These are the best things to do on a road trip to Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore is one of the top tourist destination in the United States. But you don’t want to travel all the way to Southwestern South Dakota just to see one site, even though that one site is a great place. Keep reading to discover all the top things to do near Mount Rushmore.
Nestled away as it is in the Black Hills of South Dakota, it would be easy to think that there’s not much else to do around Mount Rushmore.
And you would be dead wrong. There are so many things to do near Mount Rushmore that it’s quite popular to make a full road trip just within western South Dakota (or West River).
In this article I’ll cover the top things you can do on a road trip to Mount Rushmore, either before or after you’ve visited that famous site.
I’ll also cover where to stay in the area, so that you don’t have to worry about that.
The ideas in this article are arranged in order of distance from Mount Rushmore (from the closest to the farthest). All are a drive of under two and a half hours (most are quite a bit less).
Listed drive times are approximations. The time it takes you to drive to the suggested destination will depend upon several factors including your exact starting point, the time of day, weather, etc.
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How long does it take to visit Mount Rushmore?
You should expect it to take a minimum of one hour to visit Mount Rushmore.
This should give you enough time to park, stroll the Avenue of Flags, enjoy a view of the memorial, explore the Visitor Center and/or Information Center quickly (don’t forget to stamp your national parks passport), shop for a souvenir, etc.
For more information about all of the great things there are to do there (like walking the Presidential Trail), see my article about how to visit Mount Rushmore.
Black Hills audio tour
Although Mount Rushmore National Memorial seems like it is in a fairly remote location in Southwestern South Dakota, there are a remarkable number of things to do in the area.
A few of the most popular options are listed below.
One of the easiest ways to decide what to see in the Black Hills area is to use GuideAlong.
This amazing app will guide you through the area, providing audio commentary along the way based on your vehicles GPS location.
All you have to do is purchase and download the tour you want and then start driving.
We really enjoyed using the Black Hills, Rushmore, Devils Tower & Badlands National Park Tour on our trip to South Dakota.
Bear Country USA
Distance from Mount Rushmore: 15 miles
Approximate drive time: 25 minutes
Bear Country USA is a drive-through wildlife park just south of Rapid City that’s quite popular with families.
You can see black bears, elk, reindeer, and much more as you journey through the 200 acres of park.
Plan on spending about an hour and a half or more at Bear Country USA.
Custer State Park
Distance from Mount Rushmore: 16 miles to the Sylvan Lake entrance
Approximate drive time: Approx. 30 minutes
Not far from Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse, Custer State Park is much beloved by those who visit.
It’s full of amazing sites, wildlife, wonderful views, and some stunning rolling prairie…and it’s likely one of the most talked-about state parks in the United States.
Don’t miss Sylvan Lake and the Wildlife Loop Road.
And if you need to stop for a bite to eat, the Blue Bell Lodge dining room has a lovely atmosphere and great service.
Technically park of Custer State Park, the Needles Highway is one of the most unique scenic drives we’ve ever done. The rock formations along the way have to be seen to be truly believed.
This road is pretty windy in places with some tight turns. Please be safe and drive slowly.
You should plan for this drive to take you up to 60 minutes.
Be advised that there are narrow tunnels on this drive that are less than 9 feet wide and have pretty low clearance as well.
The road closes at the first snow and doesn’t re-open until April, depending on the conditions.
And as long as you’re probably going to be visiting Custer State Park anyway…you might as well add this route to your South Dakota itinerary
Crazy Horse Memorial
Distance from Mount Rushmore: About 18 miles
Approximate drive time: Approx. 35 minutes
Once it’s completed, the Crazy Horse Memorial will be the largest mountain carving in the world. It will be approximately 10 times the size of Mount Rushmore, and is more than 500 feet high.
It’s so large, that’s it’s easily viewable from the road out front…so if you don’t have the time or inclination to spend a couple of hours of your day there you can still see it with just a quick drive by.
City of Presidents Walk (Rapid City)
Distance from Mount Rushmore: 24 miles
Approximate drive time: About 35 minutes
Rapid City is the second largest city in South Dakota (after Sioux Falls). Of course, if you’re staying in Rapid City, you’re probably already aware of the many things there are to do there.
One of the best known things to do in Rapid City is the City of Presidents walk.
The walk features bronze statues of past presidents and is concentrated on Main Street and St. Joseph Street downtown near Mount Rushmore Road.
If you download the official walking guide, you’ll be able to easily find any specific statues you might be looking for.
Jewel Cave National Monument
Distance from Mount Rushmore: 33 miles
Approximate drive time: About 50 minutes
Though technically not a National Park, a visit to Jewel Cave National Monument is a popular way to explore the natural beauty under South Dakota near Mount Rushmore.
Jewel Cave is one of the longest caves in the world. The cave features more than 215 miles of mapped passages.
If going through a cave doesn’t appeal to you, Jewel Cave National Monument also offers trails of the above-ground kind.
Roof Trail is only one-quarter mile and there’s also the 3.5-mile Canyons Trail.
There is no fee to enter the monument grounds, but you will need a guided tour to visit the cave. Tickets for tours of the cave are required to enter, and the National Park Service highly recommends booking those tickets in advance.
Wind Cave National Park
Distance from Mount Rushmore: About 40 miles
Approximate drive time: Approx. 1 hour
Otherwise known as South Dakota’s other national park (after the Badlands), Wind Cave is home to one of the largest caves in the world.
Entrance to Wind Cave is by guided tour only. I recommend you book your tour in advance if at all possible. Otherwise, you will need to check at the Visitor Center to find out if any tours are available that day.
Though there is a fee for a guided tour, like Jewel Cave National Monument, there is no park entrance fee.
Distance from Mount Rushmore: 50 miles
Approximate drive time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Deadwood, South Dakota, has been drawing people in since it was founded in 1876 and you could find Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane in town.
You can even visit Saloon No. 10 on the site where Hickok was gunned down during a poker game in 1876.
Today Deadwood is known for its tourist attractions, shops, dining and gaming.
Distance from Mount Rushmore: 52 miles
Approximate drive time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Sturgis is probably best known for its annual motorcycle rally each August. It lasts about 10 days and attracts literally hundreds of thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts from all over the United States and even around the world.
The largest estimated attendance was in 2015 with 739,000. No, that is not a typo.
Even if you don’t plan on attending the Rally, Sturgis offers things to do like touring the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and the SAAB Heritage Car Museum (I’m sensing a theme in this town).
The Mammoth Site
Distance from Mount Rushmore: 58 miles
Approximate drive time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
The Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, South Dakota, is the largest facility in the world dedicated to the study of the mammoth.
The site is an active dig, where guests can learn more about the fossils that have been unearthed there through self-guided tours and educational programs.
The site was discovered in the mid-1970s when an earth mover uncovered a mammoth skeleton when prepping land for a real estate development.
To date dozens of mammoth remains have been uncovered on this piece of land.
The Mammoth Site is open to the public every day.
Distance from Mount Rushmore: 72 miles
Approximate drive time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Known for its high walls and stunning scenery, the Spearfish Canyon scenic drive is a popular one. September and into early October is a particularly popular time for this drive, when the fall foliage is in its peak.
Don’t miss Bridal Veil Falls, Roughlock Falls, and Spearfish Falls.
This drive is often combined with a day trip from Rapid City to Devils Tower (see below).
Distance from Mount Rushmore: 77 miles
Approximate drive time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
If you drive from Mount Rushmore to Badlands National Park you’ll hit the small town of Wall, South Dakota. And in that small town is a store called Wall Drug, that’s a top tourist draw in the area.
Is it overly touristy? For sure. If you’re going to be in the area anyway, why not at least drop in to see what all the fuss is about.
It has everything you could possibly think of from actual drug store items to a restaurant, shoes, clothing, ice cream counter, kitschy souvenirs, museum exhibits, and more.
Distance from Mount Rushmore: 78 miles
Approximate drive time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
When Hawaii became the 50th state in 1959, this area because the geographic center of the United States.
Although the technical geographic center is on private land, in the town of Belle Fourche, South Dakota, you can visit the Geographic Center of the Nation Monument.
If you’re looking for a good meal, grab breakfast at the Black Hills Diner. Yum!
Badlands National Park
Distance from Mount Rushmore: 85 miles (to Pinnacles Entrance Station)
Approximate drive time: About 90 minutes
Full of amazing scenic views and fun hikes (and bighorn sheep!), Badlands National Park is absolutely worth a day of your South Dakota Road trip itinerary. (I think it’s one of the best national parks in the U.S.)
The most popular hike by far is Notch Trail.
For details about how to spend your time at this amazing park, see my Badlands National Park itinerary article.
Minuteman Missile National Historic Site
Distance from Mount Rushmore: 98 miles
Approximate drive time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
At the height of the Cold War there were 1,000 missiles were tucked away under the surface of the American Great Plains. Many still remain today.
Minuteman Missile National Historic Site tells the story of these weapons and how the United States’ greatest hope was that we would never have to use them.
The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site Visitor Center is just a short drive (4 miles) from the Badlands National Park Northeast Entrance.
In the Visitor Center you can talk with a park ranger, stamp your parks passport, peruse some really great museum exhibits, and there’s also a small gift shop.
Admission to the Delta-01 launch control site (down the road from the Visitor Center) is by guided tour only, but anyone can walk up to the gate to see the site from outside the entrance.
Distance from Mount Rushmore: 100 miles
Approximate drive time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Within moments the Northeast Entrance to Badlands National Park and about 20 miles from Wall, guests can take the opportunity to see a real pioneer sod home.
The house comes straight out of American history and dates back to the very early 20th century. It was the home of Mr. and Mrs. Ed Brown.
Prairie Homestead gives visitors the opportunity to learn more about how difficult life was on the prairie for the pioneer settlers.
The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as well as being a State Designated Historic Site.
Devils Tower National Monument
Distance from Mount Rushmore: 130 miles
Approximate drive time: 2 hours, 25 minutes
This utterly remarkable and strangely unique formation is located in Northeast Wyoming, just about an hour west of Belle Fourche (see above).
Though there are a limited number of things to do at Devils Tower, it is not free to visit. Just something to keep in mind.
Expect this monument to be rather crowded, even in shoulder season outside the peak summer months for travel.
If you can avoid being there in the middle of the day, you should find it much easier to park in the Visitor Center area.
It’s worth taking the time to do the Tower Trail around the base of the monument if you can. You’ll enjoy seeing this unique natural feature from all different angles.
Where to stay on your trip to South Dakota
My recommendation for where to stay in the Mount Rushmore area is K Bar S Lodge in Keystone, South Dakota. We LOVED our stay there and can’t wait to go back.
It’s just a few miles from Mount Rushmore, making it easy to visit both during the day and then return in the evening.
K Bar S Lodge is one of our favorite places that we’ve ever stayed in all of our years of traveling together.
The staff were great, the free breakfast was tasty, and our room was very comfortable.
Custer, South Dakota, is also a popular option for where to stay in the Mount Rushmore area.
While farther from Mount Rushmore than Keystone, the town of Custer is marginally closer to Custer State Park and definitely closer to Wind Cave National Park.
- Bavarian Inn is one of the most highly rated properties in the area, and its quite popular with those who stay there.
- The newly renovated Holiday Inn & Suites Custer (which offers a free breakfast) is also highly rated with guests.
If you’re planning on including a visit to Badlands National Park in your South Dakota itinerary, Rapid City could make an agreeable home base for you. There’s definitely something to be said for not moving hotels every day or two.
Another thing to consider is that Rapid City offers more dining and hotel options compared to smaller towns like Keystone, Custer or Wall.
The Residence Inn Rapid City would make a good home base since you can get a kitchen in your room. We often stay in Residence Inns because we love how much room you get for the money.
Another good option for those planning to spend a day or two at Badlands National Park is staying in Wall, South Dakota.
Two nights would be my recommendation if you want to spend a full day in the park with either sunrise or sunset. The Pinnacles Entrance is only a few miles from the town of Wall.
Hotel options are limited in Wall, but we enjoyed our stay at the Best Western Plains Motel. The staff were all great, and our room was quite comfortable.
More articles about South Dakota
- How to visit Mount Rushmore
- Badlands National Park Itinerary
- Best hikes in Badlands National Park
- How to hike Notch Trail
- Driving the Badlands Loop Road
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