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Mount Rushmore: A Travel Guide To America’s Shrine Of Democracy

April 3, 2016

Mount Rushmore National Memorial, one of the world’s most familiar sculptures, is a mesmerizing man-made marvel that should be in everyone’s bucket list.  A patriotic and special place for the Americans, this gigantic granite sculpture is a national icon, and an incredible sight that inspires awe. Whether you’re traveling with your family or a bunch of friends, a visit to this national memorial will let you witness the grandness of the enormous, world-famous sculptures of the four most revered leaders in the United States.

Headed to Mount Rushmore? Here are a few tips and suggestions that you should take note, when planning a trip to this well-known national memorial.

 

Mount Rushmore facts

Mount Rushmore, often deemed as one the world’s greatest man-made wonders, is truly an engineering wonder and a spectacular work of art. Sculptor Gultzon Borglum – the creator of Mount Rushmore – wanted to grandly symbolize in stone the spirit of America as well as its birth, development, preservation and growth through four of its greatest leaders. Dozens of years after its completion, Mt. Rushmore remains one of the most enduring icons in America.

Mt. Rushmore was named after Charles Mount Rushmore – an attorney from New York who was in 1884 sent out in this park of South Dakota, to check the legal titles on the area’s properties. The massive rock outcropping was a favorite place to visit among many American presidents.

The granite faces that catapulted the mountain into the global limelight were carved for over a dozen of years, from October 4, 1927 to October 31, 1941, by more than 400 workers, under the supervision of Borglum and Lincoln, his son. Mount Rushmore is indeed a project of colossal achievement, colossal ambition and colossal proportion, making it a must-see place for American and foreign travelers alike.

The carved presidents on Mt. Rushmore are (from right to left) Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Each granite face is at least 60 feet, and lures over 3 million visitors every year. 

 

When to visit Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore is a pretty popular year-round destination, with its peak visitation in August, July and June. The best time to visit it, however, is October and September, with May and April as alternatives. While fall months can be cold and wet, the dry weather patterns of the hills make springtime visits ideal for everyone. The varied blend of plant life and trees found in the creek-carved canyons and high meadows also makes the Black Hills an attractive destination for keen “leaf-peepers” and outdoor aficionados.

If possible, see the gigantic faces on Mount Rushmore at sunrise, when the sun’s golden orb crawls out of the daybreak mist of the badlands. Few visitors are stirring Mt. Rushmore at sunrise, meaning it is one of the best times to enjoy a less crowded and more contemplative experience here.

 

Weather overview

Mount Rushmore’s weather fluctuates in any season.  High temperatures during summertime range from 70 to 100 °F.  High temperatures in spring range from 30 to 70 °F. High temperatures in winter range from 20 to 40 °F.  August and July are the warmest months in this area. The coldest months are January and December. June and May will get the most rain, while April and March will receive the most snow.

 

Where is Mount Rushmore

Where is Mount Rushmore located? Looking for a way to get there? The postal street address of this beloved landmark is 13000 Highway 244, Keystone, South Dakota, United States. And there are three ways to reach this majestic monument – by tour, car and air.

By air

The nearest airport to the park is the Rapid City Regional Airport – which is nestled 35 miles away from Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Delta, United and American are the major airline companies that serve flights to this airport. Flights to this airfield originate from 7 cities, including Las Vegas, Denver, Dallas and Chicago. As far ground transportation goes, recommended options are taxis, shuttles and car rentals.

By tour

From Rapid City, there are a lot of tour operators that offer tips to Mount Rushmore, including Black Hills Open-Top-Tours, Black Hills Grayline and Mount Rushmore Tours.

By car

Motorists headed to Rapid City or Mount Rushmore may use Interstate Highway 90, which operates between “Emerald City” and Boston. Interstate Highway 90 connects with Rapid City’s US Highway 16, and travelers should then head southwest to reach South Dakota Highway 244, and connect with the park entrance.

A lot of the memorial’s visitors are now using sophisticated GPS in-car navigation systems, when traveling. Unfortunately, though, Mt. Rushmore’s postal street address doesn’t register in several navigation systems. To find Mt. Rushmore using a GPS, consider using the options suggested by this guide.

 

Passes and fees

Mount Rushmore is one of the very few popular parks in America that doesn’t have an entrance fee. You are, however, going to pay a small fee of $11, for an annual parking ticket, which funds the memorial’s parking structure. The pass is for private RVs, motorcycles and cars only. It is valid for one year from the date of purchase, meaning you can come back later to Mt. Rushmore with no extra charge for parking.

And by the way, the fee is not covered by the Golden Access Passport, Golden Age or National Park Pass since the parking facility is privately owned. The structured was designed to accommodate visits, and because donated or federals funds were not available, it was contracted out, and eventually the non-profit organization turned into Presidential Parking Inc.

Commercials buses are required to pay $50 each for the parking fee, while buses have to pay $25.

 

Mount Rushmore hours

The visitor facilities at Mt. Rushmore are open 24 hours a day, and 7 days a week, except for December 25. On Christmas Day, all buildings here are closed, but its grounds remain open. Check their official website, for more information regarding their schedules.

 

Getting around

Mount Rushmore is, as far as I’m concerned, best explored on foot. The small space between the terrace and the parking lot is fully accessible. But, you can still explore the site by a car. As a matter of fact, you will get an impressive and unique view of the humungous sculpture by exploring the park by car.

To get to that beautiful site in the park, you have to turn right on South Dakota Highway 244, after leaving the parking lot. Afterwards, make your way to the west, and then head to the memorial’s northwest.  Just less than a mile from Mount Rushmore’s parking lot, you will get a view of George Washington’s profile in the upper-right corner of your car’s windshield. As you survey the scene, keep an eye for its frequent visitors – the Rocky Mountain goats.

 

What to see and do in Mount Rushmore

While most travelers head to Mt. Rushmore to admire the awe-inspiring sculpted faces of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, there are a lot of different ways to experience this place, and immerse yourself into the human history as well as the natural surroundings of South Dakota’s Black Hills. Here are a few amazing things that you should include to your route planner, when planning a trip to Mount Rushmore.

Walk the Presidential Trail

Get an up close look of monumental mountain sculpture as well as a glimpse of the area’s wildlife by walking the Presidential Trail.  The trail starts near the primary viewing terrace, and moves west through the pines to the talus slope at the sculpture’s base. The trail is quite short, with a total length of 0.6 mile only. A large portion of the Presidential Trail is accessible to those who have physical disabilities. The trail’s other potion is made up of a lot of steps (422 stairs), and can be a steep trek, depending on which direction you walk.

Drop by the Lakota, Nakota and Dakota Heritage Village  

The Native American Heritage Village is situated on the Presidential Trail’s first section.  The village wonderfully illustrates the traditions, customs and history of local American-Indian communities.

Rock Climbing

Although climbing on the iconic Mt. Rushmore as well as its adjacent restricted zone is strictly prohibited, much of the area is open to rock climbing. In fact, the park is often revered as a world-class climbing hub, with its large rock faces and massive spires nestled in the midst of towering ponderosa pines.

Ranger walk

Led by a savvy ranger to the mountain carving’s base, the Ranger Walk is an organized tour that highlights the cultural and natural history of the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore. Programs are offered every day, throughout the months of summer.

Sculptor’s Studio Talk

Held in summertime only, the Sculptor Studio Talk is an informative 15-minute lecture that examines the extraordinary techniques used by its artist to carve the Mount Rushmore memorial as well as the plaster models and original tools used in its construction.

Visit the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center

The Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center – the epicenter of activity in the park – was named after the son of Mt. Rushmore’s original sculpture. Available year round, this center features a historical museum, water fountains, restrooms, and an information desk. The Lincoln Borglum Museum houses a couple of auditoriums as well as screens a short and lovely film to introduce its visitors to the national memorial’s history. Also, inside are a number of exhibits displaying artifacts, such as photos of the Borglums as well as well plaster models of America’s presidents like the full-size replica of Abraham Lincoln’s eye.

Avenue of the Flags

With a majestic view of Mount Rushmore, the Avenue of the Flags is by far a worthy stopover to your trip in this park. Plus, there are beautiful flags lining wonderfully in this pathway, including all of America’s states as well as its commonwealths and territories. The flags are in displayed alphabetically, from Alabama to Wyoming.

Attend the Evening Lighting Ceremony

Rangers host evening programs in the outdoor amphitheater of the park, focusing on the nation’s history, patriotism and presidents. The program starts with a ranger talk, and continues with a showing of the film “Freedom: America’s Lasting Legacy. The program will, then, end with the lighting of the memorial.  It’s celebrated on a nightly basis from mid-May to September

Buy souvenirs

The park’s gift shop is so enormous, and there’s a wide array of Mount Rushmore shirts available there. The sheer availability of their shirt’s sizing is very astonishing as well.

Audio Tour

Get an audio tour, to know more about the story of Mt. Rushmore through historic recordings, interviews, sound effects, narration and music, while walking a picturesque route around the park. You can get this one-of-a-kind tour at the information center. The tour, together with the brochure, is available in Spanish, Lakota, German, French and English.

 

Where to sleep

Lodging

There are no hotels and lodging facilities available inside Mt. Rushmore. For those who are looking for hotels near Mount Rushmore, we suggest that you drive to Keystone. There are also quite a lot of motels and hotels in Rapid City, for those who want to avoid the tacky and kitschy ambiance of Keystone, and don’t mind taking a slightly longer drive.

Camping

There are also no campgrounds and RV parking facilities at the memorial. Moreover, backcountry camping is not permitted at the Mount Rushmore National Memorial.  Plenty of campgrounds, though, are located in Custer State Park and Black Hills National Forest. Likewise, you can camp at a community in the Black Hills.

Where to eat

Mount Rushmore only has one dining facility – Carver’s Café, which serves coffee as well as mouthwatering Panini and pizza in a large room with a great view. If you are looking for other options, drive to Rapid City, and eat in any of countless of cheap and moderately-priced restaurants. The city also has a handful of notable food trucks like Nosh Mobile Eatery.

 

Where to go next

The construction on the Crazy Horse Memorial has been under way for over six years – first by Borglum’s assistant, Korczak Ziolkowski, and now by his several daughters and sons. In terms of size, the Crazy Horse Memorial dwarfs Mount Rushmore, and is intended to be the largest sculpture on the face of the earth. But, only the outstretched arm, face and head have been completed. Admission to the memorial is $25 for every carload or $10 per adult.

The memorial is only 17 miles southwest of Mt. Rushmore, and is located on US Highway 16/385.

 

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Ashley Thompson
A fun size lass born in rock and roll who dreams to become a rock star, or a world traveler, or both.