Planning a trip to see Mount Rushmore and need help building your itinerary? I’ve got you covered. Mount Rushmore is one of the most iconic spots to see in South Dakota. However, your visit to Mount Rushmore will likely not take more than 2 hours, so you will definitely have time to explore other spots nearby in the Black Hills and Badlands area of South Dakota. Keep reading to learn more about the best things to do near Mount Rushmore, as well as a guide on Mount Rushmore itself!
This post contains affiliate links, which means that I may receive a small commission if you book through my links, at no extra cost to you.
Mount Rushmore Trip Overview:
- PTO/Vacation Days Needed: 0-1
- Cost: $
SEE ALSO: The Ultimate 3-Day Yellowstone Itinerary
Before I dive into the best things to do near Mount Rushmore, let’s go over some important logistical details first:
How to Get to Mount Rushmore
The closest airport to Mount Rushmore is Rapid City Regional Airport (RAP). You can find direct flights here from a few major cities, but not from LAX (at the time of writing this). You will likely have to make a connection in either Denver, Salt Lake City, or Minneapolis.
From Rapid City Regional Airport, Mount Rushmore is just a 45 minute drive away.
I highly recommend renting a car for this trip, so you can be on your own schedule and have the freedom to see other sites. However, if you don’t want to drive yourself and are interested in taking a tour there are plenty of great options, like this Mount Rushmore & Black Hills Day Tour from Rapid City.
Best Time to Visit Mount Rushmore & Black Hills, South Dakota
Late June through September is the best time to visit Mount Rushmore and Black Hills. September is the best month to visit out of the ones listed, as it’s during shoulder season with less crowds. Avoid going November-April due to snow, cold temps, and closed roads.
Where to Stay Near Mount Rushmore & Black Hills, South Dakota
The small town of Keystone, SD is the closest to Mount Rushmore (only 10 minutes away), however I recommend staying in the nearby town of Custer, SD (30 min from Mount Rushmore) instead. Custer is must less touristy and less crowded than Keystone, and has better restaurant options.
Airbnbs/VRBOs in Custer
There are a few awesome vacation homes for rent in Custer, like this super scenic cabin up in the hills. Talk about hot tub with a view!
Best Hotels in Custer, South Dakota
If you’re looking for the best bang for your buck, consider staying at the Super 8 in Custer. This is where we stayed – it was affordable, comfortable, and just a 2-min drive from the bars and restaurants in town.
Another great option is the Comfort Inn & Suites in Custer. It has great reviews and is also conveniently-located.
Best Things to Do at Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore is a must-see landmark in the United States. Carved in 1941, Mount Rushmore features 60-foot high faces of 4 US presidents in the granite mountainside. I thought it looked way cooler in person than in pictures!
Note that while there is no entrance fee for Mount Rushmore, you do have to pay for parking (the annual national park pass does not do anything here).
Your visit to Mount Rushmore will likely not last more than 2 hours, but even though it is short – it’s memorable! Pro tip: get there right around sunrise for the best lighting for pictures, and to beat the crowds of people that start to show up around 9am. We got there around 8am and it was a very tranquil experience, however when we left just after 9am there were tons of people!
Walk Along the Avenue of the Flags
This walkway is the first view you will see of Mount Rushmore upon arrival. They have a flag for every state along the sides of the granite walkway in alphabetical order. If you get here early to beat the crowds, you can likely get an awesome picture here with barely any people in the background.
The Avenue of the Flags walkway leads you at the end to Grand View Terrace, which is a great spot for an unobstructed view of Mount Rushmore.
Walk the Presidential Trail
Definitely take the time to walk along the 0.5 mile Presidential Trail. This paved walkway is suitable for any skill level, and winds around the area for different vantage points and lookouts. There are many informative signs along the trail here as well, which makes you further appreciate what you are looking at!
Get Ice Cream at Carvers Marketplace
This isn’t just any ice cream – the recipe is based on the original ice cream recipe from Thomas Jefferson from 1941! And it’s sourced from a local dairy farm. Note that even though Carvers Marketplace opens at 8am for breakfast, they don’t start serving the famous ice cream until 11:00am.
Sculpture Lighting Ceremony
If you find yourself with time to visit Mount Rushmore again in the evening, check out the lighting ceremony! It happens at 9pm from May-September. The ceremony lasts about 45 minutes. It starts with a short historical film, and then they light up the sculpture while the audience sings the National Anthem. It is free to attend and you do not need a reservation.
Best Things to do Near Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore is an iconic American landmark, but it will only take you about 2 hours to visit. You will need to fill your itinerary with more South Dakota sights! There are quite a few other awesome stops to make on your South Dakota road trip. Keep reading for the best things to do near Mount Rushmore.
Custer State Park
Custer State Park is a must-see when you are in the Black Hills, SD area! Here you will see lots of wildlife, hiking trails and cool rock formations.
How to get to Custer State Park
- 20 miles from Mount Rushmore (45 minute drive) to the visitor center
- 14 miles from the town of Custer (20 minute drive) to the visitor center
Wildlife Loop Road
Start out with driving the Wildlife Loop Road through the park. Custer State Park is home to a famous herd of over 1,400 bison! On this 18-mile loop road, you’re almost guaranteed to see wild Bison, as well as the chance to see burros, prairie dogs, deer and elk. Make sure to drive slow when there are animals crossing!
If you only have time for one thing at Custer State Park, this is it! This 14-mile drive winds its way through forests and tall & skinny rock formations that look like “needles”. You’ll even come across the Needles Highway Tunnel – a skinny rock tunnel that you can drive through!
*Note that this highway is closed from April-October.
Cathedral Spires Trail
If you are looking for a low-mileage hike that offers scenic views – this is it! Cathedral Spires Trail is 1.6 miles round trip and is an out-and-back trail, with an elevation gain of 488 feet. The views of the needles rock formation along this hike is epic!
Sylvan Lake is absolutely beautiful! If you have time to spend half the day here – I recommend packing a little picnic and bringing your swimsuit! You will see a lot of locals swimming here and hanging on the shore.
I also highly recommend hiking the 1-mile Sylvan Lake Shore Trail that loops around the lake. It’s super scenic and is a great way to view the lake from different vantage points.
Crazy Horse Memorial
One of the most popular things to do near Mount Rushmore is to see the Crazy Horse Memorial. Crazy Horse is a mountain carving, still in progress, of the Lakota Native American war leader. It’s the world’s largest mountain carving, and is considered to be the 8th Wonder of the World in progress. It’s located about 30 minutes from Mount Rushmore.
Crazy Horse Memorial costs $30 to enter, but you can see it from the road without paying the entrance fee if you are on a budget. There are no hiking trails or anything at the memorial, since it is in progress/under construction, but there is a museum and information center at the site.
Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park is hands down the best thing to do near Mount Rushmore, in my opinion! It’s located about 1.5 hours from Mount Rushmore, but it is well worth the drive. The landscape at Badlands National Park looks like you are on a different planet!
The best time to visit Badlands National Park is at sunrise or sunset in order to get the best pictures with softer lighting.
Badlands Loop Road
Driving along Badlands Loop Road (highway 240) is the most popular thing to do in Badlands National Park. Cruising along this road is scenic in itself, but you will also find several epic lookout points to stop at as well for sweeping views of the Badlands. My favorite lookout points were Big Badlands Overlook and Panorama Point.
If you only have time to do one hike in Badlands National Park, choose this one! Notch Trail is 1.5 miles out-and-back, and has a log ladder about halfway through that you have to climb up to continue on the trail, which makes it super fun and unique! After climbing up the ladder, the trail continues on for a bit before leading to a lookout point with an aerial view of the Badlands.
The Door Trail
The Door Trail trailhead is located in the same parking lot as the Notch Trail. It’s only 0.75 miles long, and starts off on a boardwalk heading closer up to the rock formations. I recommend checking this out for additional views of the Badlands after you complete the Notch Trail. We even saw a wild Big Horn Sheep hanging out up in the rocks while on this trail. So cool!
Drive Sage Creek Rim Road
If you’re looking to enter the lesser-known, more remote area of Badlands National Park with the potential to see more wildlife, head along Sage Creek Rim Road. It begins on Badlands Loop Road, near the Pinnacles Overlook. The road is 25 miles long, ending in the town of Scenic, South Dakota. If you don’t have time to go the full way, you can just go partially-in, and you’ll likely see some wild Bison and Prairie Dogs!
Wall Drug is a famous road side stop right near the Badlands National Park entrance. It became famous from back in the 1930s when they advertised their “free ice water” and “5-cent coffee” on billboards as a way to get business from road trippers. You’ll still see MANY billboards for Wall Drug on your way to Badlands, and they still do offer free ice water and 5-cent coffee! Honestly, it’s a super touristy stop, but it is right on your way to/from Badlands, so you might as well check it out. Especially if you are hungry, thirsty, or looking for a souvenir!
Wind Cave National Park
Located about 45 minutes from Mount Rushmore, Wind Cave National Park is another popular thing to do while in the area! This is one of the longest and most complex caves in the world, and is also known for its unique boxwork throughout the cave. It’s definitely worth a visit if you have the time!
Hang out in Custer, SD
As I mentioned earlier, I recommend staying in the town of Custer, SD. It’s centrally-located and has quite a few restaurants and bars to choose from! Spend some time walking around the main street, popping into the local shops and enjoying a meal and some drinks!
Mount Rushmore Brewery & Pounding Fathers Restaurant
Definitely check out Mount Rushmore Brewery while you are in Custer! they have a nice outdoor patio with live music. We only tried one appetizer off the food menu (Pounding Fathers is such a great name, we had to try!) but it wasn’t that great so I can’t recommend food. But it’s definitely worth a stop for the beers! They have wine and liquor too.
Baker’s Bakery & Cafe
this is the best place for breakfast in Custer! They pride themselves on their homemade bread and buns. I had a breakfast sandwich and it was delicious! They also sell baked goods/desserts. There might be a wait to get a table, but it moves pretty quickly.
Gold Pan Saloon
Check out Gold Pan Saloon for a quintessential South Dakota bar experience. This divey bar on the main street is. dimly lit and has taxidermy on the walls, but it’s exactly what you would expect from a bar in the middle of South Dakota! We loved it. The bartenders were super friendly and the drinks were strong.
One of the best things to do near Mount Rushmore is to visit Devil’s Tower! This spot is actually in Wyoming, but it is only about 2 hours from Mount Rushmore.
This iconic towering rock structure is super unique. You can view it from afar, or take one of the nearby hiking trails to view it closer-up or from a different angle. I didn’t have the time to see this on my trip, but I definitely want to make it back someday to check it out!