The Obligatory Trip to Mt. Rushmore: National Treasure or Tourist Trap?

Talking about planning a Mount Rushmore trip seems to inspire interesting reactions in people. To some, it’s an awe-inspiring historic landmark and a national treasure. To others, it’s just four heads on a mountain, a pointless tourist trap.

mount rushmore heads

Even if you hold the latter view, visiting Rushmore is still an experience. Construction on the South Dakota memorial began in 1927, eventually resulting in the giant heads of George Washington, Abe Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt. Poor Teddy – everyone forgets about him!

Roughly three million people make it to this mountain every year. If you’re planning a Rushmore trip, here are a few tips and a recap of my own visit to help make your Mt. Rushmore vacation go more smoothly.

Tips for a Mount Rushmore Trip: When to Visit, What to See, Where to Stay

When should you visit? Summer is best due to the warm weather, but you’ll be battling bigger crowds too. You can catch smaller crowds during the months of May, September and October.

Mt Rushmore

We wouldn’t recommend visiting during the winter unless you’re already in South Dakota for some reason. Don’t make a special Mount Rushmore trip at that time of year.

The grounds are open year-round, weather permitting. The Information Center is open 8 am to 5 pm during the winter, and 8 am to 9 or 10 pm from May to September.

There is technically no fee to visit Mount Rushmore. However, there is a $10 parking fee per vehicle. Rushmore does not have wifi, and cell coverage is good around the main buildings but breaks out in outlying areas.

mount rushmore vacation travel map

What is there to do at Mount Rushmore? First and foremost is to obviously see the giant heads. Walk down the Avenue of Flags, a long sidewalk with state flags sticking out from large columns. That’s where you can get pretty close to snap some cool pics of the Rushmore mountain.

As for other activities, you can hike the Presidential Trail, a 0.6 mile path that includes 422 steps. This will get you much closer to the mountain.

You can visit the Sculptor’s Studio to hear a 15-minute presentation about how the faces were carved. There’s an audio tour you can rent for $6 and a multimedia audio & video tour for $8. There’s a gift shop, an ice cream shop, and a theater.

Nearby Places to See:
Badlands National Park
Custer State Park
Wall Drug, the World’s Largest Drug Store
The Crazy Horse Monument

Also, if you have some extra time, you may want to consider heading north for a North Dakota road trip in the Sheyenne River Valley National Scenic Byway.

If you’re planning a trip to Mount Rushmore, you’ll want to know where you can you find lodging or hotels near the mountain. The closest lodging options are campgrounds at Horsethief Lake and the KOA Rushmore campground.

Drive 3 miles to the town of Keystone, and you can find numerous hotels (book early so they don’t sell out!) Your options include national chains like Super 8, Wyndham Hotel, Quality Inn, and Holiday Inn.

See more hotels near Mount Rushmore using the widget below.

Visiting Mount Rushmore and Taking Pics

I found that when I took pictures of Rushmore, my camera’s face detection recognized the heads of Washington and Jefferson but not Lincoln and Roosevelt. Weird!

Rushmore is worth seeing if you happen to be in the area. I would never recommend making it a primary destination. But if you go with a positive attitude, you can make it fun. I highly recommend trying to make yourself the fifth head.

mount rushmore trip vacation

Is Mount Rushmore worth it? Ultimately, yes it is. History buffs can read all the exhibits and learn about the history of Mount Rushmore and its four presidents.

You’ll get to see an American landmark and check it off your travel bucket list. Just don’t build an entire summer vacation around coming to Rushmore.

Got any other suggestions for planning a Mount Rushmore trip?

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