When Is The Best Time To Visit Mount Rushmore?

mount rushmore

Many people ask this question as they plan trips solely around visiting the world-famous monument. They don’t realize there is so much more to it than that simple question. You can quite honestly see the monument anytime you want but in order to get the most out of your visit, come at the right time.

Mount Rushmore is open year-round and the view of it won’t change much, however, the experience can vary in many ways, depending on the time of year.  I have visited the monument many times and have experienced it in each season of the year. Peak season is the best time to ensure you get to do it all.

Peak season

Peak season is May through September and this is when you can get the most bang for your buck at Mount Rushmore. Now that I think about it, Mount Rushmore is virtually free, save for parking. You really get a lot out of those $10-ish dollars you spend to park.

The perks of peak season are being able to see and do everything that is offered at the monument. Museums, films, Sculptors Studio, Presidential Trail hike, Jr. Ranger program, lighting ceremony, and more!

Avenue of flags
Avenue of Flags

You will notice a very different feel as you walk the Avenue of Flags. There will be crowds of spectators taking pictures and videos: some walking backward, blocking the way, and photobombing your pictures. I personally love visiting places when the hustle and bustle of visitors are abundant. If you do not, then I advise you to visit in the winter when you can enjoy the quiet solitude of the monument.

Lastly, peak season offers a whole host of other things to do and see in the Black Hills as well as much more options for lodging and food.

The Best of Mt Rushmore & the Black Hills: 21 things to do including Custer State Park and more

When does it open?

Mount Rushmore opens daily at 5:00 am. This may seem early but it is an opportunity to beat crowds and watch the sunrise in a unique way.  I’ll touch more on that later!

What months is it open?

Mount Rushmore does not close for winter like many places across the U.S. and in our great state of South Dakota. They keep the monument open year-round, 7 days a week.

Christmas Day is the only exception. The parking structure and grounds will be open but the buildings and gift shop will be closed in observance of Christmas.

When is the best time of day to see Mount Rushmore?

Mount Rushmore with blue sky

What I find most spectacular about Mount Rushmore is when the sun is high and the faces are brightened by the sun on a clear blue day.  The monument itself is crystal clear and looks best in pictures when the backdrop of blue contrasts the granite faces.

The other thing about a clear blue day is the views of the Black Hills from the National Monument location.  Even the views in the parking lot are stunning.  You’ll get to enjoy the beauty of the Hills as you drive to and from Mount Rushmore as well.  I think it’s a brilliant time to go and it may be because my first-ever visit was a day such as this. 

Any time after the sun starts to recede, the shadows begin to creep in on the faces and obstructs some of the detail. This isn’t the end of the world. It still looks impressive no matter what but if I had my choice I’d make sure to visit early rather than later in the day.

Mount Rushmore in Winter

Mount Rushmore in winter

As far as looks, Mount Rushmore in winter looks very similar to Mount Rushmore in the Summer.  However, some of the exhibits may close due to weather and roads may get icy, hindering your journey up to the facility. Snow and ice can be a large factor when traveling in South Dakota so keep that in mind.

The Presidential Trail, which is a hike that loops around just under the noses of the presidents, offers some interesting views of the monument along the way. It is very likely to be closed during any extreme weather or icy conditions. We visited in February one year and the trail was open so it’s fully dependent on the weather.

View of the presidents from directly under the carving
View from under the carving on the Presidential Trail

Is Mount Rushmore Better At Night?

There is something quite magical about seeing the presidential faces illuminated in the dark that I can’t describe. The darkness of the hills gives the appearance of their heads floating in the sky. I can’t say it’s better at night but it is certainly something I would recommend, should you have time to do both.

Mount Rushmore at night

During peak season there is a nightly lighting ceremony, just before dark, and it’s spectacular. You don’t even have to even be inside the facilities to witness the lit-up monument. If you are staying in the area, you can take a drive and park along the viewing areas off the side of the road.

Sunrise at Mount Rushmore

With the presidents facing East, Mount Rushmore would be the perfect place to witness a sunrise. The glow of the morning sun would blaze on the monument.

As I mentioned above, the Memorial opens at 5:00 am daily. Being a morning person, I think I need to make this happen, as I’ve yet to experience it.

Mount Rushmore at sunrise

Sunset at Mount Rushmore

With the sun shining on the monument all day and setting behind it, I know firsthand that this isn’t the best time to visit as the monument is shadowed.  It still looks impressive of course but if you want to take great pictures, I suggest coming earlier in the day.

Lighting ceremony

The evening program during the peak season is spectacular but doesn’t start until almost dark, which as I stated above isn’t my favorite time to see the monument. With this in mind, I might suggest visiting the monument in the morning; catch the sunrise, and return later in the evening for the lighting ceremony.

Parking is the only fee the facility charges. As an added bonus, you are able to save your parking pass and reuse it for up to a whole year.

Hours of operation

There are so many variables on hours of operation that I would simply direct you to The Mount Rushmore Memorial website for up-to-date hours of operation, schedules, and directions.

Is there anything else I should know?

Yes! Mount Rushmore is just one of the many amazing things to do in the Black Hills. Other great things to do include: riding the 1880 train, Mount Moriah Cemetery, Spearfish Canyon, hiking the beautiful Black Elk Peak, and much more! The Black Hills can be confusing because it is a HUGE area.

Most travelers want to visit the most popular sites, yet still avoid crowds. We have a detailed itinerary that gives you a step-by-step game plan so you can get to all the best places at the right times!

But that’s not all! Our itinerary includes a free audio guide to listen to while driving, with over 2 hours of stories about the park!



Matt and Cheryl

We’re Matt and Cheryl, and we’re in the Rockies. :) We are both teachers. Cheryl teaches special ed, and Matt teaches American history. We love the American West and the national parks. We want to help you have a great vacation on your next trip to the Rockies.


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