Things to Do Near Mount Rushmore

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Things to Do Near Mount Rushmore

When you first think South Dakota, you may not think road trip, but in fact, the vast state has so much more to offer than Mt. Rushmore. Within a couple hours of the national memorial, you’ll find the Black Hills, the Badlands, caves, prairies, historic battlefields, mining towns and more. Here’s what should be included on your Mount Rushmore road trip (and the answers to some of your questions).
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What Other Attractions Are Near Mount Rushmore?
So you’ve visited the monument? Want to add more to your western South Dakota itinerary? Here are several must-see things to do near Mount Rushmore.
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Black Hills
Perhaps the area’s biggest draw after Mount Rushmore, the Black Hills are unexpected, full of history and gorgeous. Beyond archaeological remains of dinosaur, the history of civilization in the Black Hills region seems to have started in 1743. New World explorers claimed the region for France before Sioux Indian dominated the area in the 1780s. The fur trade was strong here between 1817 and 1857. It wasn’t until 1856 that the area was mapped. The gold rush to the Black Hills was kicked off by Lt. Col. George A. Custer, which led to settlements, railroad, industry and agriculture.
 
As you embark on your Black Hills vacation, you’ll find the inevitable road-trip tourist trap, as well as stately national and state parks. The main sections of the Black Hills region are Rapid City, the Central Hills Region (where you’ll find Mount Rushmore National Memorial and Crazy Horse Memorial), the Northern Hills Region (home to the gaming town of Deadwood, a National Historic Landmark, and the motorcycle-mad city of Sturgis) and the Southern Hills Region (site of Wind Cave National Park, Jewel Cave National Park and Custer State Park).
 
Rapid City
Use Rapid City, at the eastern foothills of the Black Hills, as a home base while you’re exploring the area. Downtown Rapid City offers a museum for every taste, golf courses, ample accommodation choices and easy access to the Badlands, Devils Tower, Wind and Jewel Cave national parks, Custer State Park and Mount Rushmore. While you’re here, don’t miss one of the city’s original tourist attractions – Dinosaur Park. Visitors have been enjoying the seven massive replicas of dinosaurs since 1936, erected to celebrate the park’s fossil-rich, sandstone surroundings. Late Jurassic and Early Cretaceous remains were found here, as well as dinosaur footprints.
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Crazy Horse Memorial
See history in the carving at Crazy Horse Memorial, an in-progress project to commemorate the Lakota Sioux warrior and famous artist. The carving was begun in 1948 by sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski; the project continues with the help of his family and their supporters. The statue will ultimate by 641 feet long and 563 feet high. The face was completed in 1998 and work continues on the 219-foot horse’s head. Spend some time in the Indian Museum of North America and the Native American Educational and Cultural Center to see more than 12,000 contemporary and historic items dating back to pre-Colombian times.
 
Lead
Learn all about the area’s mining significance high in the Black Hills at Lead (pronounced “Leed”). At the Black Hills Mining Museum, you can learn about the life of a miner and the area’s gold-mining history. This is also undoubtedly the adventure capital of South Dakota, where you can downhill ski at Deer Mountain and Terry Peak, snowmobile, hike, fish, golf, visit Spearfish Canyon and access the renowned Mickelson Trail. Along the latter, which runs through the heart of the Black Hills, you’ll follow in the footsteps of Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane. Aimed at walkers, hikers, bicyclists and horseback riders, the trail passes through spruce and ponderosa pine forests for 109 miles, with 100 converted railroad bridges and four rock tunnels. The longest incline of the trail is the 19-mile section from Deadwood to Dumont.
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Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway
The pretty-as-can-be Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway is just the place for a leisurely summer drive. You’ll pass through sky-high limestone palisades as you make your way through a 19-mile gorge. If you’re visiting Lead, you can catch the byway at the intersection of Cheyenne Crossing and Highway 85. As you drive, you’ll see Spearfish Creek, cutting its way through the canyon floor. Stop to enjoy Bridal Veil Falls and Roughlock Falls – or one of the many other pull-offs along the way. For a longer stop, hike the side canyons of Iron Creek Eleventh Hour Gulch. If you’re a cyclist, take note – Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway is considered one of the top 50 scenic bike paths in the country. Extra credit: Drive Spearfish Canyon in the fall, when the leaves become a kaleidoscopic canopy of yellow, gold and red.
 
Sturgis
Famous for its Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, this medium-sized community also features the Black Hills National Cemetery, Bear Butte State Park, the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame and Fort Meade Cavalry Museum.
 
Bear Butte State Park
Bear Butte stands taller than the rest of the Black Hills, at 1,200 feet. Named by the Lakota – “Mato Paha” or “Bear Mountain” – the summit of the mountain offers an outstanding view of the surrounding Black Hills region. The mountain is sacred to the Lakota, Cheyenne and indigenous tribes of the Northern Plains. Hike the 1.8-mile trail to the summit or the easy hike around Bear Butte Lake.
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Wind Cave National Park
Go down, down and down into the caverns of Wind Cave National Park, which over the years has expanded to be one of the world’s largest known caves. There are more than 150 miles of mapped passageways. As you walk through some of them, marvel at the unusual formations and minerals found in the cave, including “boxwork,” which looks like honeycomb. Up above, Wind Cave National Park also boasts a massive prairie full of mixed grass, Ponderosa pines and wildlife, from prairie dogs to bison.
 
Jewel Cave National Park
Jewel Cave National Park boasts even more mapped passageways than Wind Cave – 202 miles – and is one of the world’s longest caves. Explore the cave’s intriguing ecosystem, fascinating colors and fragile rock formations – much of which is not scene anywhere else. You can take a guided tour of the cave to see calcite crystals up close, gypsum and massive underground caverns with tight crawlspaces and boulders.
 
The Mammoth Site
Located in Hot Springs, South Dakota, The Mammoth Site is a must-see for archaeology buffs. Take a self-guided tour to see the active dig site and view Ice Age fossils. It was in the 1970s that this sinkhole was discovered, believed to be the site where giant mammoths came to drink and were ultimately trapped and died. There have been 61 fossilized wooly mammoths discovered. If you have kids with you and you’re visiting in June, July or August, sign up ahead of time for a Junior Paleontologist Excavation. These classes are taught twice or four times a day, depending on the month, but summer interns to teach interested children about the excavation site and current work.
 
Bear Country USA
See the wildlife you want to see, but from the confines of your automobile and not your tent. The two-mile drive through 250-acre Bear Country USA offers up-close encounters with bears, their cubs, wolves, elk and dall sheep. You can also walk through the wildlife center to meet red foxes, badgers, bobcats and lynx.
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Custer State Park
South Dakota is rightly proud of this impressive state park, which comprises 17,000 acres. This is where the antelope roam – and the elk, mountain goats, bighorn ship, mountain lions and more who make this area its home (the second-largest publicly owned bison herd lives here). There are historic sites and visitor centers to educate you and scenic drives to enthrall you – the Needles Highway is particularly mesmerizing for its granite spires. For the best chance to see wildlife on the prairies, drive the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road. There’s plenty of hiking to do, as well, including the stunning Sylvan Lake Trail.
 
Devils Tower National Monument
On the Wyoming side of the Black Hills region, you’ll see the eye-popping Devils Tower – the United States’ first established national monument. The 500-foot volcano core is famous for climbing, thanks to its parallel cracks (and for its role as the MacGuffin in Close Encounters of the Third Kind). The Tower is considered sacred by Northern Plains Indians and indigenous people. Even today you will find prayer offerings near the Tower, along the park’s trails, which represent a personal connection to the site. The oral histories and narratives of American Indians explain the Tower’s creation and its significance.
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Badlands National Park
Another unexpected treasure of South Dakota, the lunar-like Badlands National Park is just an hour’s drive east of Rapid City. To get the full experience of this 244,000-acre park named by the Lakota (“Mako Sica” means “land bad”), drive the park’s Loop Road. Then hike the one-mile Notch Trail, on which you’ll climb ladders, peer over steep edges and see one of the most dramatic views anywhere in the world. The sharp, colorful spires and pinnacles, eroded by wind and water over the centuries, jutting up from the mixed-grass prairie are like nowhere else on Earth.
 
One of the world’s greatest fossil beds from the Oligocene Epoch of the Age of Mammals is preserved here, and more prehistoric bones are being discovered even today. As you journey through the park, you may see the protected fossils of ancient camels, saber-toothed cats and three-toed horses. Join a ranger-led program or further explore the park through hiking, backpacking and camping.
 
It’s easy to include the Badlands on your Mount Rushmore road trip. It’s less than an hour and a half drive between the two.
 
Buffalo Gap National Grasslands
The Buffalo Gap National Grasslands run between the Black Hills region and the Badlands and make up the second-largest grassland in the country. For a scenic view, drive Highway 44.
 
Minuteman Missile National Historic Site
Learn about the Cold War at this historical site near Rapid City and Badlands National Park. This was one of hundreds of nuclear missile silos that were deactivated in 1991. This living museum will take you back in time – and maybe induce a few goosebumps.
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Deadwood
Embrace your inner cowboy and cowgirl in Deadwood, the epitome of the wild West. The entire town is a National Historic Landmark, dating back to 1876 when the streets were full of outlaws and gamblers. Today, you’ll find plenty of gaming halls to pass the time, as well as live entertainment and great dining. There is a museum for everyone, fun tours and free reenactments that bring history to life. One of Deadwood’s most impressive attractions is the Days of ’76 Museum, originally a celebration to honor the first pioneers of the area. Today, it is a legendary annual event with a parade and rodeo. Even if your visit doesn’t coincide with the events, you can visit the museum to see horse-drawn wagons, stagecoaches, carriages, clothing and other memorabilia from that era.
 
Mount Rushmore Information Center & Presidential Trail
Since we know you will include Mt. Rushmore on your road trip, here’s what not to miss: As you approach Mount Rushmore National Memorial, take a few minutes to enjoy the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center beneath the Grand View Terrace. You’ll learn more about the carving of the presidents’ faces and get answers to your questions from the expert rangers. Continue along the Avenue of Flags, then get away from the crowds on the Presidential Trail. This short, steep trail loops in front of the president carvings, offering the best view of the monument. Along the way, you can visit the Sculptor’s Studio and learn about the sculptor, the carving process and the lives of the workers.
What Is the Best Time of Year to Visit Mt. Rushmore and the Surrounding Area?
High season for the Black Hills region and Mount Rushmore National Memorial is June, July and August. If you can, opt for less-crowded September, October, April or May. The foliage is beautiful in the fall in the Black Hills.
 
What Is There to See Between Mt. Rushmore and Yellowstone?
For those combining Yellowstone National Park and a Mount Rushmore National Memorial visit, consider a road trip between the two. Some options for sightseeing along the way include:
 

  • Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park
  • Badlands National Park and Deadwood
  • Little Bighorn Battlefield and Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area

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