Is Mt. Rushmore Worth Visiting, or Just a 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. Very few people regret making a trip out here.

Is Mount Rushmore worth visiting? That depends on how much you value seeing an iconic American structure, and how difficult and/or expensive it is for you to get to South Dakota.

Let’s go over the pros and cons of visiting, based on my own trip to the site, and discuss what you can see and do there. Then you can decide if making the trip is worth it for you.

Reasons to Visit Mount Rushmore

Rushmore is one of America’s great landmarks, like the Grand Canyon, the Gateway Arch, the Statue of Liberty, and the Washington Monument.

It’s become a symbol of American patriotism. Having the chance to visit such a historic site is appealing.

What is there to do at Mount Rushmore? First and foremost, obviously, is to 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.

I highly recommend trying to make yourself the fifth head!

mount rushmore trip vacation

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.

Challenges of Visiting Mount Rushmore

Ok, so what are the reasons not to visit Rushmore? First, western South Dakota can be a long journey for many people. It’s not near a lot of big cities.

The closest airport (35 miles away) is Rapid City Regional Airport, which is small but does have flights from Chicago, Denver, Dallas, Minneapolis, and Phoenix.

Rushmore is also a possible stop on a Chicago to Seattle drive, or a Route 20 cross-country road trip.

Bringing an entire family here can get really expensive, especially if you’re flying.

There’s not a ton to do at Rushmore itself, so you can experience the entire site in half a day.

When you have limited time and vacation dollars, it might make sense to go to a big city, or a beach, or a national park, instead of coming all the way here. That’s the main argument against visiting.

is Mt Rushmore worth it
Is visiting Mount Rushmore worth it to see the giant presidential faces?

Interestingly, 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!

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

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

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.

I 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 drops out in outlying areas.

mount rushmore vacation travel map

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, or the underrated Roosevelt National Park in central North Dakota.

Lodging Near Mount Rushmore

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.

History of Mount Rushmore

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 – a lot of people forget about him!

The idea for this monument was first proposed in 1923 by South Dakota state historian Doane Robinson.

Robinson wanted to create a monument that would attract tourists to the state, and he envisioned a sculpture of famous Native American and American Old West personalities on a needle-like rock formation in Custer State Park.

However, sculptor Gutzon Borglum convinced him that a monument featuring U.S. presidents would have more national appeal.

After Borglum was commissioned to create the monument, he spent years scouting locations and studying the mountain before settling on the current site. The construction process began in 1927 and lasted 14 years, with workers using dynamite and jackhammers to remove large sections of rock.

Each face was sculpted to a height of 60 feet, with the presidents’ features carefully crafted to be recognizable from a distance. Borglum’s original plan included the presidents’ entire bodies, but funding and time constraints forced him to scale back the project to just the heads.

Can you imagine what this monument would look like if it featured their entire bodies? That would be so weird!

Despite the challenges, the monument was finally completed in 1941. Today, millions of visitors come to see the massive faces carved into the Black Hills, marveling at the incredible feat of engineering and artistry that created it.

Conclusion: Is Mount Rushmore Worth It?

Is Mount Rushmore worth it? Ultimately, yes it is. I would never recommend making it a solitary destination.

But if you can add it to a long road trip, or combine it with a visit to the other many attractions in the Dakotas, then it can indeed be worth it.

Go with a positive attitude, you can make it fun. You’ll get to see an American landmark and check it off your travel bucket list.

Got any other suggestions for planning a Mount Rushmore trip?