Whether you’re planning a trip or just driving through the Black Hills of South Dakota, surely Mount Rushmore is on your agenda. You may be wondering:
How long does it take to see Mount Rushmore?
While you can see Mount Rushmore in as little as an hour, I recommend spending about 4 hours to get the full experience. This includes taking the traditional selfie in front of the faces, walking the Presidential Trail, visiting the Museum and gift shop, and enjoying the Evening Lighting Ceremony.
Keep reading and I will share what you can do with the amount of time you have!
What You Can Do in 1 Hour at Mount Rushmore
This is the rushed version of seeing the monument. If you are in a hurry, on business, or just passing through but still want to pop in and get a picture and see the monument, you could spend an hour (or less) if you wanted.
Some people don’t have time or don’t really care about browsing museums and reading through displays of historic content. That is perfectly fine and I will say that Mount Rushmore is a great “drive-by” monument.
You can literally drive by and snap a picture or pull off to the side of the road and get a few different angles. Better yet for just $10 you can park at the monument, get the iconic selfie, and be back on your merry way in no time!
What You Can Do in 2-3 Hours at Mount Rushmore
Most people spend an average of 2-3 hours touring the monument. You’ll start with the Avenue of Flags, which is a spine-tingling walkway of all 50 state flags, and U.S. territories, in alphabetical order.
These flags frame your view of the monument. Here is where you will have many inspirational photo and video opportunities.
Most people begin snapping photos, filming, and face-timing loved ones (yes I see it all the time).
There is never a shortage of people at the Grand View Terrace to photo bomb nor is there a shortage of guests to help you get a great family photo.
Pro tip: Specify to your volunteer photographer that you want the faces IN your picture. I did not think I would need to do this, but I did. Had we not checked our pictures before leaving, I might not have thought it was as funny as it was.
Next, most people head down the stairs or elevator to the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center and free museum. These have a wide variety of displays showcasing the techniques used to create the awesome mountain carving as well as detailed historic content.
You will learn the history behind the idea of the memorial, how it came to be, and see various displays of the intricate process of creating this glorious place.
There is so much to see in the museum and many models to illustrate the step-by-step construction. You will be able to see video footage of many events including the opening day, which I think is quite special. You will also see what it looked like BEFORE it became what it is now.
The visitor center has park rangers available for any questions you might want to ask.
In an attached theater, you can view a continuously looped 14-minute educational film. You will see an even more detailed account of the monument’s construction.
Once you’ve had your fill of the museum, you can head back up to the viewing area and take another look. I can never get enough of it. I even take a few last glances as I head out to my car.
Take a stop at the Memorial Team Ice Cream shop to grab a scoop of vanilla ice cream. This flavor is Thomas Jefferson’s original recipe from 1780. It’s something everyone has to try even though I think it tastes just like vanilla ice cream. I’ve heard others rave that it’s extra delicious. You be the judge!
If you were planning on having lunch or dinner while visiting, you can grab a buffalo burger or any of the other items in the cafeteria-style restaurant, Carvers Café. I thought the food here was just ok, so unless you are famished then I would recommend heading into Keystone for more options. I’ll throw in some of my favorites later on!
Finally, you need to check out the extravagant gift shop! It’s huge with a very generous selection of souvenirs, gifts, and more! The prices are reasonable and you can’t leave without grabbing an item displaying the four famous faces of our great nation.
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What You Can Do in 3+ Hours at Mount Rushmore
I recommend staying and adding in the activities below to make the most of your visit.
Presidential Trail Hike
This hike is almost a mile. It is a loop that starts near Grand View Terrace. I encourage all guests who are able and have time to do it. It has beautiful scenery and wildlife but more importantly, it offers many different views of the memorial along the way. There’s even a cave that frames the head of George Washington!
The hike itself can be difficult in one section as it has 422 steps in that area. You can bypass these with the stair-free route if needed.
You can visit the Sculptors’ Studio, which is located on the Presidential Trail. Here you can see the original plaster scale model they used to create Mount Rushmore. You’ll notice it has the torsos carved out, which was the original plan. Listen to the ranger give a 15-minute talk about the sculptor, process, and more fun facts!
This is free and no reservations are needed. You can chat with the ranger and ask any additional questions you might have.
Jr Ranger Program
During the summer months, kids are able to participate in fun activities. They can learn about Mount Rushmore and earn a certificate. All they have to do is grab a program in the Sculptors studio and head out on their 30-minute adventure.
This activity is free for all, adults may participate as well if they like.
Nightly Lighting Ceremony
The lighting ceremony was something I finally did this summer and it was one of my favorite visits. Each evening, May through September, they hold a ceremony in the amphitheater. They show a film highlighting the making of the monument and have a flag-lowering ceremony, featuring veterans from the audience. Then in a beautiful conclusion, they light up the monument.
A ranger gives a wonderful speech and the crowd sings patriotic songs together bringing a sense of pride and comradery. It was truly a wonderful experience. During peak times and events, it is recommended to get there a couple of hours before dark. The amphitheater fills up!
Ultimately, however long you spend at Mount Rushmore is up to you. No matter how much time you spend, it will be worth it. Where else can you spend several hours and be entertained for just $10 while getting a bit of sunshine, exercise, and learning some history?
Mount Rushmore is a very special place and I would recommend everyone make a special trip to visit it at least once in their lifetime.
- Looking for somewhere to camp while visiting Mount Rushmore? Check out the best campgrounds near Mount Rushmore.
Mount Rushmore is open 7 days a week, every day of the year, except Christmas Day. In inclement weather, the only thing open is the parking structure and the grounds.
Times are subject to change. Before your visit, check Mount Rushmore’s official webpage for current information.
$10 per vehicle including; cars, motorcycles, and RVs.
$5 for seniors.
Active military are free.
Note: Pay for your parking before heading back to your car. Kiosks are located all over the grounds.
There is always more to do and things to participate in during peak season but please don’t let that deter you from visiting in the off-season. The off-season has the benefit of fewer crowds! Also, experiencing the monument in the snow is spectacular!
- Learn the best time to visit Mount Rushmore.
Places to Eat
As stated earlier, I wasn’t too impressed with the food at the memorial.
If you are visiting during the peak summer season I would go into Keystone and grab a bite at Cruizzers Pizza. It’s located in the upstairs section of a building in the downtown Keystone area, right across from the train depot. This is my favorite place to eat in Keystone.
If you want a formal sit-down restaurant then I would give The Ruby House a try. The menu is more substantial, offering dishes such as prime rib with a baked potato, or buffalo stew in a bread bowl. The setting is an early 1900s old west hotel. It doesn’t disappoint.
If you happen to be visiting in the off-season, the options in Keystone are limited, and possibly none. You can head over to Custer or Rapid City for a meal or go to Hill City and have my favorite Monte Cristo sandwich at the Alpine Inn. Everything on their menu is fantastic and the prices are very economical! Read all about the Alpine Inn in our article A Gem in Hill City, South Dakota; Alpine Inn.
- Find out Where To Eat IN And AROUND Mount Rushmore.
- Learn The best places to eat in each city of the Black Hills
Other Things To Do Nearby
Crazy Horse Memorial
Crazy Horse Monument is just as impressive as Mount Rushmore AND it’s 4 times as large! I can show you how to visit the Crazy Horse Memorial on the same day as Mount Rushmore and you can compare sizes!
- For more helpful information, check out our articles The Complete Guide to Visiting Crazy Horse and Walking to the top of Crazy Horse Memorial: my experience and what to know before you go.
Custer State Park
One of my favorite things to do in the Black Hills is to drive through the park. Custer State Park has over 71,000 acres featuring lakes, glorious views, wildlife and so much more.
Once a year, every fall, Custer State park holds a buffalo roundup. Consider attending if you’re visiting in September. It is a sight to behold.
- Custer is a beautiful area and has great scenic drives. Discover 11 gorgeous scenic drives you have to see to believe.
Take a ride on an original steam engine train from Hill City to Keystone and back. You can spend some time shopping, you can even grab a bite to eat while you are at it.
- Learn more about the 1880 Train and if you should ride it!
Is There Anything Else I Should Know?
Yes! As you can see, Mount Rushmore is just one of the many amazing things to do in the Black Hills. The Black Hills can be confusing because it’s a HUGE area and there are so many things to do!
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!
- Our Black Hills Itinerary and Audio Guide are the best game plan for visiting the Black Hills.
- Our Black Hills Trip Planner Page has all the resources you need.
- Everything you need to know about visiting the Crazy Horse Memorial
- Walking to the top of the Crazy Horse Memorial: my experience and what to know before you go
- Can You Do Crazy Horse And Mount Rushmore In A Day?
- Custer State Park’s Annual Buffalo Roundup: My review
- 11 gorgeous scenic drives you have to see to believe
- The 1880 Train: Should you ride it?
- Where To Eat IN And AROUND Mount Rushmore
- The best places to eat in each city of the Black Hills
- Does Mount Rushmore Have A Campground? (Best Campgrounds When Visiting)
- Mount Rushmore Evening Lighting Ceremony: My Personal Experience And Helpful Tips
- How to do the confusing Black Elk Peak hike in South Dakota
- When Is The Best Time To Visit Mount Rushmore?
- A Gem in Hill City, South Dakota; Alpine Inn