One of the world’s most familiar landmarks, nothing captures the true spirit of Mount Rushmore National Memorial than witnessing it in person. Located within the Black Hills of South Dakota, one of America’s most famous and beloved monuments annually draws some three million visitors. Created by Danish-American Gutzon Borglum and his son Lincoln, the massive granite sculpture that dominates the park pays homage to four of the greatest presidents in American history. This practical travel guide to Mount Rushmore can be used to help visitors make decisions on how to get there, where to stay, where to dine and what to see.
The closest airport from Mount Rushmore is the Rapid City Regional Airport, located 35 miles away. American, United and Delta are among the major airlines that serve this airport. Flights to this airport originate from seven cities including Chicago, Dallas, Denver and Las Vegas. Recommended ground transportation services are rental cars, shuttles and taxis.
Motorists heading to Mount Rushmore or Rapid City can use Interstate Highway 90, which runs between Seattle and Boston. Interstate Highway 90 connects with U.S. Highway 16 in Rapid City and travelers must then travel southwest to connect with South Dakota Highway 244 to the park entrance.
Where To Stay
Inside The Park
There is no lodging, camping or RV parking available inside Mount Rushmore. Instead, tourists will need to consider staying in the city for their visit to Mount Rushmore. There they will find both hotels and motels, as well as camping accommodations.
Numerous hotels and motels are available for reservations in South Dakota. Peak summer prices range from about $50 and up for budget and moderately priced motels to over $250 for upscale properties, such as Lake Park Campground and Rapid City KOA. The following are 10 recommendations for lodging.
With only one dining facility within the park, visitors should visit one of the hundreds of great restaurants in Rapid City. Most restaurants fall into the category of cheap eats or moderate pricing. Rapid City also has a few noteworthy food trucks, especially Nosh Mobile Eatery.
Inside The Park
Mount Rushmore has one restaurant listed by the National Parks Service – Carvers Café, known as the only restaurant in South Dakota that’s certified green. Carver’s offers a variety of foods, such as pizza, grilled items, baked goods and ice cream.
What To See
Avenue Of The Flags
With a grand view of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial, the Avenue of the Flags was originally established to celebrate America’s bicentennial. There are 56 flags lining this pathway, which includes all 50 states in addition to America’s territories, commonwealths and the District of Columbia. In addition to Washington D.C., the other flags represent Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands. The flags are presented in alphabetical order, from Alabama to Wyoming.
Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center
The center of activity within the park, the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center is named after the son of Gutzon Borglum, the original sculptor of Mount Rushmore. Open year round, the center features a bookstore, information desk, restrooms, water fountains and a historical museum. The Lincoln Borglum Museum houses two 125-seat auditoriums and screens a short film to introduce visitors to the history of the national memorial. Also in the museum are several exhibits displaying artifacts, such as photographs of the Borglums and plaster models of the iconic presidents, including a full-sized replica of President Lincoln’s eye.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial
At a cost of about one million dollars and taking 14 years to complete, Mount Rushmore is truly a jewel within the National Parks System. Named after Charles E. Rushmore, a 19th century New York attorney, Mount Rushmore is made primarily of granite and stands 5,725 feet high. Each of the carvings of the American presidents are 60 feet high and depicts George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln from left to right. The massive undertaking was led by Danish-American sculptor Gutzon Borglum, but he passed away just months before its completion. His son, Lincoln Borglum, led the project to its completion on October 31, 1941.
Built in 1939, this studio was the second studio used by Gutzon Borglum within the park. Located just east of the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center, the studio features original tools and models used during the construction of Mount Rushmore National Memorial. One of the highlights is the original plaster replica of the four presidents. Park rangers are on hand to conduct a 15-minute story of the studio.
The Presidential Trail
This .6-mile trail, originating from Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center, offers visitors a closer look of the monumental granite sculptures. However, despite its relatively short length, the trail has 422 stairs, which might not be practical for everyone. Instead, visitors who prefer not to climb the stairs can stroll up the level portion of the trail before circling back. But visitors who make it to the end of the trail are afforded many close up views of the sculpture, in addition to multiple photo opportunities.