South Dakota

6 of the best things to do near Mt Rushmore

“Things to do near Mt Rushmore,” I googled. I had been hearing about Mt Rushmore since I was a kid. I always thought it would be neat to see in person, but there were always more exciting places on my travel priority list- backpacking around Europe a few times, trips to Vegas, wine country, the beach. Was I really going to take my precious vacation time and go to Mt Rushmore?

I finally found myself in a situation where I needed to travel, I had to travel and to do so, it needed to be on the cheap. I looked back over my travel list and there was Mt Rushmore. Still there, waiting for me. I decided it was time, but I wasn’t sure if there were any things to do near Mt Rushmore. I started looking into it, and was pleasantly surprised!

Now I have gathered my favorite places of things to do near Mt Rushmore below for you. Enjoy!

1. Crazy Horse Memorial

Crazy Horse Memorial is a must thing to do near Mt Rushmore
Background: Crazy Horse Memorial in progress Foreground: What Crazy Horse Memorial will look like when complete

The Crazy Horse Memorial is the world’s largest mountain carving. It is located about 17 miles away from Mt Rushmore and when complete, will depict Crazy Horse on a horse pointing into the distance. It is massive and nowhere near being done even though it was started in 1948. This does not take away from how impressive it is.

Plan your visit

Please check the Crazy Horse Memorial website for the most up to date information as the below can change at any time.

Fees:

$30.00: 3 or more people in a vehicle

$24.00: 2 people in a vehicle

$12.00: 1 person in a vehicle

$7.00: Per person on motorcycle, bicycle, walking

There is no parking fee.

Hours: The Crazy Horse Memorial is open 365 days a year but times vary depending on the time of year. You can click here to find the most up-to-date hours.

Things to do:

Museums:

There are several to check out while you are there and all are worthwhile.

The Indian Museum of North America – “Home to a large collection of art and artifacts reflecting the diverse histories and cultures of over 300 Native Nations.” I LOVED this museum. It was so interesting, well curated, and really added to the whole experience. If you only have time to visit a couple of museums while there, put this at the top of your list.

The Native American Educational and Cultural Center – “Provides a number of unique educational opportunities geared to enhance the visitors’ experience.”

Mountain Carving Gallery – “Visual tribute to the story of the mountain”

Sculptor Home and Studio – “Korczak Ziolkowski lived in a tent for the first seven months of the project. Eventually, he hand cut trees for a log cabin and studio home that was so well-built it remains as part of the visitor’s complex to this day.” This is my second favorite museum. It is small, but so interesting to see where he and his family lived and the studio he worked in along with the story of who he was. It takes a special kind of person to completely devote his life to a project of this magnitude.

Collections – “Home to a large collection of art and artifacts reflecting the diverse histories and cultures of the American Indian people.”

Shows and Special Events

Legends in Light Laser Show – Nightly May 22th through September 27th. This is worth coming back in the evening to see. If you only have time to either do the Mt. Rushmore lighting ceremony or the Legends in Light Laser Show, I recommend the Legends in Light Laser Show. We saw Crazy Horse during the day, left and had dinner (there is a restaurant at the memorial if you prefer to stay at the memorial)  and then came back for the show later that night.

Special Events – There are a number of special events throughout the year. To see the most up-to-date list, click on “Special Events.”

2. Caves!

Things to do near Mt Rushmore include going to caves
Me enjoying the Wind Cave.

There are several caves in the area to explore via a guided tour.

it was foggy and then started to rain in the morning when we were at Mt Rushmore. Instead of letting it ruin our day, we headed underground. We decided to check out the Wind Cave. According to their site, it is the home to a unique formation called boxwork. I don’t remember this, but I’m sure it was impressive. They also offered a spelunking tour which we were planning on signing up for, but you had to show you could make it through tight spots before you went on the tour. They had an actual cement box you had to crawl through to prove you could make it. Unfortunately, my 6ft 9in husband didn’t pass the test. I’m glad we knew before we started though! We still had a great time in their normal tour and by the time we were done, the rain had stopped!

3. Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway

Things to do near Mt Rushmore include viewing it from a distance
View of Mt Rushmore during the drive.

This is a wonderful way to spend your day and one of my favorite things to do near Mt Rushmore!

Travel South Dakota describes it perfectly:

“A masterpiece of artistic engineering, this 70-mile byway includes spiraling bridges, hairpin curves, granite tunnels and awe-inspiring views. No wonder it was named one of the 10 Most Outstanding Byways in America.”

Man in wilderness
Beautiful views are everywhere!

It winds its way through Custer State Park, the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve and the Black Elk National Wilderness Area.

At some points, I couldn’t believe two cars were supposed to fit going opposite directions on the road. Because of sharp turns, there are mirrors so you can see if a car is coming from the other direction. What do you do when you are building a scenic byway and there is a large rock/boulder in the way? You make a tunnel through it! I had to close my eyes multiple times (don’t worry, I wasn’t driving), but the whole experience was so much fun! I can’t imagine driving a large truck or van through there, but we saw people successfully doing so.

Sign indicating a steep curve ahead
Sharp turn ahead!

Along the way, there are stops to take pictures and see wildlife! We saw a herd of buffalo and burros. Because of people feeding the burros, they come right up to you. We saw one sticking her head into a car looking for food and then getting a nice scratch against the passenger side mirror.

Bufffalo eating grass.
One of the many buffalo we saw during our drive!

4. Wall Drug

Wall Drug Store sign
Wall Drug Store sign, est. 1931! If has been around this long, it must be great, right?

Of all of the tourist trap things to do near Mt Rushmore, Wall Drug is worth the stop if it is on your way heading to Mt Rushmore. It is located an hour and 15 mins east of Mt Rushmore. Wall Drug has everything. There is a restaurant and a store where you can get all of the South Dakota souvenirs or western wear you have ever dreamt about. When you are done eating and shopping, head to the “Backyard” where you will find cheesy photo op after cheesy photo op!

5.  The Badlands

Two people smiling in the Badlands
The Badlands are beautiful.

Not far from Wall Drug is The Badlands National Park. We spent a morning walking around, taking pictures and enjoying the views, but you can spend so much more time. There are trails to hike, camp grounds to stay, and wildlife to see. There are also cabins at Cedar Pass Lodge where you can stay in The Badlands. If you are interested in staying here, be sure to make your reservations early. We tried a couple of months prior to our visit and they were all booked. We ended up staying in a motel connected to a truck stop right before the Badlands. It wasn’t the nicest motel, but the location worked out well.

6. Devils Tower National Monument

Devils Tower emerges from the trees
Devils Tower emergest from the trees. Image by 3282700 from Pixabay

About two hours northwest of Mt Rushmore is Devils Tower National Monument. According to the national park website, blackhillsbadlands.com, the park surrounding Devils Tower is the country’s first national monument designated in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt. Devils Tower is just across the Wyoming state line. They describe Devils Tower on their site: “The Tower is a solitary, stump-shaped granite formation that looms 1,267 feet above the tree-lined Belle Fourche River Valley, like a skyscraper in the country. Once hidden below the earth’s surface, erosion has stripped away the softer rock layers revealing the Tower.”

When I first decided to go to Mt Rushmore, I thought there wasn’t much to do beyond seeing the presidents in stone. I was so wrong. We had a blast! There are so may things to do near Mt Rushmore AND I haven’t even told you about one of our FAVORITE stops, Deadwood! That deserves its own post. Read about it here!

I’d love to hear about your experience or answer any questions you have. Don’t hesitate to reach out to the TravelHive team and contact us.

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