crazy Horse monument is dedicated to his strength and heroism.

You can tour the museum at the base of the monument that tells the history of the Native American culture. In the gift shop, you can buy local art and souvenirs to support the economy. There is also a craft to display of all the instruments used to blast the rock over the years.

Visit the Face of Crazy Horse

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The Crazy Horse Memorial from the air

A bus will take you out to the site for a closer view, but if you want something more, you can book a tour to walk up to the face. A van will take you most of the way up so don’t worry, it’s not a grueling walk. When you stand beside the face of Crazy Horse, you feel the enormity of the task. This will be the largest sculpture on earth when it is complete.

The arm and horse head are expected to be finished sometime in the next dozen or so years. But I have a feeling it will take decades to complete.

For more information on visiting, go to the Crazy Horse Memorial website for details.

South Dakota Monuments

view from above
Mount Rushmore from a helicopter

The monuments of South Dakota are truly spectacular. I do not think that anyone would be crazy enough to take on this feat today, but to see them with your own two eyes is truly a wonder. I have seen Mount Rushmore in so many photographs and films during my childhood it was almost surreal to see it in person.

To learn more about the Crazy Horse memorial and the important tribute to the Lakota People was something we are truly grateful for.

There is a lot of controversy surrounding both monuments and the Lakota People are calling for the removal of Mount Rushmore. But for now, both monuments are true works of art and worth the trip to South Dakota.

Helicopter Tour of Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore

crazy horse and mount rushmore video

If you would like to get even yet another view of these two national treasures, take a helicopter flight to view them from above. Black Hills Aerial Adventures offers one of the most reasonable helicopter tours we’ve ever seen and it gives you a birds-eye view of both Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse. It also offers a lovely view of the Black Hills of South Dakota.

The helicopter doesn’t get as close to the monuments as we would have hoped and it doesn’t do an even split for views. (Meaning one side gets more view time than the other) We sat on the wrong side and never did get a good view of Mount Rushmore.

If you do book a helicopter tour, make sure to sit behind the pilot on the right-hand side. That’s where you’ll get the best views of Mount Rushmore. However, you see more of Crazy Horse on the left.

Neither one takes you very close though, we assume it has something to do with airspace security. But for the price, it’s a good tour. The Mount Rushmore Crazy Horse tour is $205 per person, but there are cheaper tours to see just one of the monuments for $110.

If you have never been on a helicopter, they offer discovery tours starting at $49. And there you have it! I think we did everything you can do to see Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse thoroughly.

They are America’s treasure and we highly recommend checking them out. What’s your favorite National Monument?

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About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

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18 thoughts on “Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse – American Monuments of the Heartland”

  1. As you know, I visited Rushmore and Crazy Horse shortly after you guys did. And I was equally impressed by both monuments. I wasn’t brave enough to go up in a helicopter, though (but the aerial views in your video were breathtaking). I also didn’t realize when I went to Crazy Horse that I could take a separate tour to get all the way up to his head, so I’m jealous that you guys did so. 🙂

    Great post featuring the absolutely stunning photography I’ve come to take for granted from The Planet D. I hope you’ll check out my own blog post about my visit to the two sites; I PM’d the link to Deb on Facebook.

  2. Much obliged to you for your real to life depiction of an exceptionally prevalent vacation destinations. Companions of our own have quite recently been by there, and we plan to go one year from now!

  3. Would love to see Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse. Your photos make it all look more surreal and impressive than I would have thought.

  4. Thankyou So much for the above video. It is really exciting. After watching the video anyone can be fascinated to go and visit the mount rushmore and crazy horse memorial

  5. i feel so ashamed! i have lived in the states for 25 years and have hardly traveled anywhere or seen anything. Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, Chile, Mexico… but never my own country! you guys have inspired me to take a roadtrip and see some more sights right here in the good ol U S of A. 🙂

    • We tend to do the same thing ourselves. We spent the past decade traveling the world and it wasn’t until these past two years that we started exploring more of Canada and now the US. It’s easy to take what we have in our own backyard for granted. Plus, we always have said that Canada and the US are easy to travel so they could wait until we were older. But I’m glad I am starting to explore them now while I can really enjoy them. Such beauty. Have a great road trip!

  6. Whenever I plan my next trip to USA my first priority is to Mount Rushmore it is one the most beautiful places in USA thanks for sharing this information………

    • Have an amazing time! South Dakota is surprisingly full of things to do. Mount Rushmore is the perfect starting point. You get your American history and then you can start travelling around the country.

  7. I absolutely loved visiting Mt Rushmore. I was surprised with how small it was but still super impressive. Unfortunately I never got to see Crazy Horse so getting to see it here was amazing. Thanks so much!

    Adam Inflight

    • Thanks Adam! I was the opposite, I thought the faces were large and surreal. It’s amazing to see these faces peering from the cliffside. They were originally going to sculpt to the waist of each president, but funding ran out and it’s only the heads. It would have been bigger for sure. Crazy Horse is definitely worth a visit. It’s going to be extraordinary when it’s done.

  8. Nice! I am going on a cross country trip this summer, and Mount Rushmore is on the itinerary!! 🙂 Beautiful photos too

  9. Thanks much for this great post and featuring the tourist classics of the US. will certainly add these on our trip soon. more power always 😉

  10. Thank you for your candid description of a very popular tourist attractions. Friends of ours have just been by there, and we plan to go next year!

  11. I’ve been fascinated with Mount Rushmore ever since I saw the Hitchcock film North by Northwest. If it’s good enough for Cary Grant, it’s good enough for my bucket list! 😉 I think the Crazy Horse Memorial would be even more interesting to visit, though. Was there much active sculpting work being done while you were there? It will be spectacular whenever it’s done.

    It’s doubtful that either of these projects would make it past the drawing board today, so visiting them would be a unique experience.

    • Oh yeah, there is sculpting going on. The process is crazy, they use heavy machinery and do sandblasting. You see big machines driving around everywhere. It’s still a work in progress. And you are so right, I don’t think these projects would even take off the ground in today’s world.

  12. This blog tells me that these two monuments must have really impressed you, as you covered them recently in your article “8 Amazing South Dakota Attractions”. I have a friend that would agree with that. He has traveled 48 states of the United States (all except Alaska and Hawaii) and said that Mount Rushmore was his favorite place and worth the visit to South Dakota alone. I will have to check it out.

    • Hi Bob, they were impressive. I wrote about them again though because I wanted to go into a bit more depth and to showcase the video that we made. I cannot imagine the work that went into Mount Rushmore at the turn of the century and it is crazy to think that a man devoted his entire life to sculpting Crazy Horse until the day he died and now his family has taken over the legacy. Now that’s dedication.