The Complete Guide to your Perfect Vacation to Mount Rushmore

Complete Guide to your Perfect Vacation by BoozingAbroad
When it comes to the top American icons, any reasonable list has to include Mount Rushmore somewhere in its top 5, making a vacation to Mount Rushmore one of the top travel bucket list ideas. 

The stoic mountain carving has been attracting visitors from near and far for several decades and with so much to do surrounding the area, it’s no wonder that a Mount Rushmore vacation is so popular for young and old, nomads and families.  

Psst: Vacationing in South Dakota? We have a bunch of guides. Browse them all here or see the different posts below:

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History of Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore - south dakota

Mount Rushmore was born in 1885 when a lawyer named Charles E. Rushmore traveled to the Black Hills of South Dakota and asked the name of a nearby mountain. Apparently, the mountain was unnamed but Rushmore was told that it would be known as Mount Rushmore from that moment on. 

Talk about hitting the Easy Button!

In the 1920s, a historian named Doane Robison wanted to increase tourism to the Black Hills of South Dakota, so Robison came up with the idea to carve western heroes into the mountains. 

One example was Red Cloud, an influential Sioux chief. However, this plan didn’t last long. The original sculptor was unavailable, and an American sculptor, Gutzon Borglum was contacted instead. 

Borglum suggested that the sculpture should be of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt for their important roles in creating democracy in the United States.

Robinson worked hard to raise enough money for the sculpture, and it wasn’t exactly easy.

vacation to Mount Rushmore - south dakota
There was some opposition to the project from environmentalists and Native Americans who viewed it as ‘disrespectful’ to the landscape and Sioux heritage. However, many mayors, senators, and even then-President Calvin Coolidge aided with funding (Coolidge signed legislation that provided $250,000 for the project).

In October of 1927, carving finally began. The project took 14 years to complete and was finally completed in 1941. The result is four 60-foot high granite faces depicting George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. Today, Mount Rushmore attracts more than 2 million visitors every year.

Fun facts about Mount Rushmore:

  • Mt. Rushmore was originally intended to be carvings of the presidents from head to waist, but due to a lack of funding, Congress decided the carving would stop once the faces were complete. 
  • At the current rate of erosion, the basic shape of our beloved presidents’ heads might last about 7 million years before wearing away. Talk about a lasting legacy!

When to Visit Mount Rushmore

vacation to Mount Rushmore entrance- south dakota

The busiest months at Mount Rushmore are June, July, and August, so If you want to avoid the crowds, it’s best to visit in September or October. We recommend visiting around sunrise so you can enjoy the beautiful view in peace, find parking easier, and watch the color of the stone change as the morning light gives way to the daytime.

How to Get to Mount Rushmore

Your vacation to Mount Rushmore couldn’t be any easier! 

Rapid City Regional Airport is less than an hour’s drive to Mount Rushmore. You can fly directly to the airport from 6 different major cities on 4 different airlines. There are more locations available during the summer as well!

The road to Mount Rushmore is equally as exciting with numerous tourist attractions along the way, like Crazy Horse Memorial (which will be even bigger than Mount Rushmore if it is ever finished). 

Mount Rushmore Lodging

Hotels near Mount Rushmore

Need a place to stay during your Mount Rushmore vacation?

There’s a variety of accommodations available near Mount Rushmore. There are hotels, cabins, and campgrounds, just to name a few.

Booking.com probably has the widest selection of budget (and luxury) accommodations in the world. In our experience, they consistently found the cheapest rooms. We also like their easy to use interface and no money down policy. When we book our travel stays, we personally use booking.com.

Hill City

black hills booze south dakota road trip

Conveniently located 10 miles from Mount Rushmore and minutes away from the Crazy Horse Memorial, the town of Hill City is a great hub for your time in the Black Hills (not to mention you’ll be closer to more wineries and breweries). 

For in-town walkability, we suggest: 

Nearly everything is within walking distance of the hotel, including restaurants, shops, galleries, and more.

Keystone

ramada inn - keystone SD
We’ll cover more about Keystone in a section below, but this is another great option for staying close to Mount Rushmore. 

Top hotels in Keystone we suggest below for walkability:

Custer

Last but not least is Custer. We have a whole post on the Top Things to do in Custer, SD and Custer State Park so you already know it’s a perfect location when searching for where to stay during your vacation to Mount Rushmore. 

While it’s the farthest location away from Mount Rushmore, it is the largest town and will have the most things to do when you are done visiting the monument. 

Hotels in Custer:

Cabins Near Mount Rushmore

Executive Lodging of the Black Hills

Executive Lodging of the Black Hills provides private cabin vacation rentals that are located throughout the Black Hills.

Not only are these cabins gorgeous, but they’re also convenient for larger groups or families since certain cabins can sleep up to 26 people.

Amenities differ by each cabin, but many of them include a hot tub, WiFi, big-screen TVs, a complete kitchen, taxi service, and more. Executive Lodging also provides a concierge service, and you can call their number 24/7 for assistance.

Campgrounds near Mount Rushmore

Horsethief Lake Campground

custer state park south dakota
Horsethief Lake Campground is located in the beautiful Black Hills, and it’s the closest campground to Mount Rushmore at less than 2 miles away.

The campground has 36 different sites that all have access to toilets, water, picnic tables, and campfire rings. You can camp with a tent, trailer, or RV. Horsethief Lake can accommodate them all!

There are plenty of activities near Horsethief Lake as well. You can go swimming in the lake itself, or go for a hike on the George S. Mickelson Trail or Black Elk Peak, which is the highest natural point in South Dakota at 7,000 feet!

Creekside Mountain Resort

We stayed here for our vacation to Mount Rushmore. Creekside Mountain Resort isn’t a “resort” so to speak, but the location was great. Located close to Hill City, we were able to bounce between the other towns and quickly get to all the main attractions nearby. 

How to Visit Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore entrance

When you think of Mount Rushmore, you probably think of the enormous sculpture of the presidents (or the movie National Treasure). 

However, there’s much more than that! 

Mount Rushmore is a national monument and is managed by the National Park Service. Be sure to check out everything that’s available on your Mount Rushmore vacation.

1. The Presidential trail

Presidential trail - vacation to mount rushmore - south dakota

Hiking the Presidential Trail is the closest you can get to the four presidents since it’s right beneath them. As you walk, you’ll come across each president, as well as plaques explaining their history.

The trail is 0.5 miles long and the difficulty is rated as easy. However, there are many stairs that you will need to climb (422 to be exact) so wear comfy shoes and avoid strollers as there are no ramps!

2. Audio Guides

If you’re looking to learn new things on your Mount Rushmore vacation, you can rent an Audio Guide for a small rental fee of $8. The Audio Guides go over why and how Mount Rushmore was built, as well as videos and photos that go with it. 

You can also select what information you’d like to learn more about on the screen. The Audio Guide is enabled with GPS and it will alert you as you approach each of the 29 tour stops in the park. 

The Audio Guide consists of an Audio Tour wand, similar to a remote, and a multimedia tour device, similar to a phone. The languages available are English, Spanish, French, German, and Lakota.

The device also has the Junior Ranger Quest game, available for the little ones. This game has 16 different challenges around the park for kids to participate in. After they finish, they receive a Junior Ranger Badge from the desk.

3. Ice Cream Shop

ice cream yelp south dakota

If you get hungry during your vacation at Mount Rushmore, check out Memorial Team Ice Cream. Memorial Team Ice Cream is named after a baseball team that was formed with the workers carving Mount Rushmore. Some of the carvers of the sculpture were even hired for their pitching skills alone! 

The team was very good and, in 1939, the Mount Rushmore baseball team won second place in the state competition!

There’s a variety of different ice cream flavors available at Memorial Team, but the most notable one is Thomas Jefferson’s famous vanilla ice cream recipe. 

Did you know that Thomas Jefferson is thought to be the first person that brought ice cream to the United States? (He also brought over French grapes for wine too!) The ice cream is even made from the same vanilla beans where Thomas Jefferson would have gotten them. 

How cool is that? (No pun intended!).

By the way, be sure to check out Memorial Team’s creamy homemade fudge that’s available in souvenir packs or tins. The fudge would make a great gift to bring back to family and friends at home!

Mount Rushmore Helicopter Tours

Mount Rushmore Helicopter Tours - south dakota

Photo Credit: Rushmore Helicopters

What better way is there to take your vacation to Mount Rushmore to the next level than taking a helicopter tour?

Rushmore Helicopters is located in downtown Keystone and it’s the longest operating helicopter tour company in the Black Hills.

Rushmore Helicopters offers a variety of different tours. If you’ve never been on a helicopter before, the Discovery Flight is a perfect way to start. 

The Discovery Flight covers 6 miles of the Black Hills, complete with views of Mount Rushmore.  The Mount Rushmore Tour is 10-24 miles long depending on which tour you choose and you’ll see magnificent views of Mount Rushmore up close as well as views of Horsethief Lake and the city of Keystone. 

The Crazy Horse Tour covers 10 miles and you’ll get an up-close view of the famous Crazy Horse Memorial.

Flights are available 7 days of the week and take off at 9 AM daily, weather permitting.

Mount Rushmore for kids

If you have children, you might be wondering what’s available for kids on your Mount Rushmore vacation. The good news is that there are many Ranger Programs available at Mount Rushmore that are educational and free! 

One of them is the Youth Exploration program. This interactive program covers the historical, natural, and cultural features of Mount Rushmore. This program is 10-30 miles long and is available from June to August.

Things to do nearby

Your vacation to Mount Rushmore doesn’t have to end after you’ve seen the Mount Rushmore monument! There are plenty of other exciting things to do nearby.

Crazy Horse Memorial

crazy horse south dakota road trip

If there’s one thing you’re going to do in South Dakota besides visiting Mount Rushmore, it needs to be checking out the Crazy Horse Memorial.

Crazy Horse was a Native American leader of the Lakota Sioux tribe. He fought against the US government to protect the Lakota tribe’s territories and their way of life. Crazy Horse ultimately died in 1877 when he was severely wounded by a military guard. However, Henry Standing Bear, a Lakota Chief, had a mission to create a memorial in honor of Crazy Horse.

In 1939, Henry Standing Bear sought the help of a sculptor named Korczak Ziolkowski, who had experience working on Mount Rushmore. Ziolkowski agreed to take on the project, and he spent the next 34 years of his life working to create the legendary Crazy Horse.

The Crazy Horse Memorial is still a work in progress but you can check out the 88-foot head, which was completed in 1998. One day the memorial will be 641 by 563 feet, which is as long as a cruise ship!

Besides the sculpture, the Crazy Horse Memorial has the Indian Museum of North America, a visitor center, an educational center, a restaurant, and a variety of programs and activities that go on year-round.

Keystone, SD

keystone sd- vacation to mount rushmore

Besides being home to Mount Rushmore, the town of Keystone is filled with restaurants, shopping boutiques, and attractions for all ages, making it a perfect vacation spot for your vacation to Mount Rushmore.

If you’re looking to have some fun, check out Rush Mountain Adventure Park. The park is home to Rushmore Cave, which was the first attraction at Rush Mountain. There is a scenic walking tour available at the cave where an expert guide will lead you through the passageways and limestone formations.

Rush Mountain also has a mountain coaster, a zipline, an obstacle course, games, and more!

Custer, SD

Black Elk Peak - things to do in custer sd

Did you know that Custer is the oldest town in the Black Hills and it used to be a small mining town? 

Well, it’s come a long way since then! 

Custer is now a thriving tourist spot for vacations to Mount Rushmore. The town is only a short drive from Mount Rushmore, and downtown Custer has plenty of boutiques, galleries, gift shops, restaurants, and more. 

Custer State Park is a must-see attraction on your vacation to Mount Rushmore. The park is the first and largest state park in South Dakota and it’s famous for its wildlife and scenery. 

Custer State Park is even considered one of the world’s top wildlife destinations, which is no surprise since the park has almost 1,500 buffaloes, as well as prairie dogs, coyotes, elk, mountain goats, antelope, and more.

needles highway custer sd

When you’re not sightseeing, you can check out some of the various activities that the park has to offer, like biking, fishing, hiking, boating, swimming, and much more.

We recommend checking out the Cathedral Spires Hiking Trail that’s located within the park. This trail offers plenty of wildlife as well as numerous granite rock formations that can be used for rock climbing.

Cathedral Spires Trail is 2.3 miles long and is rated as moderate. Be aware that the trail starts out easy, but becomes difficult as you reach the rocky parts of the trail. However, there is a flat area of open ground at the end of the trail where you can take a break and enjoy a picnic.

Overall – Vacation at Mount Rushmore

One thing is for sure: you’ll never get bored on your vacation to Mount Rushmore. The Black Hills are not only famous for Mount Rushmore, but for their exquisite beauty. 

Everywhere you look there is a lake, trail, or mountain waiting to be explored. Book your vacation to Mount Rushmore today and see all of the natural beauty for yourself!

For more info on South Dakota, click on the picture below:

South Dakota Road Trip- The Ultimate Guide to the Black Hills and Badlands
Black Hills Wineries and Breweries Guide - South Dakota by Boozing Abroad
Top Things to do in Custer, SD and Custer State Park by BoozingAbroad

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We are Samantha & Chris and we are Boozing Abroad (literally). Together, we've traveled to over 40 states and 20 countries drinking local beers, wines and spirits along the way. 

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Samantha & Chris
Samantha & Chris

Samantha and Chris fell in love with traveling together back in 2015. They met, married, and lived together in Richmond, VA for 7 years before becoming full-time travelers in 2020.

Along the way, they’ve traveled to over 40 U.S. states and 20 countries while drinking local beers, wines, and spirits during their journeys.

Join them as they share travel resources, stories, and guides based on their personal experiences drinking locally when traveling globally.