Mount Rushmore is one of the most popular national monuments in the United States. Located in The Black Hills of South Dakota, this national treasure attracts more than two million visitors each year. The faces of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson have been overlooking the valley below since 1941 representing the Shrine of Democracy and yet it is . While Mount Rushmore is the star attraction that was created to lure tourists to South Dakota, there are plenty of things to during your visit too.
Let’s break down what to expect at a visit to Mount Rushmore and a few things to do at Mount Rushmore to make the most of your visit.
Mount Rushmore 2021 Season openings
About Mount Rushmore
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, the powers that be considered sculpting western American heroes such as Lewis & Clark, Sacagawea, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Oglala Lakota Chief Red Cloud 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 14 years later, and the idea worked because Mount Rushmore attracts more than 2 million tourists a year. (upwards to 3 million visitors per year)
To read more about the Sioux Lakota People and how Mount Rushmore impacted them, jump directly to Mount Rushmore and the Lakota People.
Visit Mount Rushmore, South Dakota
We made a base in Rapid City, South Dakota and we highly suggest staying there for your Mount Rushmore and Black Hills experience.
- Suggested hotel in Rapid City – Rushmore Hotel and Suites located downtown in the historic district.
- We highly recommend renting a car to tour the Black Hills and surrounding area. Compare CarRental prices here.
- If you don’t have a car and are staying in Rapid City, Book this Highly Rated Private Tour of the Black Hills Monuments of Crazy Horse, Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park and the Black Hills of South Dakota.
After a day exploring town, our Mount Rushmore visit started off with an evening tour. Arriving a couple of hours before sunset, we had the chance to explore the grounds, walk the avenue of flags, visit the the museum and learn about the monument before watching the lighting ceremony.
We then went back the next day to explore Mount Rushmore further. Arriving first thing in the morning let us explore without the crowds before the tour busses arrived.
- Parking passes are good for 24 hours from purchase so you are free to visit at different times of day without staying on the premises.
Things to Do at Mount Rushmore
The Lighting Ceremony
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. We 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. But people around us loved it. So there you go!
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. After the video, the faces of Mount Rushmore are lit up.
One of my favorite ceremonies was during a touching moment after the lighting 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 America.
Avenue of Flags
When you arrive at Mount Rushmore, the first experience you will have is to walk along the Avenue of Flags. The Avenue of Flags consists of flags from all 50 states in America plus six more flags representing one district, three territories, and two commonwealths of the United States of America. Keep an eye out for your flag for the ultimate touristy photograph at Mount Rushmore.
Grand View Terrace
After you walk along the Avenue of Flags, you will come out to the Grand view Terrace. The Grand View Terrace is exactly what you think it is, The Grand View of Mount Rushmore. This is the best view of Mount Rushmore and you will want to get your photos of the presidents here before moving on to explore. It’s the classic shot that we all know from the movies and magazines.
This trail is just a little over a half mile long 1km and is an easy paved loop that takes you to the base of Mount Rushmore. Along the way you can learn more about the Mount Rushmore faces and view it from different angles. Starting at Grand View Terrace, the path takes you away from the crowds and lets you see the monument up close as you make your way down hill. Along the way you will learn about the presidents in plaques found along the way. There are 422 stairs to climb so be prepared -the trail is not wheelchair accessible.
As you make your way back to Grand View Terrace from Presidential Trail, pop in to the Sculptures Studio to learn about how Mount Rushmore was carved, blasted and completed. Open from 8 am to 8pm during the summer months, this building is now accessible for wheelchairs and strollers. You’ll see plastic models and working tools that Gutzon Borglum used to create his vision.
Lincoln Bordlum Visitor’s Center
The visitors center is free to visit and a good place to stop in and enjoy the interactive museum, a 14 minute film and to do some shopping. It is located just below the Grand View Terrace.
Memorial Teams Ice Cream
You are probably wondering why we would put have some ice cream while visiting Mount Rushmore, but ice cream here is significant. The Memorial Team Ice Cream was named after the Mount Rushmore carvers. They actually took second place in the state baseball tournament of 1939. Even if you aren’t having ice cream, pop in to see the life size photos of the baseball team in their uniforms.
Take a Guided Tour
Dave and I used to never take guided tours. (probably because we were always on a budget) but this one is free! Rangers lead 30 minute guided walks of Mount Rushmore each day during the summer months to get a bit more in depth about the history and nature of the area.
If you want to explore on your own, you can also rent audio tours to follow as you explore the historic site. It offers an in-depth experience for $6 that tells you the whole history of Mount Rushmore through a multi media audio tour. You can pick them up at the information center.
Take a Helicopter Tour of Mount Rushmore
If you would like to get even yet another view of Mount Rushmore, take a helicopter flight to view it 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. You also get to see Crazy Horse and lovely views of the Black Hills of South Dakota.
The helicopter doesn’t get as close to the monuments as we would have hoped we assume it is for national security reasons. and it doesn’t do an even split for views. (Meaning one side gets more view time than the other) If you do book a helicopter tour and want to see more of Crazy Horse, sit on the left hand side.
You don’t really get close to either Mount Rushmore or Crazy Horse, 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.
Mount Rushmore and the Lakota People
Yesterday we wrote about visiting the Crazy Horse Memorial just 15 miles down the road. This monument was built by the Lakota People who commissioned sculpture Korczak Ziolkowski to build a sculpture of their own hero in response to Mount Rushmore.
Mount Rushmore was built on sacred land that the government took from the Sioux Lakota People. The Lakota People had already settled on this lander after the 1868 Treaty, but like everything in human history – money talks. When gold was found in the Black Hills in 1870, the US government went back on their word and as prospectors overtook the area, they forced the Sioux Lakota People out of their homes. Two major battles ensued, the Battle of Little Big Horn led by Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull who won in the Battle often referred to “Custer’s Last Stand”, but they were greatly defeated atThe Battle of Wounded Knee. You can read all about it at our Crazy Horse Post here.
One can only imagine how it would feel to have the people who took your land (after a Treaty had already been settled upon) and have them celebrate those who killed so many Native Americans on your sacred territory.
How were the President’s Chosen for Mount Rushmore
- George Washington – This is a pretty obvious choice to me, he was America’s Founding Father and first president. How could he not be included?
- Abraham Lincoln for leading America through the Civil War and preserving the nation.
- Thomas Jefferson was chosen as a pivitol president as he was one who signe the Declaration of Independence.
- Theodore Roosevelt brought the United States into the industrial age bringing America into the 20th century.
Mount Rushmore Details
Mount Rushmore is definitely America’s National Treasure and it has the crowds to prove it.
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.
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.
Mount Rushmore Visitor Hours 2021
Mount Rushmore is open 365 days per year. While the buildings are closed on December 25, the visitor facilities at Mount Rushmore National Memorial are open all year, seven days a week.
Parking structure and memorial grounds: 5:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.
Information Center: Closed
Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center: 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Sculptor’s Studio: Closed
Sculpture Illumination: Sunset to 11:00 p.m.
Gift Shop: 9:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Carvers’ Café: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
For more information on Visiting Mount Rushmore check out the Mount Rushmore National Monument
Where to Stay in Rapid City
- Rushmore Hotel and Suites located downtown in the historic district walking distance to popular attractions like the President walk, and Main Street Square.
- Canyon Lake Resort – If you want an out of town feel, the Canyon Lake Resort is nestled in the foothills of the Black Hills and an excellent choice.
We also recommend arriving first thing in the morning to beat the tour busses. But we also found that just before sunset was pretty good as well because people were making their way to their seats for the light show. You can visit twice in one day.
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.
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. They told me that when they saw Mount Rushmore, all they had to do was simply up beside it to have a look. Ah the good old days of travel when you could look at anything without the crowds.