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An Insider's Guide to Mount Rushmore

South Dakota, Minnesota

An Insider's Guide to Mount Rushmore

By: Rebecca Strauss

1 of 1
  • States:
    South Dakota
    Minnesota

Flying into Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the heart of the Midwest, offers visitors excellent opportunities for road trips in every direction, including one to an iconic attraction: Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

A trip to this monument to a quartet of influential presidents of the United States of America delivers visitors to the doorstep of the West. Almost 3 million people make the journey each year to South Dakota to see the six-story-high faces carved into the granite rock.

Before you become one of those visitors, experience some of Minneapolis’s vibrant attractions, including the Walker Art Center, which hosts dance, theater, music performances and film screenings, in addition to its permanent modern art collection. Then head to the Midtown Global Market, an indoor public market with more than 40 vendors, selling everything from Icelandic sweaters to Middle Eastern fare like falafel. Eat in or pick up some snacks for the road before you start driving west.

Get From Minneapolis to Mount Rushmore

Road trippers should leave Minneapolis heading southbound on Interstate Highway 35 West, then head southwest on U.S. Highway 169 before connecting with Interstate 90. It’s a straight shot west for about 635 kilometers through the farmland and rolling prairies of southwest Minnesota and nearly the length of South Dakota to Mount Rushmore. The entire drive takes about 8.5 hours.

On your way to Mount Rushmore, stop by the quirky Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. It’s decorated annually with more than 275,000 ears of corn.

 

On your way to Mount Rushmore, stop by the quirky Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. It’s decorated annually with more than 275,000 ears of corn.

Along the way make time for a few stops, including the quirky Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota, which is decorated with a new mural — made of more than 275,000 ears of multicolored corn — each spring. High season at the Palace is from the end of May to early September, when there are free guided tours detailing the murals’ construction. About halfway between Minneapolis and Mount Rushmore, Mitchell makes a good stopping point if you’d like to break up the drive. There are many hotels along Interstate 90.

On your way to Mount Rushmore, stop by the quirky Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. It’s decorated annually with more than 275,000 ears of corn.

On your way to Mount Rushmore, stop by the quirky Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. It’s decorated annually with more than 275,000 ears of corn.
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An Introduction Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Mount Rushmore National Memorial opened in 1941, when the sculpture was completed. The monument, designed by sculptor Gutzon Borglum, features, from left to right, the faces of U.S. Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.

Make your first stop the information center, where you can pick up brochures about the park and its creator. The Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center — named for Gutzon’s son, who finished the monument after his father died — offers a 14-minute film about the monument.

Where to See Spectacular Views

Next visit the Grand View Terrace, which, as its name implies, offers a great view of the monument. The paved Presidential Trail begins here. At around 1 kilometer-long, it offers the chance to get even closer to the faces. The only challenging part of the trail is its 422 stairs. The Sculptor’s Studio, one of two of Borglum’s on-site studios, is open from May to September. It houses plaster models, tools and exhibits on the carving process. A visit of a few hours should be enough to take in the park.

Insider tip: Time your visit for either sunrise or sunset, when the light is best for photos. The crowds are smallest at sunrise, when the morning light splashes the faces of the presidents in a golden, pinkish hue.

Mt. Rushmore Memorial seen from below.

Mt. Rushmore Memorial seen from below.
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What Time of Year to Visit

Spring and fall are excellent times to visit the area. Crowds tend to be thin, but the weather is still good. Average daytime temperatures in April are around 10.5 degrees Celsius; in October, averages are just a bit warmer at 12.8 degrees Celsius. In the fall, the changing leaves on the trees also make for lovely photos.

What Else to See

Mount Rushmore sits amid one of the nation’s prettiest and most accessible outdoor recreation areas, the Black Hills. This small, pine, spruce and aspen-covered mountain range offers the chance to spot area wildlife year-round, including bison, pronghorn antelope and mule deer. The area is divided into the northern Black Hills, which feature Spearfish Canyon and the historic western town of Deadwood, and the southern Black Hills, which feature not only Mount Rushmore, but also Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument.

If you want to spend a few days in the area, base yourself in Rapid City, about 30 minutes northeast of Mount Rushmore. Campers should try Custer State Park. Four of the more than 10 campgrounds feature furnished cabins, with heating, air conditioning and porches. The park’s primary driving attraction is the 29-kilometer Wildlife Loop Road, which winds through prairie grasslands and ponderosa-pine-covered hills. Guests are almost guaranteed to spot the park’s herd of 1,300 free-roaming buffalo along the way.