Mount Rushmore Family Vacation: A Guide to the Perfect Trip!

Crowded day at the Avenue of Flags at Mount Rushmore

Thinking about taking a Mount Rushmore family vacation? We recently returned from a week long South Dakota road trip, and Mount Rushmore was a must see for us.

With classic photo ops, peaceful hiking, and delicious treats, Mount Rushmore turned out to be a fun family destination. Here are our tips for families considering a Mount Rushmore family vacation.

Mount Rushmore Family Vacation: When to Visit?

What’s the best day of the week to visit Mount Rushmore?

Tuesdays through Fridays are the best days to visit Mount Rushmore. Crowds increase significantly on the weekends.

What’s the best month to visit Mount Rushmore?

Spring and Fall are the nicest times of the year to visit Mount Rushmore. The summers in South Dakota get very hot, and the monument gets crowded when kids are off school. We would also recommend avoiding the winter, as in December the Black Hills has an average low of 18 degrees.

Little boy at the Avenue of Flags at Mount Rushmore

What’s the best time of day to visit Mount Rushmore?

Early morning or evening time are the best times of day to visit Mount Rushmore. The monument is open between 5 AM – 11 PM, so you its easy to fit into a road trip of the area.

The sunrise at Mount Rushmore is really beautiful. Carver’s Cafe opens daily at 8 AM, so if you decide to head in early, you can get a hot cup of coffee.

Evenings are also a special time to visit Mount Rushmore. There are evening lighting ceremonies held daily from May 27th through September 30th. In the Spring and early summer they are held at 9 PM and later in summer they are held at 8 PM. Be sure to check the schedule if you plan to visit in the evening.

Family of four in front of mount rushmore

Mount Rushmore Family Vacation: How to Get There?

What’s the Closest Airport to Mount Rushmore?

The Rapid City airport is 32 miles away, and is the closest airport to Mount Rushmore.

How to get from Rapid City to Mount Rushmore?

From Rapid City: Take highway 16 Southwest to Keystone, and from Keystone take highway 244 to Mount Rushmore.

Scenic Roads that Lead to Mount Rushmore

We recommend driving a scenic road to Mount Rushmore. The roads around Mount Rushmore make up the Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway. They are not for the faint hearted driver, but the views and scenery are spectacular.

Iron Mountain Road: Iron Mountain Road (16A) is a 17 mile road that is bookended by Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park. It is very curvy, and has three tunnels which frame views of Mount Rushmore. It has absolutely beautiful views, and is an exciting and fun way to approach Mount Rushmore.

Needles Highway: Needles Highway is a 14 mile drive that starts through spruce and pine forests, and progresses through the incredible needle like rock formations. The views from the top of the highway are spectacular. The drive leads you to Sylvan Lake, which is another must see destination in Custer State Park.

Pro Tip: A great day trip is to combine Mount Rushmore with Custer State Park by way of Needles Highway. Enter at the Custer State Park Visitor Center, and see the bison along the Custer Wildlife Loop Road. Then merge with Needles Highway (87) and follow it to Sylvan Lake. Stop at Sylvan Lake for lunch, a short hike, or some kayaking. Then hop back onto Needles Highway and take it to 244 which will take you to Mount Rushmore.

Mount Rushmore Family Vacation: How Much Does it Cost?

There is no entrance fee to see Mount Rushmore. There is however a parking fee of $10 per vehicle.

Mount Rushmore Family Vacation: What to Do There?

Little boy walking into ice cream shop at Mount Rushmore

1. Walk the Avenue of the Flags

Upon entering the Mount Rushmore site, you will see a flag lined path that leads up to the monument. 56 flags from the United States and territories line the walkway in alphabetical order. Our kids liked to pick out the flags that they recognized.

2. Take Photos on the Grand View Terrace

The Grand View Terrace beyond the Avenue of the Flags provides the best spot for family photographs in front of the giant monument. Our kids enjoyed looking through the free telescopes up at the carving.

3. Hike the Presidential Trail

The presidential trail is a 0.6 mile trail that allows families to get up close to the monument, as well as to nature. We recommend taking this trail if you have time. It takes 30-40 minutes, and allows unique views of the monument faces. You might even catch some mountain goats. There are over 400 stairs on this hike, so it isn’t stroller friendly.

4. Visit the Sculptor’s Studio

Down the hill beyond the Grand View Terrace to the right is the Sculptor’s Studio. You can see an early model of the monument, in addition to some of the tools that the sculptor used. Rangers periodically do 15 minute talks describing the tools and techniques used to carve the mountain.

5. Catch a Ranger Program

Mount Rushmore has several ranger programs throughout the day including some that are geared specifically for kids. In the summer months, the rangers do an educational program at the beginning of the Presidential Trail that highlights Native American customs and traditions. It’s a good program to catch if you are visiting with kids.

6. Try Thomas Jefferson’s Ice Cream Recipe

One of the main family highlights at Mount Rushmore is Memorial Team Ice Cream. The store itself is named after the baseball team composed of the monument’s carvers, and the restaurant has photos of the players displayed.

The best treat here is Thomas Jefferson’s Ice Cream, based on his original vanilla ice cream recipe. It is creamy and delicious!

vats of ice cream at Memorial Team Ice Cream at Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore also has Carver’s Cafe which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They are green certified, and often have some healthy fresh options which is a bit refreshing compared to the typical fried food you wold expect at a tourist site.

Mount Rushmore Family Vacation: Kid friendly Nearby Attractions

Mount Rushmore is a bucket list attraction, but will likely not take more than a half day. Thankfully, there are lots of other kid friendly things to do in the Black Hills. Here is a list of our favorites:

Mount Rushmore Family Vacation: Where to Stay?

Bavarian Inn

Family owned, with great kid friendly features including indoor and outdoor pool, pickle ball court, basketball court and playground. They even have a cookie happy hour! 19 miles from Mount Rushmore, but a great step off point to the area.

Under Canvas

The ultimate glamping experience only 15 minutes from Mount Rushmore. Under Canvas is a unique resort where you are provided a furnished tent, with a luxurious bed and a private bathroom. You can enjoy the outdoors and gaze at the stars, without giving up al the conveniences of a resort.

Black Elk Resort

Black Elk Resort is a quiet and beautiful spot perfect for families. With self service cottages, families can have access to extra space and kitchenettes. The scenery here is gorgeous, and the resort boasts an onsite taproom which adults will love after a long day of sightseeing.

Mount Rushmore Family Vacation: History of Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore obtained its name in 1930 for a wealthy investor Charles Rushmore who often visited the area.  The mountain is known to the Lakota tribe as Six Grandfathers.  

The Black Hills land was promised to the Sioux under the Treaty of 1868.  However, gold was found in the region in the 1870s , and the federal government forced the Sioux to give up the territory.

The Mount Rushmore sculpture was built between 1927 and 1941 in order to bring tourists to the area.  It was designed by the sculptor Gutzon Borglum along with 400 workers.  It features four presidents of the United States:  George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.  

Dynamite and the use of “honeycombing” (a method by which workers drilled holes close together, and then removed small pieces by hand) were used to create the sculpture.  

Gutzon Borglum died in March of 1941 prior to completion of the project.  His son, Lincoln Borglum continued it.

The project cost the United States government $989,992.32. 

The monument is South Dakota’s top tourist attraction.  Over 2 million people visit the park each year.   

History information gathered from: “Mount Rushmore” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 30 June 2022,

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