Midwest Road Trips

The Ultimate Guide to Exploring Mount Rushmore for Families

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 the most visited national monument outside of New York City or Washington, D.C. Photo Credit: South Dakota Department of Tourism

Mount Rushmore is the most visited National Memorial outside of Washington, DC. Located in the Black Hills, it is more than a road trip stop. Visitors can spend several hours exploring the area. South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore offers day and night activities, along with dining. Here are the top things to do at Mount Rushmore.

Top Things to Do at Mount Rushmore

  • Gaze at Mount Rushmore from Grand View Terrace
  • Attend a Ranger Program
  • Take a Hike
  • Visit Sculptor’s Studio
  • Eat some Thomas Jefferson Ice Cream
  • See the Presidents at Night 

Mount Rushmore at a Glance

Year Established: 1941
Located: South Dakota
Size: over 1,278 acres
Top Features: Faces of Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson
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Why Visit Mount Rushmore

Chances are, you are in South Dakota’s Black Hills just to visit Mount Rushmore. Mount Rushmore is just one part of the area. I recommend visiting Badlands National Park, Wall Drug, Custer State Park, Wind Cave and Jewel Cave. So make sure you plan enough time to visit it all.

Mount Rushmore is open for extended hours, so it’s easy to include it in your itinerary. In fact, visit it at night when it is lit up. This is one of those places you need to see to appreciate.

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First Timer’s Guide to Mount Rushmore

Visitors will find four presidents, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, looking westward as they carved into the rock face of Mount Rushmore. The monumental project started in 1927 and involved carving the hardest and finest-grained granite.

To visit, motorists must enter the Mount Rushmore parking garage ($10 for private vehicles, including RVs and motorcycles). The Mount Rushmore Information Center and Bookstore is the first building after entering the memorial from the parking area. It offers park maps and Junior Ranger booklets.

Across from the Information Center is the Audio Tour Building. Studio recordings in several languages are available for a $6 rental. A multi-media device offers a self-guided tour for a $8 rental. Both offer translations in Spanish, French, German and Lakota.

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

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

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Mount Rushmore sculptors
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 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.

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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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

Carving Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Gutzon Borglum created detailed plaster models 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 first climbed scaffolding and ladders. Then, a cable car carried them to the top of Mount Rushmore. Air compressors located at the bottom of the mountain powered the jack hammers used for drilling.

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

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

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

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Mount Rushmore
A different vantage point of Mount Rushmore National Memorial from the parking lot on South Dakota Highway 244.

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.

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

Hiking Trails

The Presidential Trail offers visitors a closer look at the memorial and the details of the carvings. The .6-mile trail features 422 steps and meanders through the trees, offering different vantage points of the monument along its path.

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Kids and Pets 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. Afterward, we celebrated with Thomas Jefferson ice cream.

Note: Pets aren’t allowed at the Memorial outside of the parking garage area. However, pet waste bags are available in several areas of the parking area.

Pets at Mount Rushmore

This is a busy park, so pets are not allowed in the main visitors area past the main pergola. However, there is a pet exercise area, and pets are allowed to walk along the 2.0-mile Blackberry Trail.

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Where to Eat 

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 on 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. Summer hours are 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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 a view of the memorial, 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.

Where’s Mount Rushmore

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

Mount Rushmore National Memorial parking garage is open daily from 5 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. from mid-March to the end of September. It is open from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. in October. From November 1 to mid-March it is open 7 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. the rest of the year. The nightly lighting ceremony begins at 9 p.m. during the summer. It is free to enter. The garage parking fee is $10 for most vehicles (including RVs).

The Information Center is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. during the summer and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for the rest of the year. The Sculptor’s Studio is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. from Memorial Day to Labor Day and is closed for the rest of the year.

Know Before You Go

  • Be sure to see Mount Rushmore’s 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. Get all the details for your visit, like what to do, where to eat and where to stay in the Black Hills of South Dakota. What to do at Mount Rushmore | What to do in South Dakota | How long does it take to visit Mount Rushmore #NationalParks #SouthDakota


Catherine Parker has a passion for travel and seen all 50 U.S. States. As a former flight attendant with one of the largest airlines, there isn't a North American airport that she hasn't landed in at least once. Since clipping her professional wings after 9/11, she combines her love of the open road with visiting architectural and cultural icons. She is based out of Central Texas dividing her time between writing and restoring a pair of 100-year-old houses. She shares her life with her three kids and her husband.

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