15 Best Things to Do in Mount Rushmore, SD
Mount Rushmore, near Keystone, South Dakota, draws more than two million visitors yearly, ranks among the most popular U.S. tourist destinations.
The 60-foot likenesses of four American presidents—Lincoln, Washington, Roosevelt, and Jefferson—carved on mountainsides have earned global attention.
A spring visit to this U.S. national monument is ideal when temperatures are milder and tourist crowds relatively thinner.
Visiting the Mount Rushmore National Memorial, which is open for free, is also great during fall.
At this time of the year, South Dakota’s Black Hills manifest their awe-inspiring autumn colors, adding delight to a visit to Mount Rushmore.
Perennially, the national park Mount Rushmore covering nearly 1,300 square miles, is a treasure trove of places to see and things to do.
Check out some of these beautiful sights and activities in the list below of the best things to do in Mount Rushmore!
Enjoy a Photo Shoot at Avenue of the Flags
Take Instagrammable pictures while strolling the Avenue of Flags with Mount Rushmore in the background.
As its name suggests, this corridor proudly displays the 56 flags of the country’s 50 states, three territories, two commonwealths, and one district.
These powerful American symbols were erected in 1976 as part of the U.S. bicentennial celebrations.
The pillar mounts of each flag display the respective names of each state, district, commonwealth, or territory.
The flags are arranged alphabetically, with the A’s on the path near the memorial’s concession building and the W’s near the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center.
A park ranger can assist if you want to locate a specific flag to pose with for a photo shoot at the Avenue of the Flags.
Get Oriented at the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center
The Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center is your logical first stop on a visit to Mount Rushmore.
The Visitor Center occupies Suite 1 in Building 31 of the National Memorial, accessible via Highway 244.
Its staff members are quite helpful in providing all the information for a fulfilling visit to the memorial.
In addition, the center features museum exhibits and screens a 14-minute film about the construction of the Mount Rushmore monuments.
Besides information about the memorial, the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center is a good source of information about the other attractions around Mount Rushmore.
Take Mount Rushmore’s Self-Guided Tours
Enjoy an immersive visit to Mount Rushmore by taking one of its Self-Guided Tours.
One great pick is the memorial’s Audio Tour, available for a $6 rental fee.
This Living Memorial audio guide incorporates narrations, interviews, sound effects, music, and recordings of the memorial’s sculptors, Lincoln Borglum and Gutzon Borglum, with their workers.
The Multimedia Tour is another option available at $8.
This device will enable you to listen to the inspiring stories behind the making of the Mount Rushmore Memorial.
It will also let you see videos and photos of Mount Rushmore as its story unfolds on the multimedia device.
The self-guided tours are user-friendly and function like an iPhone or an Android cellphone.
You can select any information you want to be explained, and a GPS-linked map will alert users of each tour stop.
All in all, a self-guided Multimedia Tour has 29 stops around the park.
One of the options is to go to each stop or to sit down and experience the whole tour while in place.
The memorial’s self-guided tours provide French, Spanish, German, and Lakota translations.
Vision-impaired memorial visitors can enjoy an audio-described version of the self-guided tour.
Enjoy the Vistas at the Grand View Terrace
Proceed to the north end of the Avenue of Flags, where an elevator will take you to the Grand View Terrace.
In 1998, the site in Mount Rushmore underwent a significant renovation, covering the terrace and theater.
Immediately, the terrace became a popular spot for taking memorial photos.
It gained popularity as the memorial’s main viewing area because of the closer and unobstructed views of the monument that the terrace offers.
Comfortable for PWDs and seniors, the terrace provides benches for seating.
Besides its view, the terrace is an excellent place to listen to program announcements on activities in the memorial, especially during summer.
Other points of interest in the memorial, like the Visitor Center, are also easily accessible from the Grand View Terrace.
Enroll Your Kid in the Mount Rushmore Junior Ranger Program
Kids touring Mount Rushmore can make their visit even more exciting by joining one of the Memorial’s Junior Ranger programs.
Split into three age levels, the Junior Ranger Programs are free of charge and reward successful participants with a Junior Ranger badge.
Kids ages three to four can join the Junior Ranger Trainee category, where they get a booklet with tasks to complete to earn their badge.
Separate categories with commensurate learning tasks to complete are available for children ages five to 12 and those 13 and up.
The Junior Ranger Quest is available through the Mount Rushmore Self-Guided Tour for $8.
This quest provides 16 challenges at the various tour stops around the memorial, with a Junior Ranger Badge as a reward upon completion.
The Junior Ranger Badge, available at any ranger desk, may also be purchased at the bookstores in the Visitor Center or Information Center.
Enjoy a Scoop at Memorial Team Ice Cream
Drop by for refreshments at the Memorial Team Ice Cream station after a stroll on the Avenue of the Flags or the Presidential Trail.
This ice cream parlor got its name after the baseball team with a nucleus from the Mount Rushmore carvers and had a runner-up finish in a 1939 state tournament.
The ice cream station displays life-size pictures of the carvers donned in their baseball outfits.
Another major attraction of the Memorial Team Ice Cream is its vanilla ice cream called TJ’s, sourced from a small local dairy farm.
The recipe for this ice cream supposedly originated from Thomas Jefferson, who formulated it in 1780; hence the name “TJ’s.”
Take a Walk on the Presidential Trail
Climbing the 5,725-foot high summit of Mount Rushmore is strictly prohibited, with such activity reserved only for climbers tasked with maintaining the monument.
The closest you can get to its quartet of giant sculptures is via the Presidential Trail leading to the mountain's base.
The trail extends for 0.6-mile with 422 flights of stairs and is moderately challenging.
Walking along this popular trail can quickly be completed in about 30 minutes.
Besides offering awe-inspiring views of the presidential faces carved on the mountain, the Presidential Trail also provides the opportunity for observing some of the wildlife in the area.
Dine Green at Carvers’ Café
Visitors of Mount Rushmore can enjoy sustainable, locally sourced choices for breakfast, lunch, or dinner at the Carvers' Café.
The Green Restaurant Association has certified this lone dining venue in the national memorial as a 4-Star Green Restaurant.
Located next to the memorial’s gift shop, Carvers’ Café is managed by LEED Platinum awardee Xanterra Travel Collection.
Carvers' Cafe follows the memorial’s Fresh Forward food and beverage program, providing park visitors with healthy, sustainable, and delicious food choices.
The restaurant’s menu includes extensive choices of salads, pizzas, sandwiches, and entrees of pot roast and chicken.
Visit the Sculptor’s Studio
Located just northeast of the Visitor Center, the Mount Rushmore Sculptor’s Studio is the restored workplace of the monument’s sculptor Gutzon Borglum.
The studio is open every day in the summer.
It provides private information about the memorial built between October 4, 1927, and October 31, 1941.
The studio displays the plaster models and the tools Borglum and his 400 workers used during the memorial’s construction.
Likewise, the Sculptor's Studio hosts special programs related to the mountain sculpting process and the Mount Rushmore Memorial project.
Ride a Zipline at Rushmore Tramway Adventures
Rushmore Tramway Adventures is on Cemetery Road in Keystone town, about three miles northeast of Mount Rushmore.
The attractions at Rushmore Tramway Adventures include 16 two-person chairlifts offering remarkable views of Mount Rushmore.
Other facilities here are as enjoyable as the park’s tubing hill and alpine slide.
For many, the thrill that pumps adrenaline the most is the park’s zipline traversing slopes and treetops.
On the other hand, the park's flower gardens and mica-strewn sparkling pathways might suffice for the less venturesome.
Browse the Shelves at Mount Rushmore Bookstores
Purchase keepsakes of a visit to Mount Rushmore Memorial from any of the park’s three onsite bookstores.
These Mount Rushmore Bookstores are in the memorial’s Information Center, Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center, and the Sculptor’s Studio (summer only).
As cooperating associations, these shops sell publications, Mount Rushmore-themed items, and interpretative learning tools.
Established in 1993, the Mount Rushmore Bookstores contribute to increased public awareness of the memorial’s worth as an American symbol.
In addition, its product sales have provided the memorial with more than $2 million in funding contributions since the bookstores were established.
This contribution helps support the memorial’s funding for its volunteer and intern staff, various park programs, and special events.
Join the Evening Lighting Ceremony
Summer visits to the Mount Rushmore National Memorial are especially memorable for the Evening Lighting Ceremony of the monument.
This program occurs nightly from May to September at the Visitor Center’s amphitheater.
This program ends with the audience singing “The Star Spangled Banner.”
This program typically lasts 45 minutes, starting with a ranger talk followed by a showing of the film Freedom: America's Lasting Legacy.
Moreover, the Evening Lighting Ceremony usually begins 30 minutes before sundown, in time for its centerpiece lighting ceremony.
A light system comprised of 1,600 individually focused, energy-efficient LEDs are used to illuminate the Mount Rushmore monument, keeping with the memorial’s policies on sustainability.
Tour the National Presidential Wax Museum
This unique museum is on Highway 16A in Keystone town, about three miles northeast of Mount Rushmore.
The National Presidential Wax Museum boasts 100 lifelike wax figures, including all 46 U.S. presidents.
The presidential wax figures also recreate their iconic moments as U.S. presidents.
A self-guided audio tour helps visitors understand the context of each figure’s pose.
The museum also features a seven-minute video of the ten artists behind the wax figures.
Visitors can also try role-playing at the National Presidential Wax Museum.
They can enter a mock-up of the White House press briefing room, complete with a teleprompter podium.
Other Things to Do Nearby
Get Friendly with Tortoises at the Reptile Gardens
Visit the Reptile Gardens on US Route16 in Rapid City, 22 minutes from Mount Rushmore.
This destination claims to host the world’s most extensive collection of reptiles.
At the Reptile Gardens, you can mingle with giant but gentle tortoises that are also popular with kids.
The Gardens also hosts other types of turtles and various species of lizards and crocodiles in its Gators & Crocs Arena.
It also features a Sky Dome and an Avian Avenue, where a bald eagle named Cheyenne is a long-time resident.
Probe the Cosmos Mystery Area
Brace for a one-of-a-kind experience at the Cosmos Mystery Area in Rapid City, South Dakota, about 14 minutes from Mount Rushmore.
Located on the city’s Cosmos Road, tours in this area highlight interactive optical illusions woven around a circa 1952 summer cabin.
Physics principles and natural laws seem inapplicable when taking a tour of this place.
You’ll witness water flowing uphill and taller folks appearing shorter than their more diminutive companions.
Allot some 40 minutes for a tour that covers an area of 100 yards.
The Cosmos Mystery Area is open from April to October.
Mount Rushmore offers a wide selection of things to do that should keep visitors occupied all day.
With other attractive destinations nearby, this national memorial should come as an easy pick for a South Dakota travel destination.
Discover the best things to do in Mount Rushmore!