The grand finale of our trip to the Mount Rushmore area was the Mount Rushmore National Memorial itself. Originally I had planned on making it the first stop on our vacation but decided to make it the icing on the cake and saved it for last. Knowing that it had rained every afternoon of our trip, we knew we had to be there by early afternoon before it rained.
We arrived around 3 and paid $10 to park in the parking garage. The garage was not crowded and we were able to park on the first level giving us an easy, short walk to the memorial which is free to enter.
Avenue of Flags
The stone gateway greeted us and focused our attention down the Avenue of Flags to the granite portraits of the four presidents.
The crowds were light and we quickly walked up to the railing right in front of the monument. Snapshots were taken, and cameras were exchanged with another family for full member pictures. Different languages were heard and different cultures were represented at the memorial.
After admiring the monument of the four faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt, we decided to walk the Presidential Trail.
The Presidential Trail is a 0.6-mile trail that takes visitors to the base of the memorial for a closer look. We started on the west side and enjoyed the shady, smooth walkway that led us to the first stop. The path then changed into a nice even Trex walkway. Where we luckily came across a Ranger Talk in progress. We listened while the park ranger gave more information about the presidents, the sculptor, and the memorial. We followed along for two stops where the Ranger Talk ended.
Along the trail there are four Trex landing areas, each had a display board about one of the four presidents. At each stop, you focused on one of the presidential faces and read a short biography.
After the four landing areas, the nice Trex pathway turned into steps, but at least they were going down. A sign stated that the path was strenuous and they aren’t kidding. The steps lead down to the Sculptor’s Studio, the onsite studio of sculptor Gutzon Borglum. Here you can catch a Studio Talk about how the memorial was made and an explanation of the working tools of the time.
Coming out of the Sculptor’s Studio, there was another section of steps, this time up. Personally, I thought there should have been a concession stand here. Perhaps a place to eat Washington-shaped or Lincoln’s Stovepipe Hat-shaped ice cream on a stick. 😉
Mount Rushmore Visitors Center
After making it back up we headed down another set of steps to the visitor center. The Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center explains the building of the memorial with pictures, artifacts, and film. The history of all four Presidents is explained and displayed. We learned a lot here. The air-conditioned visitor center and theater were a nice way to cool down after the Presidential Trail path. The film offers a great way to learn more about the memorial.
Tips for visiting Mount Rushmore with Kids
- Become a Junior Ranger during your visit or complete the available online activities.
- There are a lot of steps, the Presidental Trail has 466, so you might want to use a baby carrier instead of a stroller.
- Visit earlier in the day as in the summer months it tends to rain in the afternoon.
- Visit the air-conditioned visitor center after walking the Presidential Trail to rest and cool down.
- Make the trip educational. Borrow age-appropriate books from your local library to share with your kids about the history of each president.
- Check out the night program held each night from late May through September. Arrive early, around 45 minutes, for seats in the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center amphitheater.
- Check out the multiple Ranger Programs
- Parking ticket receipts are valid for a full year.
- Bring your own water bottle containers to fill at the water fountains.
- During our last visit, some of the wooden hand railings needed repair/resealing. A small member of another family received a couple of splinters running his hand along the railing. Advise your kids of the possible hazard.
Visit Mount Rushmore Monument as part of a 7-Day Rapid City/Black Hills vacation.
- The presidents’ faces are 60 feet tall.
- Borglum chose George Washington as the birth of the United States
- Borglum chose Thomas Jefferson to symbolize the growth of the United States. Jefferson purchased the Louisiana Territory from France which doubled the size of the US.
- Theodore Roosevelt represents the development of the US.
- Abraham Lincoln represents the preservation of the US.
- The memorial cost almost one million dollars to build.
Where to Stay Near Mount Rushmore
Since Mount Rushmore is a monument and not a park, no camping is available in the surrounding area. Big family friendly hotels can be found in Keystone, Custer, or Rapid City.
- Visit Crazy Horse Memorial with Kids
- Tips for Visiting the Badlands with Kids
- Mount Rushmore/Rapid City Area Road Trip: Iron Mountain Road, Custer State Park, and Needles Highway
- Rapid City to Devils Tower Road Trip Loop with Kids with Stops in Spearfish, Deadwood, and Sturgis
- 7-Day Rapid City/Black Hills, South Dakota Itinerary with Kids
When you visit national parks like Mt. Rushmore, check out the Junior Ranger program. At most parks the program book free (a few charge a dollar or two). A child interacts with the programs and displays at the park to complete the book, then a ranger will sign it and give the child a completion pin. My children have done this for years and love it!