Your Kid Can Meet the Presidents at Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore is one of the most iconic and recognizable memorials in the United States. According to the National Park Service, almost 2.5 million people visited the memorial last year. Each year, families plan a visit to the site and the neighboring Black Hills. Our family recently was one of those families visiting Mount Rushmore.
Visiting Mount Rushmore was one of the more memorable stops on our road trip to South Dakota’s Black Hills. Each member of our family looked forward to seeing the 60-foot tall faces of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt carved in stone. After visiting the memorial, it remained one of the unforgettable adventures we have experienced in all of our travels.
You will want to leave plenty of time for your visit. We were at the site for about three hours, and we didn’t have time to do all the things there were to do. Plan on spending at least two hours at the park. When you enter the Keystone site, you will have to pay $10 for parking (assuming you are driving to the site). Your parking pass is good for the year, so if you want to visit the park over several days, you will not have this expense every time you visit. Also, entrance to the memorial is free.
You’ll find an information office and bathrooms at the entrance, with a gift shop and an ice-cream parlor right around the corner. A little further into the park, you will find the Avenue of Flags, where you can find a flag for each of the United States. Many families will take a picture under their state’s flag. From this spot, you’ll have a good spot to take pictures.
Moving further into the park (and closer to the stone faces), you come to the Grand View Terrace, a prime location for photos. Just below the Terrace (accessible by stairs or elevator), is the Lincoln Borglum Visitors Center. The signage to the Visitors Center is not very clear and we wound up having to ask someone for directions. Here you can see a 15-minute movie about the construction of the memorial and learn about the people who built the Mount. There are a lot of interactive features here which our kids enjoyed (including an activity where they decided which part of the mountainside to blow up with TNT). This also is the place where your kids can pick up their Junior Ranger workbooks and where they can be sworn in as Junior Rangers after completing the workbooks (which we highly recommend since the children learn a lot about the history of the monument).
There is an amphitheater just past the Grand View Terrace where a nightly Park Ranger presentation occurs before the nighttime lighting of Mount Rushmore.
Around the park are nature trails, including the Presidential Trail a half mile trail that gives you a close up view of the sculptures. My son and I enjoyed the walk, but you need to know that there are more than 400 stairs up and down the trail and it’s not wheelchair or stroller accessible. It is, however, a good workout. You can find the Sculptor’s Studio on this trail, where the memorial’s sculptor spent much time. Audio tours also are available.
We highly recommend touring the memorial in the late afternoon/evening so that you can attend the Ranger led lighting ceremony. We went during July, the ceremony started at 9 p.m., which is late for our kids, but it was well worth the late night. It was fantastic to see Rushmore lit up during this ceremony, which included a special tribute to active and retired military members.
If you leave the park after dark, you do need to be on the lookout for deer and other animals. Park staff recommend you obey posted speed limit signs. This was good advice for us, as we found many deer on our drive home. We stayed in Hot Springs, about an hour away from Mount Rushmore, and it was a white-knuckle drive to our hotel as we found many deer and bison next to the side of the road.
Of course, pictures can never fully capture the majesty of the site. We have plenty of pictures that prove this, since our daughter decided once we arrived that she was the only person to ever take a picture at the park (seriously, she took at least 100 pictures of the Presidential faces). She couldn’t even be troubled to stop her photography session for a family photo. Our pictures also don’t do justice to seeing the mountain when the lights are first turned on. After visiting the park, each family member left knowing that we would have to go back again someday to see Mount Rushmore again.
Find out more: Visit www.nps.gov/moru
You can read more about our journeys in South Dakota, including other National Parks we visited here.