So you want to go to Mount Rushmore!
The most obvious thing to do at Mount Rushmore is to see the Mount Rushmore presidents!
You can walk to see the Mount Rushmore president faces right in front of you, and you can walk some more to look up to see the presidents look bigger from a different angle.
You can even just drive through the Black Hills of South Dakota to see the Mount Rushmore presidents for free if you want to spend as little time as possible at Mount Rushmore.
You can drive through the Iron Mountain Road tunnels to see the Mount Rushmore president faces framed by the tunnel for a unique tunnel view of Mount Rushmore, and then you can also drive through the Mount Rushmore National Memorial park to see them too.
Seeing the Mount Rushmore presidents means seeing a rock carving depiction of several American presidents with a visit to the Mount Rushmore National Memorial!
This is part of the National Park Service.
So while it is not and official national park in South Dakota, which means it’s not officially called Mount Rushmore National Park, it is a type of a national park.
You may have a better experience if you don’t go see Mount Rushmore on a rainy day or when it’s foggy. 😜 More on Mount Rushmore in the rain below.
If you want to do more than just drive to see Mount Rushmore, then the one thing you must do is walk the Avenue of Flags to the Grand View Terrace so that you can see the Mount Rushmore presidents directly in front of you!
You will be looking right at George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. These presidents are considered to be among the best presidents in US history.
Mount Rushmore road trip
Mount Rushmore is located in the Black Hills of South Dakota. It’s one of the best places to visit in South Dakota.
It can be a perfect part of a South Dakota road trip to the Black Hills and Badlands.
Other iconic sights in the Black Hills include the Cathedral Spires, the Little Devils Tower, and the Needles Highway.
Mount Rushmore can also be a perfect part of a road trip from the Black Hills to Yellowstone National Park.
To get you started on planning a Wyoming road trip, see about driving from Mount Rushmore Yellowstone!
Who are the Mount Rushmore presidents?
There are the faces of 4 U.S. presidents carved into Mount Rushmore, said to represent different phases of the history of the United States.
The Mount Rushmore presidents are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.
The face of George Washington is on Mount Rushmore because he is said to represent the birth of the United States, as the first president of the United States.
The face of Thomas Jefferson is on Mount Rushmore because he is said to represent the expansion of the United States, with the Louisiana Purchase.
The face of Theodore Roosevelt is on Mount Rushmore because he is said to represent development, with the Panama Canal and conservation efforts of the great outdoors.
The face of Abraham Lincoln is on Mount Rushmore because is is said to represent preservation, with his role to “preserve the Union” during the Civil War.
Can you see Mount Rushmore for free?
There is no national park entry fee for Mount Rushmore.
But, there is a fee for Mount Rushmore parking, which is a cost of around $10.
You can see the faces of all 4 of the Mount Rushmore presidents for free as you are driving through the main road (the only major road) of Mount Rushmore National Memorial. This will be a distant view.
For the full Mount Rushmore experience, you’ll want to park the car so you can walk toward the Mount Rushmore presidents along the Avenue of Flags!
But if you are unsure if you want to spend the time walking through Mount Rushmore, you could always just drive the entire main road that goes through Mount Rushmore National Memorial park back and forth. This would take you maybe 10-15 minutes. (map and street view)
Because there is no national park entry fee, it is free to drive through Mount Rushmore National Memorial so you can see the Mount Rushmore presidents for free.
Then you can decided whether you’re happy with what you’ve seen, or if you want to further explore Mount Rushmore… with the things that are coming up on the list!
So if you decide to go for the full Mount Rushmore experience, then the cost to go to Mount Rushmore is $10, since you need to pay for the parking fee. You can check for current entry fees here.
More below about where to see the Mount Rushmore presidents… along with more to see in the Black Hills near Mount Rushmore!
Things to do in Mount Rushmore National Memorial
How to see the faces of Mount Rushmore presidents!
1. Avenue of the Flags
Walking the Avenue of Flags is basically a given, and you will end up on it naturally after parking.
As you walk, the faces of the presidents will get closer and closer.
Unless the presidents are hiding behind clouds. Then you won’t see anything. 😜
Even if it is raining, it might be possible to see the Mount Rushmore presidents… if you’re lucky!
The flags that are flying are the flags of every U.S. state and territory. Look for your state!
See more about this Mount Rushmore activity: Avenue of Flags
2. Presidential Trail
Can you go inside Mount Rushmore?
It’s not possible to climb up onto the Mount Rushmore presidents, and it’s not possible to go inside the heads at Mount Rushmore.
How close can you get to Mount Rushmore?
The Presidential Trail of Mount Rushmore is a walk with a few stairs that will allow you to see the Mount Rushmore president faces from a different angle.
So the Presidential Trail will get you a little closer to the Mount Rushmore presidents.
Walking along the Presidential Trail is as close as you can get to Mount Rushmore.
So if you want to see Mount Rushmore up close as you can get, then the Presidential Trail is something you must do!
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3. Sculptor’s Studio
Stop by the Sculptor’s Studio to learn about the process of carving out massive faces into massive rocks.
Park rangers give talks throughout the day (May through October) about how the Mount Rushmore president faces came to be in the Black Hills.
👆 Original plan of the 4 presidents for Mount Rushmore rock carvings.
And then finally, as you are driving out of Mount Rushmore National Memorial…
4. Profile view of George Washington only
As you are driving west leaving Mount Rushmore National Memorial, be sure to look up!
You will see the George Washington face on its own!
If you are driving east, there’s a parking area along the side of the road so you can stop to see it.
See more about this Mount Rushmore activity: George Washington profile view at Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore at night
Another thing you can do is see Mount Rushmore at night. Mount Rushmore gets illuminated at sunset.
From late May to late September there is also an evening lighting ceremony at Mount Rushmore.
Can you see Mount Rushmore in the rain?
Well… it depends! 😜
As it turns out, a rainy day at Mount Rushmore can mean cloud cover over Mount Rushmore, and that means clouds may cover the faces of the presidents!
So you will guarantee yourself a better Mount Rushmore experience if you go on a day without rain instead of seeing Mount Rushmore in the rain.
👆 Mount Rushmore in the rain: Now you see them…
👆 Now you don’t!
When I arrived at the end of Avenue of the Flags, it was actually the opposite.
I didn’t even know that you were supposed to be able to see the faces as you’re walking down Avenue of the Flags.
I walked to the very end of the Avenue of the Flags and it was just a bunch of clouds right in front of us.
Surrounded by other first time visitors to Mount Rushmore, we were all like… is that where Mount Rushmore is? 😆🤔
I stood around for a few minutes and there was continued cloud cover.
So I went off on the Presidential Trail.
While on the Presidential Trail, the clouds disappeared from Mount Rushmore, and the faces came into view!
But that was quite short lived. I was on the Presidential Trail for like 15 minutes and it was literally for just a few minutes that I saw the faces.
Then I went to the Sculptor’s Studio.
After that, I went back up to the Mount Rushmore viewing platform at the end of Avenue of the Flags, and still no presidents.
But as I was walking back to the parking lot, the faces came into view again!
And so it goes. If you’re visiting Mount Rushmore in the rain, it could very well be a waiting game!
And apparently, Mount Rushmore fog is a thing too.
According to the people who manage the retails shops and restaurant food at Mount Rushmore National Memorial:
In late May and early June fog can obscure the view of Mount Rushmore for part of the day.
Things to do near Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills
1. Iron Mountain Road in Black Hills National Forest
For a perfect trip to Mount Rushmore, if you’re coming up from the south, then drive the Iron Mountain Road to get to Mount Rushmore!
You can start Iron Mountain Road in Custer State Park, and then you’ll be entering Black Hills National Forest.
Then, this will be a grand intro to Mount Rushmore, where you can see the presidents’ faces for the first time as you are driving!
There are a few spots that you can see Mount Rushmore as you’re driving along Iron Mountain Road, but one of the things that makes this drive famous is the Iron Mountain Road tunnels.
There are tunnels in which you can see Mount Rushmore basically framed by the tunnel as you are driving through, and it makes for a unique scene.
It’s a tunnel view of Mount Rushmore!
👆 If you have a better camera, you will be able to take much better pictures of Mount Rushmore through the tunnel! 😜 (I only have a phone…)
There are 3 tunnels as you get closer to Mount Rushmore, and in 2 of them you can see the faces as you’re driving north, and 1 of them as you’re driving south.
See more about this scenic drive near Mount Rushmore: Best tunnel view of Mount Rushmore
2. Breezy Point in Black Hills National Forest
For a picnic spot near Mount Rushmore, you can head to Breezy Point!
This is located a couple minutes drive from the border of Mount Rushmore National Memorial park.
This is a part of Black Hills National Forest, and at Breezy Point you’ll also find a short trail that will lead to a scenic overlook of the Black Hills.
You’ll find a number of picnic tables in this area.
See more about this outdoor activity near Mount Rushmore: Breezy Point
3. Horsethief Lake Trail in Black Hills National Forest
For a hike that’s located very near Mount Rushmore, there is the Horsethief Lake Trail in Black Hills National Forest.
This is also a few minutes drive from the border of Mount Rushmore National Memorial park, just past Breezy Point when you are leaving Mount Rushmore.
If you’re making it a South Dakota camping trip, then for rustic camping near Mount Rushmore, there is the Horsethief Lake Campground.
This cost of this campground near Mount Rushmore is around $26 a night.
See more from the US Forest Service and the official reservation website.
So those are some things to do near Mount Rushmore in the immediate vicinity of Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Now moving a bit further away, but still possible to make as part of a day trip to Mount Rushmore…
4. Custer State Park
Cost: $20 for a 7-day pass
You can find many things to do in Custer State Park.
You can make it one day in Custer State Park, or you can stay for several days!
Custer State Park is the main state park of the Black Hills.
It can also be reasonable to base your stay in Custer State Park for going to Mount Rushmore, especially if you’re looking to get outdoors a lot during your trip to Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills.
One of the popular scenic drives of the Black Hills is driving the iconic Needles Highway.
Also along Needles Highway you can find some of the best hikes in Custer State Park, including the Cathedral Spires Trail (pictured below) and Little Devils Tower Trail.
There are also many lakes to visit, and the most popular is Sylvan Lake.
There’s the Sylvan Lake Trail that loops around the lake for a nice leisurely lakeside trail with the chance to climb around on some rocks too.
You can also branch off to hike some of the Sunday Gulch Trail for a hike with rocks towering all around you.
Another popular drive is the Wildlife Loop Road.
There’s never any guarantees to see wildlife, but Custer State Park is known to be a place where you have a good chance to see buffalo in the Black Hills.
You may also see other wildlife too.
There are a number of different accommodation options within Custer State Park. Be sure to look into the South Dakota state park camping cabins in Custer State Park!
The cost of entry for Custer State Park is $20. This will get you a 7-day pass, which is the minimum pass that you can get. There is no one-day pass. If you are just driving through without stopping, you should be fine without paying for this pass. If you make a stop anywhere in the park though, you should plan to buy the state park pass. Apparently there are South Dakota state park rangers who do checks on your car. It is also possible to buy an annual South Dakota state park pass for $36.
See more about these outdoor activities near Mount Rushmore: Best hikes in Custer State Park (and the Black Hills!)
5. Black Elk Peak
Cost: $20 for the South Dakota state park pass
Black Elk Peak is located in Black Hills National Forest. This is said to be the highest point in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains.
There are many ways to hike to Black Elk Peak, and starting in Custer State Park from Sylvan Lake is one way.
A hike to Black Elk Peak will take several hours. So if you want to do this, you’ll want to start off your day early to go to Mount Rushmore and then you’ll still have plenty of time to hike to Black Elk Peak.
If you start this hike in Custer State Park, you will need the South Dakota park pass in order to do it. There are also longer ways to get to Black Elk Peak (10-12 miles round trip) that don’t start in Custer State Park.
And that’s a bit about making it a day trip to Mount Rushmore!
If you are interested in Mount Rushmore, you may also be interested in these road trip activities:
- Can you see Crazy Horse Memorial from the road?
- Things to do in the Black Hills for VIEWS
- Things to do in Badlands National Park
- Things to do in Devils Tower National Monument
- Things to do in Custer State Park
- Things to do in Wind Cave National Park
- Things to do in Black Hills National Forest
- What is up with the Wall Drug Store?
- Things to do in Jewel Cave National Monument
HAPPY VISIT TO MOUNT RUSHMORE!
Here are some ideas for a classic South Dakota road trip going from east to west!
After you go to Badlands National Park, you can head west to Wall Drug and then onwards to Mount Rushmore!
You've made it to the Black Hills, where you'll find Custer State Park for a perfect place to stay.
You can choose from the Custer State Park campgrounds or Custer State Park camping cabins for a budget-friendly stay, or you can go for more luxury at one of the Custer State Park lodges! (You can even stay at a past president's Summer White House!)
While you're in the area, you can also go to Wind Cave National Park and/or Jewel Cave National Monument and/or the Mammoth Site!
Drive the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway on your way west out of the Black Hills and South Dakota as you continue your epic road trip to Devils Tower National Monument and Wyoming!
Then, onwards to the best places to visit in Wyoming with your grand finale of Wyoming being one day in Yellowstone National Park!
Read the details: Best places to visit in South Dakota
Save the South Dakota video playlist to watch on youtube later!
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