Why should you visit Mount Rushmore? Aside from the fact it is one of the most iconic landmarks in the United States, I think it’s fair to say there is a mixed stereotype portrayed about this national memorial in terms of a spectacular piece of artistry vs an overrated tourist trap. If neither of these is a good enough reason to visit Mount Rushmore, hopefully after reading this post you will understand why we appreciated our time in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
Let’s start with a quick history lesson for all of those out there that are wondering what Mount Rushmore is all about. I will be the first to admit that I had no idea why Mount Rushmore was named as such or why South Dakota was chosen as the location, so heading to this beautiful landmark I was raring to delve deeper into the history.
Led by the sculptor Gutzon Borglum along with his son Lincoln, work on the Mount Rushmore project began in 1927 and was finally completed in 1941. The idea of sculpting four former presidents in the rockface was ambitious, somewhat crazy but clearly an ingenious idea that today attracts millions of visitors every year.
So why the Black Hills of South Dakota for such an iconic landmark? A location closer to Washington DC, Philadelphia or Boston would have perhaps been a little more appropriate.
The history actually dates back to 1923 when South Dakota historian Doane Robinson envisioned creating a monument in the hills of the state to attract visitors from all corners of the globe to explore South Dakota. Clearly his thoughts were that there wasn’t much else in South Dakota to attract tourism, so this called for a drastic change.
After contacting Borglum, the decision was made to create something with a little more national significance rather than just a local landmark that may attract tourists (or maybe not). It’s worth noting that South Dakota is a pretty wide open state so trying to get to Mount Rushmore is not the easiest task, even in today’s high-tech society of airplanes and interstates.
Initially, thoughts of using former western heroes such as Lewis & Clark and Buffalo Bill were considered but soon they agreed that the best route was to sculpt four iconic presidents. Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt were the chosen individuals!
Which Four Presidents?
It’s conceivable that you are now wondering – why these four presidents? Symbolizing four key themes of American history – Birth, Growth, Development and Preservation, the four chosen presidents are representations of integral philosophies that helped shape the America we see today.
The purpose of the memorial is to communicate the founding, expansion, preservation, and unification of the United States with colossal statues of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. (Gutzon Borglum)
- George Washington – The 1st President of the United States, represents Birth. The undoubted ‘father of our country’, there is no other figure in American history that could provide such an iconic representation of birth than Washington himself.
- Thomas Jefferson – The 3rd President of the United States, represents Growth. The expansion of the States, through the Louisiana Purchase, is attributed to Jefferson.
- Theodore Roosevelt – The 26th President of the United States, represents Development. The opening of the Panama Canal among other trade routes are important ways that Roosevelt linked the East to the West.
- Abraham Lincoln – The 16th President of the United States, represents Preservation. Lincoln was a key figure in ensuring the States remained unified during the Civil War. He believed in ‘preserving the union’ and today we can reflect on how this was successfully achieved.
Mount Rushmore is not the easiest attraction to visit but it’s definitely worthwhile. Located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, the easiest way is to fly into Rapid City Regional Airport and take a short drive to Mount Rushmore National Memorial on Highway 44.
Rapid City is around 35 miles from Mount Rushmore and passes through a plethora of scenic country and the historic town of Keystone which we can highly recommend taking some time to explore before heading on to the main attraction.
If you are driving from a surrounding state as we did, if you follow I-90 you should exit at Rapid City and follow Highway 16 to Keystone and then Highway 244 to Mount Rushmore.
Fees and Parking
Admission to Mount Rushmore is FREE! However, visitors have to pay for parking before experiencing the monument though for only $11 you receive unlimited entry to the memorial for the calendar year.
Unfortunately, if you are the owner of the National Parks annual pass, this will not provide any discounts or free parking.
Opening Times and Events
Between March and October, Mount Rushmore is open between 5:00AM and 11:00PM. Between October and March, you can visit between 5:00AM and 9:00PM.
There is an evening lighting ceremony held at 9:00PM nightly. Be sure to check out the Mount Rushmore National Memorial website for any changes to these times along with other events that take place throughout the day (a sculpture illumination is available at various times throughout the day).
What to Expect
Even before you pass through the parking toll booth, you can see the amazing sight of Mount Rushmore. It’s feasible that people would accept this view rather than pay $11 but to get an up close view of the monument is certainly worth the price. After parking our vehicle, we headed through the entrance and past several information kiosks, gift shop and restaurant.
The Avenue of Flags
The Avenue of Flags is the first iconic attraction as it creates an impressive walkway for visitors to pass through as they approach the Grand View Terrace to peer up and gasp at the sight of Mount Rushmore. The 56 flags located through the Avenue represent the 50 states, 1 district, 3 territories, and 2 commonwealths of the United States.
The admission year of all 50 states is depicted on the columns so be sure to find your favorite (or home) state and find out how much history is there! For us, Arkansas dates back to 1836.
Grand View Terrace
The most spectacular views of Mount Rushmore are from the Grand View Terrace. Panoramic views of both the monument and surrounding area are possible from here and certainly this an attractive place to just hang out, capture that perfect selfie and mingle with fellow tourists that traveled from all corners of the globe to celebrate this moment.
Below the Grand View Terrace is a large amphitheater where the evening lighting ceremony takes place along with other events that are regularly scheduled.
If you are an avid hiker or simply daring enough to get closer to Mount Rushmore, you can take the Presidential Trail that loops around the base of the monument.
The trail wanders through gorgeous scenery though be warned that 422 steps are waiting for you if you decide to hike the full trail. Given our time constraints, we opted to just walk a shortened version but we were still able to capture some really cool shots of Mount Rushmore.
On reflection of the original question of whether Mount Rushmore is just an overrated tourist trap, I think it’s fair to say that we both believe this to be far from the truth. The history of Mount Rushmore suggests that it was primarily done to attract more visitors to the region and definitely, the monument has done this as it attracts over 3 million visitors every year.
The intricate details and fine construction of Mount Rushmore is not only a credit to the Borglum sculptors but also to the country as a whole given its national significance and representation of the four key philosophies that have shaped the United States.
Heather was particularly excited to visit Mount Rushmore and it didn’t disappoint. We would go back in a heartbeat and we are already thinking about whether our annual parking pass will come in handy again in 2016!
Have you visited Mount Rushmore? If so, were you pleasantly surprised or do you still agree with the negative tourist trap stereotypes that we hear?