With over 3 million visitors a year, there is no doubt that Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a popular summertime destination. However, there are a ton of things to do near Mount Rushmore National Memorial that should not be missed.
Those unfamiliar with the Rapid City, SD area will likely think that Mount Rushmore is in the middle of nowhere with little else to explore, but that couldn’t be more wrong!
We thought it would be useful to put together a list of great things to do near Mount Rushmore. We’re confident you will be as surprised as we were with all the activities that the area offers and that you’ll love your visit!
CUSTER STATE PARK
Located just a few miles to the south of Mount Rushmore is Custer State Park. Originally set aside in 1913 as a game preserve, this park covers 71,000 acres. It is one of the largest (and in our opinion, best) state parks in the United States.
Custer State Park is absolutely beautiful, and the engineers who designed the park experience went to great lengths to create amazing scenic drives to make the best parts of the park accessible. The Iron Mountain Road (US 16A S) travels 17 miles with a ton of switchbacks and one-lane tunnels that allow you to see great views of Mount Rushmore.
The Needles Highway (SD HWY 87) travels 14 miles takes travelers right near rocky spires that stretch to the sky.
One of the most impressive parts of Custer State Park is the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road. This isolated section of the park is home to more than 1,400 bison as well as wild burros. The wildlife viewing is amazing. Just make sure you have plenty of time to visit this part of the park, as bison jams are a regular occurrence.
In addition to wildlife there are also a number of great hiking trails. The Sylvan Lake in particular was home to our favorite hikes, including the Sylvan Lake Shore Trail and the Sunday Gulch Trail. After you are done hiking, taking a dip in one of the many lakes that the park has is also a great idea!
Similar to Yellowstone National Park, Custer State Park also has plenty of lodging optionsl. We stayed in the Blue Bell Cabins (located inside the park), which were really convenient and peaceful.
BADLANDS NATIONAL PARK
Badlands National Park is 84 miles to the east of Mount Rushmore. While a vast area of nothingness called “The Badlands” may not seem exciting, it’s an area of amazing beauty.
Badlands National Park is best seen by traveling the length of the 31-mile Badlands Loop Road. From this road there are great hikes, a number of overlooks and incredible scenery. We found the most impressive stops to be Big Badlands Overlook, White River Valley and Yellow Mounds Overlook.
When you are visiting Badlands National Park, you should try to do at least one hike to really see the interior of the park. We loved hiking the Notch Trail in particular, which is a moderate hike that includes a climb up a wooden ladder as it leads across the rocky terrain to the “Notch” overlook.
There are also shorter hikes and hikes like the 10-mile Castle Trail. This park really a must-see!
WIND CAVE NATIONAL PARK
Wind Cave National Park is connected with the southern border of Custer State Park, meaning that it’s only about 1 hour from Mount Rushmore National Memorial (slightly longer if you travel through Custer State Park). While one of the lesser-known National Parks, Wind Cave National Park is very unique, with most of the park located hundreds of feet underground, accessible through an elevator shaft made decades earlier.
If that doesn’t scare you, then you need to head over to this park and take a guided tour of Wind Cave. The tours range from the Natural Entrance Tour (a 75-minute tour that starts at the entrance before heading into the cave and coming back up the elevator) to the Wind Cave Tour (which lasts 4 hours and has visitors crawling around the cave).
Reservations are available only for a few of the tours, so most of the time you’ll need to arrive early in the day to ensure you get a spot on one of the tours.
Wind Cave National Park also has plenty of hiking opportunities above ground. Since it’s nearby Custer, you’re also likely to see wildlife roaming around as well.
CRAZY HORSE MEMORIAL
Nearby Mount Rushmore is Crazy Horse Memorial. The Crazy Horse Memorial has been under construction since 1948. The memorial will be about 10 times larger than Mount Rushmore when completed (at 640 feet).
Visiting the memorial does cost, but money goes to helping out the construction of the project. Details on visiting the memorial can be found here.
Crazy Horse Memorial (photo courtesy of Char)
JEWEL CAVE NATIONAL MONUMENT
Jewel Cave National Monument is located just west of Custer State Park, about 32 miles away from Mount Rushmore. Similar to Wind Cave National Park, Jewel Cave offers an experience underground through an extensive cave system. Jewel Cave is accessed exclusively best on a guided tour that starts at ground level (and requires tickets).
Jewel Cave is more spacious than Wind Cave (at least where we went), but both can be uncomfortable if you are not used to small spaces.
The cave is accessed only through guided tours. Tour reservations are available only for the Scenic Tour and can be made up to 90 days in advance. The other tours (which includes the Historic Candlelight Tour) do not take reservations and are offered only on a first-come, first-served basis.
DEVILS TOWER NATIONAL MONUMENT
Located 130 miles to the west in Wyoming is Devils Tower National Monument. This iconic butte (made famous in the movie Close Encounters) stands 1,267 feet above its surroundings. The tower is a sacred location for many American Indians.
While about 4,000 people climb the monument each year, most people stop in the visitor center and hike around Devils Tower on the Tower Trail. This 1.3-mile loop hike is easy with little elevation gain and allows you to get up and close to the tower. Other hiking includes the Red Beds Trail as well as the Joyner Ridge Trail. Both provide a view of the tower from a distance.
Devils Tower can be crowded, and while it isn’t critical to get there early in the morning, you should plan on bringing your patience as lines can form at the entrance during peak hours.
FURTHER INFORMATION ON THINGS TO DO NEAR MOUNT RUSHMORE NATIONAL MEMORIAL
- We wrote up articles on 6 Reasons to Love Custer State Park, Badlands National Park and What to See and Do in Wind Cave National Park. We also cover What to See and Do in Devils Tower National Monument. Be sure to check out all of these blogs prior to booking your trip!
- In addition to blogs, we also offer itineraries on the nearby national parks. Check out our itinerary on Badlands, Wind Cave and Theodore Roosevelt National Parks. We include maps, information on the best hikes and what to make sure you do ahead of your trip. We also cover Jewel Cave National Monument in detail.
- After your trip, send us a photo so we can create custom, vintage-style posters, postcards and note cards that are personalized and made just for you!
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ON THINGS TO DO NEAR MOUNT RUSHMORE
- Our blog highlights great outdoor activities to do near Mount Rushmore. If you are interested in things to do in and around Rapid City, then Jimmie and Shelly’s blog on a Weekend Getaway: A Guide to Rapid City is worth checking out.
- Another great place to visit is Keystone. For information on this part of South Dakota, check out Savannah’s blog on what to do in Keystone, South Dakota.
- Diana Rowe (from “Traveling in Heels”) provides some great details on how best to explore the Black Hills of South Dakota in her blog.