Midwest Road Trips

A Kids’ Guide to Exploring Mount Rushmore

Things to do in South Dakota with kids, Mount Rushmore, Black Hills with kids,
Nestled in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Mount Rushmore is most visited national monument outside of New York City or Washington, D.C. Photo Credit: South Dakota Department of Tourism

It’s the most visited National Memorial outside of Washington, DC. Located in the Black Hills of South Dakota it’s more than a road trip stop. The Black Hills are a destination worthy of a week of fun with Mount Rushmore, two cave tours, Badlands National Park along with Custer State Park and more.  Here’s what you need to know before your visit to Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

Find four presidents, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, looking westward.  Carved into the hardest and finest-grained granite it was a momental project that started nearly 100 years ago.

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Guide to Black Hills in South Dakota

Mount Rushmore National Memorial History

In 1925, a local historian, Doane Robinson, invited sculptor Gutzon Borglum to South Dakota to scout the Black Hills for a possible monument. Borglum and his teenage son, Lincoln, rode by horseback through the mountains looking for the right combination of fine-gauge granite and a southerly-facing exposure for maximum sunlight for the possible monument.

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In this historic National Park Service photo, Mount Rushmore workers hang from ropes and harnesses as they carve facial features. Photo Credit: National Park Service

Mount Rushmore, named after a New York attorney before work began on the monument, provided both and the local community supported the idea. Borglum started work on the memorial in August 1927 with funding from private citizens and school children.

The project got President Calvin Coolidge’s attention and the U.S. Government funded the remainder of the project. In all, Mount Rushmore National Memorial took 400 men 14 years to remove 400,000 tons of granite to carve four presidents into the mountainside.

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Custer State Park

Carving Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Gutzon Borglum created detailed models out of plaster that were 1/12th of the finished sculpture. Workers hung from ropes and harnesses and used detailed measurements and a plumb bob to recreate Borglum’s sculpture on the side of the mountain.

The workmen climbed scaffolding and ladders at first. Then  a cable car carried the men to the top of Mount Rushmore. Air compressors located at the bottom of the mountain powered the jack hammers used for drilling.

Mount Rushmore for Kids, What to do in the Black Hills with kids, South Dakota for families,
Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln gaze towards the western horizon. Photo Credit: South Dakota Department of Tourism

Dynamite removed 90% of the rock, with blasting occurring twice a day. With the majority of the rock removed, a driller would use a jack hammer to drill holes close together that looked like a honeycomb.

A carver would remove the remaining honeycombed granite with hand tools under the direct supervision of Gutzon Burglum. The last step required an air-driven hammer to finish off the faces to their smooth appearance.

Work began on George Washington with Thomas Jefferson next, then Abraham Lincoln and finally Theodore Roosevelt. The original plan called for larger sculptures but Gutzon Borglum died in 1941 and his son Lincoln Borglum finished up the monument and it was never fully finished as planned.

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South Dakota Caves 

First Timer’s Guide to Mount Rushmore

The Mount Rushmore Information Center and Bookstore is the first building after entering the memorial from the parking area.   Get all your information here.

Across from the Information Center is the Audio Tour Building.  Sudio recordings are available in several languages for a $6 rental.

Walk up the Avenue of Flags to the Grand View Terrace. This area offers the best view and occasional ranger programs.  The amphitheater below the Grand View Terrace is where the nightly lighting ceremony is held.

Directly underneath the Grand View Terrace, the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center offers a short interpretive film and displays on the carving of the memorial.

If You Have More Time

After touring the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center,  visit the Sculptor’s Studio (open seasonally) to see the 1/12th scale model of Mount Rushmore as Gutzon Borglum originally envisioned the monument. Borglum used this studio from 1939 until his death in 1941.

Mount Rushmore for kids, South Dakota for families, Black Hills for families,
A different vantage point of Mount Rushmore National Memorial from the parking lot on South Dakota Highway 244.

If you the time, attend a ranger program. Topic vary by day and the visitor center offers a schedule of programs.Be sure and stop at a small parking lot along South Dakota Highway 244 for the profile of George Washington.

Hiking at Mount Rushmore 

The Presidential Trail offers visitors a closer look of the memorial to examine the details of the carvings. The .6-mile trail features 422 steps and meanders though the trees. Get different vantage points of the monument along its path.

Kids at Mount Rushmore 

Mount Rushmore National Monument offers a Junior Ranger Program for all ages. I found several different activity books from the smallest rangers (4 to 5 years old) to adults.

My kids, ages 8, 12 and 13, enjoyed racing along the Presidential Trail. With an active group of kids, short hikes are a must for us, afterwards we celebrated with Thomas Jefferson ice cream.

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Guide to Junior Ranger Badges

The Carver’s Café

The go-to item on the menu is Thomas Jefferson’s ice cream. After sampling ice cream in Europe, Thomas Jefferson came home and developed his own recipe for vanilla ice cream, the first in America.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial’s restaurant, the Carver’s Café, is the only certified three-star green restaurant in South Dakota. It grows its own produce in a nearby farm along with energy-saving enhancements.

Along with ice cream, Carver’s Café serves locally-sourced bison burgers, Buffalo Stew and Teddy’s Bison Chili. Indoor and outdoor seating is available.

Lodging Near Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore is a day-use park and doesn’t offer camping or lodging. On my last visit I stayed at one of the closest hotels to Mount Rushmore that offers a view of the memorial.

With view of Mount Rushmore, the K-Bar-S Lodge offers a complimentary deluxe breakfast and free Wi-Fi. Located at 434 Old Hill City Rd, K-Bar-S Lodge is approximately five minutes away from the memorial.

Rapid City also offers lots of lodging opportunities.

Or check out some nearby glamping. Heres’ a list of top spots.

Where’s Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore is located at 13000 SD-244, Keystone, South Dakota, and is 32 miles from the Rapid City Regional Airport. Public transportation is not available but private tour operators do offer tours of the Black Hills.

Getting Around Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore National Memorial is open daily from 5 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. from March to October.  It closes at 9:00 p.m. the rest of the year. The nightly lighting ceremony begins at 9 p.m. during the summer. Mount Rushmore National Memorial is free to enter. The garage parking fee is $10.

The Information Center is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. during the summer and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for the rest of the year. The Sculptor’s Studio is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Memorial Day to Labor Day, closing earlier for the rest of the season. The Sculptor’s Studio closes for the season in mid-October and reopens in mid-May.

More Family Fun in South Dakota

The Black Hills and the Badlands of South Dakota offer a week of family fun. Add any or all of the following to your itinerary.

Badlands National Park
Minuteman Missile National Historic Site
Wall Drug Store

Know Before You Go

  • Be sure to see Mount Rushmore nightly illumination ceremony.
  • The busiest days for Mount Rushmore are the first week of July.

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Make it a point to visit Mount Rushmore National Memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota. It's an icon and the most visited memorial outside of Washington, DC. Got all the details for your visit. #MountRushmore #NPS #NationalParks #SouthDakota What to do at Mount Rushmore | What to do in South Dakota | How long does it take to visit Mount Rushmore

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