Planning a trip to South Dakota and looking for things to do near Mount Rushmore? You’re in good hands.
I’ve spent the past several years traveling to South Dakota and working with the state to create visually stunning films on its beautiful public lands.
Along the way I’ve seen a lot of the best things to do near Mount Rushmore.
Mount Rushmore is located in the heart of the Black Hills which are full of really incredible sites including two national parks, two national monuments, a national forest, a national grassland, state parks, and more.
In this article I’ll cover the following based on my (now numerous) visits to Mount Rushmore:
- What to Know for Visiting Mount Rushmore
- Things to Do Near Mount Rushmore
- Interesting Mount Rushmore Facts
- The Mount Rushmore Controversy
- Best Time to Visit Mount Rushmore (including when its open vs closed)
- Information on the Black Hills of South Dakota
Ready to go? Let’s dive in!
Things to Know Before You Visit Sites Near Mount Rushmore
Entrance Fees: Good news here! Mount Rushmore does not charge an entrance fee for visitors. However, there is a parking fee which is $10 per vehicle.
National Parks Pass? If you plan to visit more National Parks within the next 12 months we suggest you go ahead and purchase the America the Beautiful Pass (which can be purchased at any national park) and gets you into all National Parks, Forests, Monuments, and more including 2,000 sites for free after a one time $79 fee.
The best map for the park: We like this map the best.
The best guide books for Mount Rushmore: This is our favorite all around guide for visting Mount Rushmore.
Cell Service is pretty reliable in Mount Rushmore. Verizon is pretty reliable – AT&T less so.
If you’re looking for things to do at Mount Rushmore rather than things to do near Mount Rushmore, check out our article: 15 HELPFUL Tips for Visiting Mount Rushmore (Things to Do + Photos)
Where is Mount Rushmore Located?
Mount Rushmore is located in the Black Hills region of South Dakota.
Closest Airport to Mount Rushmore: The closest airport to Mount Rushmore is Rapid City Regional Airport which services most major US airlines daily.
Best Things to Do Near Mount Rushmore
1. Check out the Black Hills National Forest (borders Mount Rushmore)
Distance from Mount Rushmore: 0 minutes (it touches the memorial)
If you’re visiting Mount Rushmore, you’re also visiting the Black Hills National Forest – why not go a little further?
Mount Rushmore National Memorial is surrounded by the Black Hills National Forest. To get to the memorial you have to (get to) drive through this beautiful forest.
Of all the magical natural places I’ve traveled to in America (and beyond), the Black Hills National Forest might just top the list.
Maybe it’s just the dazzling rock formations, beautiful pine forests, incredible wildlife, mesmerizing magic hour, and insane amount of recreation opportunities that exist here.
There’s something almost spiritual about this place (just ask the native tribes who’ve lived here for nearly 10,000 years).
Sure the air is crisp, the forests are vibrant, and the land is serene, but there’s something intangible about the Black Hills that you just have to experience for yourself.
For more on the Black Hills check out our article: BLACK HILLS National Forest: An Epic Guide to South Dakota’s Crown Jewel
2. Hike to the Highest Point In South Dakota: Black Elk Peak
Black Elk Peak (formerly Harney Peak) is the highest point in all of South Dakota at 7,244 feet elevation. Hiking to the top is a wonderful way to see the best views in the Black Hills.
- Distance: 7.1 miles
- Elevation Gain: 1450 feet
- Time Required: 3-4 hours
- Difficulty: Moderate
I regard the Black Elk Peak hike as perhaps the best in all the Black Hills. The trail starts in pine forest, works its way across a creek, and then ascends up to the peak itself with an incredible tower at the top.
The panoramic views atop Black Elk Peak are the best in South Dakota. The fire tower atop the peak is open for visitors and makes for a great reward at the furthest point of the hike.
Please note that this hike passes through the congressionally designated Black Elk Wilderness which means be sure to practice leave no trace and mind your footprint.
3. See the Stunning Spearfish Falls
Spearfish Falls is an 80 foot waterfall located on the Spearfish Creek that is often overlooked by folks as signage is lacking and the falls are not visible from the main road.
If you’re visiting in the autumn season, the falls are especially beautiful with stunning foliage flanking the cascade on either side.
To get to the falls, visitors should park at the Latchstring Restaurant and look at the end of the parking lot for the trailhead. The trail is only about .8 miles long round trip and descends gently into the canyon leading to the falls.
4. Explore Wind Cave National Park (50 minutes from Mount Rushmore)
Distance from Mount Rushmore: 50 minutes (38 miles)
Wind Cave National Park is a world-class destination home to not only what could be the longest cave in the world but also beautiful natural scenery.
Here you’ll discover a land where the Black Hills meet the plains complete with bison, elk, pronghorn antelope, and prairie dogs.
Despite not getting enough love Wind Cave was a surprisingly great stop for me on my last trip to the Rushmore area.
NOTE: If you want to do one of the really cool cave tours I recommend showing up at least 30 minutes before the visitor center opens (at 8am). Lines form fast even in the off season!
5. Explore Jewel Cave National Monument
Distance from Mount Rushmore: 40 minutes (32 miles)
Jewel Cave is the third longest cave in the world with over 200 miles of mapped passageways (and counting).
Along with the nearby Wind Cave, these monuments make South Dakota a world class destination for cave enthusiasts.
At Jewel Cave you can tour the caves themselves and also explore the surface which is also beautiful complete with hiking trails and wildlife.
6. Go Back in Time at Minuteman Missile National Historic Site
Distance from Mount Rushmore: 1 hour 40 minutes (100 miles)
Minuteman Missile National Historic Site is a rare glimpse into the world of nuclear arsenals.
This decommissioned nuclear site is consists of a few different visitor experiences including the a cold war era silo with nuclear missile (no longer armed).
Visiting this site is fascinating and somewhat eerie as it feels like a time capsule from the cold war era.
Its location next to Badlands National Park makes for a great side excursion on your next trip to South Dakota.
To learn more about Minuteman Missile visit the NPS site.
7. Experience Badlands National Park
Distance from Mount Rushmore: 85 minutes (75 miles)
It’s a great idea to couple a visit to Mount Rushmore with one to Badlands National Park (less than 90 minutes away).
Situated in the heart of the Northern Great Plains, Badlands National Park spans 244,000 acres of spectacular landscapes, diverse wildlife, and the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the United States.
Here you’ll discover a land where bison still roam and towers rise from the prairie in dazzling formations.
This vast unending prairie is draped in a beautiful silence where the only sounds to be heard are the uninterrupted winds of the prairie and the song of the western meadowlark.
8. Catch a Sunrise at Big Badlands Overlook
I’ll go ahead and say of all the sunrise spots in Badlands National Park, Big Badlands Overlook is the best. Big Badlands overlook provides the quintessential view of what makes the Badlands the Badlands.
It’s also very close to the eastern park entrance making it easier on the morning wake up.
Here you’ll find a panoramic view of perfectly striped red and white hills extending into the distance.
For more on the Badlands check out our article: 18+ (INCREDIBLE) Things to Do in Badlands National Park
9. Stop off at the world famous Wall Drug (80 minutes from Mount Rushmore)
Distance from Mount Rushmore: 80 minutes (77 miles)
If you don’t already know about Wall Drug you will when visiting the Badlands. Wall Drug is quite possibly the most famous roadside attraction in the world, a true slice of Americana as they say.
With billboards for hundreds of miles advertising their curious attractions and their 5 cent coffee and free ice water you simply have to go.
It also helps that Wall Drug is conveniently located in the town of Wall, SD, the gateway to Badlands National Park.
Here you can shop for souvenirs, grab a bit to eat, or just walk around and see what was so important that it needed to be cleverly advertised for hundreds of miles.
10. See the Epic Devils Tower National Monument (2 hours from Mount Rushmore)
Distance from Mount Rushmore: 2 hours 13 minutes (130 miles)
Devils Tower National Monument is actually America’s first national monument thanks to Theodore Roosevelt invoking his newly acquired powers under the 1906 Antiquities Act.
Devils Tower is a classic national monument that checks all the boxes road trippers and public lands enthusiasts are looking for in an outdoor destination.
Of course I’d be remiss not to mention the 1977 sci-fi classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which of course was set here.
Having grown up on Steven Spielberg films it was a real treat for my brothers and I to visit Devils Tower and walk the loop trail around the tower searching for old filming locations and taking in incredible views.
Top 20 Things to Do Near Mount Rushmore
11. Check out the Crazy Horse Memorial
Distance from Mount Rushmore: 30 minutes (17 miles)
The Crazy Horse Memorial is currently being constructed just 17 miles down the road from Mount Rushmore as a response to the Rushmore project.
Visitors can tour the grounds, learn about the native history, and walk up to the memorial itself.
This project is much larger in scale than Mount Rushmore and once completed will feature Crazy Horse riding his horse. Currently just the face has been finished.
At just 30 minutes away this is a must-see attraction near Mount Rushmore.
12. Find solace at Buffalo Gap National Grasslands (1 hour from Mount Rushmore)
Distance from Mount Rushmore: 1 hour (42 miles)
If you’re really looking to escape the crowds there’s no better place to do so than Buffalo Gap National Grasslands.
Consisting of 600,000 acres of beautiful rolling prairie, badlands formations, and home of the the world-famous Fairburn agate, this is a great thing to do near Mount Rushmore.
13. Go Rock Hounding in the Fairburn Agate Beds
Distance from Mount Rushmore: 40 minutes (21 miles)
The Fairburn Agate is a world famous and rare gemstone found exclusively in the agate beds of South Dakota and Nebraska. These beautiful rocks can fetch upwards of $10,000 to the right collector.
As such these gemstones are hot commodities for rock hounders around the world. The good news is that the forest service allows for rock hounding in the Black Hills (but not in Badlands National Park).
A great spot to start is the French Creek Campground area where you’ll find prime agate beds for rock hounding.
14. See the beauty of the Black Hills at Custer State Park
Distance from Mount Rushmore: 44 minutes (20 miles)
Custer State Park is one of the largest areas of public lands located in the Black Hills and is one of the best things to do near Mount Rushmore.
While in Custer State Park be sure to check out Sylvan Lake to see what is possibly the most beautiful lake in all of the Black Hills.
Custer State Park is also a great spot to view our epic national mammal, the bison.
One last consideration here is the spectacular Needles Highway, which is one of the most scenic drives in America (along with the Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway included in this article as well).
15. Endlessly Watch the Prairie Dogs
No trip to South Dakota is complete without getting acquainted with these cute, quarrelsome, ground-dwelling animals.
This area is home to countless prairie dogs and many different prairie dog settlements, which are called prairie dog towns.
These cute critters are also very intelligent and extremely adept communicators. You can spend hours watching the prairie dogs yip and yelp at one another as they scurry about seemingly causing mischief with their friends.
Be sure to keep a respectful distance as you view them going about their business.
16. Drive the Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway (5 miles from Mount Rushmore)
Distance from Mount Rushmore: 10 minutes (5 miles)
- Location: South Dakota, USA
- Distance: 70 miles (112 km)
- Suggested Time: 3 days
- Minimum Time: 1 day
- Best Time of Year: June & October
The Black Hills of South Dakota are one of the most magical places in all of America and no road does a better job of displaying them in all their glory than the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway.
This is truly one of the great All-American Road Trips.
The Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway is an incredibly scenic drive that winds through the heart of the Black Hills National Forest.
Several tunnels perfectly frame Mount Rushmore in the distance (by design). This is a lovely area to escape the Rushmore crowds and soak in the full beauty of the forest.
I recommend taking your time, driving slow, stopping at all the viewpoints, and enjoying the incredible scenic beauty.
If you like scenic byways then check out our article: 15 BEST USA Road Trips of a Lifetime (+ Photos)
17. See the Gold Mountain Gold Mine
The Gold Mountain Mine gives visitors a glance into what life might have been like as a Black Hills prospector. This site is significant as it is the only remaining gold mining site in the Black Hills.
Visitors can drive right up to the mine which has a few interpretive signs describing its history in greater detail. Please do not attempt to climb the structure.
18. Soak in the Views (& History) at Mount Roosevelt Friendship Tower
For the history buffs (and fans of the hit HBO show, Deadwood) the Mount Roosevelt Friendship Tower will have special meaning for you.
This tower was built by the famous Deadwood Sheriff, Seth Bullock, as a tribute to his good friend Theodore Roosevelt.
The tower was built in 1919 and is still standing strong today, albeit with a few structural improvements over the years.
19. Try Your Hand at Some World Class Fly Fishing
The Black Hills National Forest is home to some of the best small stream fly fishing on the planet with over 500 miles of streams. Rainbow, brook, brown, and tiger trout are mostly the types of fish you’ll find in these streams.
The setting amongst the epic canyons of the Black Hills makes for a magazine-esque experience.
A few of the best places to fly-fish are:
- Spearfish Creek
- Castle Creek
- Rapid Creek
- Box Elder Creek
- Sand Creek
For more fishing information visit Dakota Angler.
20. Saddle Up & Go Horseback Riding
One of the most popular and iconic activities in the Black Hills is horseback riding. Nothing feels quite so right for the setting or the western landscapes as soaking in the beauty via horseback.
21. Go on an unexpected hike at Cliff Shelf Nature Trail
An oasis of juniper trees in the middle of the Badlands. Cliff Shelf Nature Trail is a spectacular spot to watch the sunset from a high vantage.
Distance: 0.5 miles
Elevation Gain: Minimal
Time Required: 30 minutes
You can also get out of the sun and cool off under the shade of old juniper trees.
This short loop trail traverses up through a juniper grove via a boardwalk and back down around to overlooks of the badlands.
22. Hike the Memorable Notch Trail
The Notch Trail is one of the coolest and most unique trails in the Badlands featuring an epic log ladder climb. It is also one of the most popular and heavily trafficked trails in the park.
Distance: 1.5 miles
Elevation Gain: feet
Time Required: 30 – 60 minutes
The first part of this 1.5 mile trail winds through a beautiful canyon leading to a seeming dead end but alas!
A log ladder leads hikers up the side of the badlands formations to the rest of the trail which has nice views of the surrounding area.
23. Gaze upon the mesmerizing Yellow Mounds
I’ll admit, taking a great photo of the Yellow Mounds in Badlands National Park is no easy feat. What looks surreal to the naked eye is not easy to capture with the camera.
With that photographers note aside, the Yellow Mounds are definitely worth a visit and one of the must-see stops in Badlands National Park.
They are easily accessed from the main park road and hard to miss.
24. Hike the scenic Castle Trail
The Castle Trail is many a park-goers favorite trail in Badlands National Park. It is the longest maintained trial in the park and is a popular entry point to the backcountry.
- Distance: 5.4 miles (point to point)
- Elevation Gain: 500 feet
- Time Required: 2-3 hours
- Difficulty: Easy – Moderate
Along the way hikers get to see the landscape and scenery change from prairie grass to dramatic badlands formations.
NOTE: This trail is a point to point trail meaning that it is 5.4 miles each way. The termini for the trail are the Fossil Trail & the Notch Trail parking lot.
25. Discover the Fossil Trail (great for kids!)
The Fossil Trail is another great attraction near Mount Rushmore. This is a short trail in Badlands National Park with cool fossil exhibits for kids (and adults) to explore alike.
Distance: .4 miles
Elevation Gain: Minimal
Time Required: 15-30 minutes
The trail itself is short and sweet at just under a half mile long. On one side of the road the trail features a boardwalk with exhibits while on the other hikers venture out into more interesting terrain.
Watch Our Award-Winning Black Hills Video
About the Black Hills Video
This film was created by the team at More Than Just Parks in partnership with Travel South Dakota in an effort to adequately capture the essence of the Black Hills National Forest.
In the making of this film we hiked nearly every trail, traversed most of the roads, rode horses, drove ATVs, went fishing, filmed hunting, boated, camped, biked, and so much more.
The film features the fall season because we feel like that’s the most impressive season in the forest.
If you’re enjoying this article, you’ll love these:
- More Things to Do Nearby: 25 EPIC Things to Do Near Mount Rushmore (Helpful Guide + Photos)
- Visiting Mount Rushmore: 15 HELPFUL Tips for Visiting Mount Rushmore (Things to Do + Photos)
- Things to Do in the Badlands: 18+ (INCREDIBLE) Things to Do in Badlands National Park
- Badlands National Park Guide: A (Very) Helpful Guide to BADLANDS NATIONAL PARK (Photos + Video)
- Black Hills National Forest Guide: BLACK HILLS National Forest: Epic Guide to South Dakota’s Crown Jewel
What is the Mount Rushmore Controversy?
The controversy behind Mount Rushmore starts with the fact that the land that was chosen for the site is located in the heart of the Black Hills in South Dakota. This land is sacred to the Lakota Sioux who lived here long before Americans arrived on the scene.
A Little Mount Rushmore History (of the area)
After the Civil War, western expansion in the United States really picked up as did the governments cruel policies against the native peoples who lived in those lands.
Many of the generals who fought on both sides of the war went on to lead savage attacks against native tribes throughout the west, almost entirely extirpating these people from their lands.
As for the Black Hills, the US Government reached a settlement with the Lakota in which they were promised the Black Hills in perpetuity (known as the Treaty of 1868).
Perpetuity in the eyes of the government turned out to be a lot less perpetual than was originally agreed upon as gold was discovered in the Black Hills. In the 1870s the government forced the Sioux out of the region in favor of the gold hungry miners.
Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, & Wounded Knee
Faced with terrible reservation conditions and the prospect of losing their ancestral lands forever, the native peoples decided to resist the US Government across the plains.
The efforts in the Black Hills were lead by Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull who fought against the federal troops. Their success peaked early at the Battle of the Little Bighorn where they defeated General George Armstrong Custer (a former Union cavalry commander).
This battle is also famously remembered today as Custer’s last stand.
Eventually the natives would go on to lose their war against the US Government with the last significant defeat taking place at Wounded Knee.
Despite commonly being referred to as a battle, the events at Wounded Knee were actually a horrific massacre carried out by the federal troops against innocent native women, children, and men. The massacre resulted in the deaths of nearly 300 natives.
The Heart of the Controversy
This leads us back to the controversy over the sculpting of Mount Rushmore. Less than 40 years after the Massacre at Wounded Knee, the faces of revered leaders of the same government that was responsible for the events were blasted and carved into the sacred Black Hills.
This was done despite early proposals calling for both native and US heroes of the west to be carved onto the mountain.
Today, the much larger Crazy Horse Memorial is being constructed just 17 miles down the road from Mount Rushmore as a response to the Rushmore project.
At present, many local native leaders would like the site returned to them and the focus of the park to be turned to the oppression of their people.
Map of Things to Do Near Mount Rushmore National Memorial
List of 10 Best Things to Do Near Mount Rushmore
- Black Hills National Forest
- Wind Cave National Park
- Jewel Cave National Monument
- Minuteman Missile National Historic Site
- Badlands National Park
- Wall Drug Roadside Attraction
- Devils Tower National Monument
- Crazy Horse Memorial
- Black Elk Peak
- Spearfish Falls
More Things to Do Near Mount Rushmore (& Places to See)
- Visit Historic Deadwood
- Pactolla Lake
- Iron Mountain Loop Road
- Buffalo Roundup
- Mammoth Site
- Boot Hill Cemetery
- Keystone, South Dakota
Why Listen to Us About Things to Do Near Mount Rushmore?
You should probably know that we don’t just make this stuff up out of thin air. We’ve spent our entire adult lives exploring and filming America’s national parks and public lands.
We’ve worked with the National Park Service, the Department of Interior, and the U.S. Forest Service for years creating films on important places and issues.
Our work has been featured in leading publications all over the world and even some people outside of our immediate family call us national parks experts.
We’re Jim Pattiz and Will Pattiz, collectively known as the Pattiz Brothers.
Our goal here at More Than Just Parks is to share the beauty of America’s national parks and public lands through stunning short films in an effort to get Americans and the world to see the true value in land conservation.
If you’d like to follow along our journey we’d be delighted to have you!
And a bonus! Tips for Visiting a National Park
Permit Systems and Reservations
Check to see if the national park you’re visiting has a permit or reservation system in place before visiting. As parks become increasingly crowded more has to be done to safeguard them which means controlling the hundreds of millions of people who visit these places each year.
Popular national parks with reservation systems of some kind include Yosemite, Yellowstone, Zion, Rocky Mountain, Glacier, Arches, Acadia, Denali, and more.
Want Less Crowds? Try a National Forest!
Try visiting a national forest while you’re on your trip to avoid the crowds. There are 155 national forests in America, many of which are equally as beautiful as the national parks they neighbor and only see a fraction of the visitors.
For example, try the Flathead National Forest next to Glacier National Park, the Bridger-Teton next to Grand Teton, and the Dixie which borders nearly all of the Utah National Parks.
Practice Safety, Seriously
National parks are amazing but wild places so it is essential to practice basic safety while visiting them. Every year people die while vacationing in national parks. This is easily avoided by:
- Sticking to trails
- Checking the weather before going out on a hike
- Maintaining a safe distance between wildlife which means at least 25 yards from most wildlife and 100 yards from predators
- Avoid ledges with steep drop offs