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?

13 thoughts on “The Obligatory Trip to Mt. Rushmore: National Treasure or Tourist Trap?”

  1. I got a recommendation to visit the park early evening (was there in Sept.) to catch the 8 PM lighting ceremony they do @ Rushmore. We had time to walk around and visit the info center, browse the gift store, and have an ice cream cone oitside the restaraunt, then take the Presidential trail for close up views and pics. If you do the trail, go clockwise and more of the steps will be down than up! The lighting ceremony was in the large outdoor venue and featured a short ranger talk, lots of patriotic music, and a short film on the Presidents featured. At the end they called military vets to join on stage to be honored, played the National Anthem,and lit up the Presidents, before having the vet group lower the flag for the evening. It was awesome and beautiful. Highly recommend an evening visit!

    1. It’s a little tricky to get to Rushmore cheaply from Florida. In your shoes, I’d either take a long road trip using my own vehicle, or try to find an affordable flight (maybe on Southwest) to Denver, then rent a car and drive up from there.

  2. You should mention the INSANE car rental prices if you should fly into Rapids City.
    $234 a day minimum for bless you are lucky enough to be a National member and booked 15 months in advance.

    1. Car rental prices right now are astronomical across the country since car rental companies sold off so much of their fleets during the lockdown. Prices should drop in the coming months, we hope!

  3. love that bottom picture. when i was a kid i lived in south dakota, and me and my dad used to go ice fishing inthe black hills near the monument. i think we went to see the heads a couple of times before we moved due to the unrelenting boredom of SD

      1. for sure. my dad loves fishing so we were always out there. we used to “hunt” for nightcrawlers the night before we went fishing all the time (except of course when the ground was frozen over.). good times.

  4. living in SD (although 400 miles away from Mount Rushmore) I’ve been there several times. Never once did I think to make myself the 5th head. Now I need to go west river again!

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