When I planned my Midwest road trip, visiting Mount Rushmore was the ultimate goal! And we saw some pretty incredible sights along the way 🙂 I didn’t know much about the area around Mount Rushmore before planning our trip (wanting to see Mount Rushmore was mostly inspired by “North By Northwest”), but I honestly enjoyed the Black Hills and Custer State Park area more than seeing Mount Rushmore itself (you’ll see why when you see the photos of some of the beautiful sights we saw). So if you’re also planning a trip there, here are 6 things to do near Mount Rushmore to experience some of the incredible sights in the area!
Drive through Spearfish
We came to the area from North Dakota, so first we drove through the Spearfish area on Highway 14A. Just driving through the area alone is beautiful! There are great views of all the trees and winding rivers, and you can also stop to see sights like Bridal Veil Falls and Spearfish Falls. There are also some hiking trails if you want to go for a hike in the mountains.
Go back in time in Deadwood
Deadwood and some of the other towns around Mount Rushmore are set up like old western towns so you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. We honestly didn’t spend much time in Deadwood because it was a little too touristy and cheesy for our taste and we preferred to see more of the nature in the area. But if you’re traveling with kids, they might enjoy some of the activities around the city, like the amusement parks or mine tours.
See Mount Rushmore
You can’t miss seeing Mount Rushmore when you’re in the Black Hills! It was honestly not my favorite sight in the area, but it’s one of those places you just have to visit.
Seeing the giant carved rocks was pretty incredible, but the rest of the experience wasn’t the most enjoyable. We were there in late October on a weekday, and there were still huge crowds of people everywhere and it was hard to get a picture at the main viewing area. There was also construction going on right next to the viewing area while we were there, so you couldn’t hear anything over the loud jackhammers. So basically just don’t have high expectations when you go visit!
There is a short walking trail that takes you closer to the monument, and it wasn’t as busy as the main viewing area. AND I think it has a better view of Mount Rushmore without having to fight through the crowds!
The picture above was taken from the front of the park where all the crowds hang out, and the picture below was taken near the end of the walking trail with just a few people around. I prefer that view because it was easier to get photos, but I also think you get a better angle on Roosevelt since his face is set back in the stone some.
So if you want to get a different angle on Mount Rushmore and get away from the crowds, I recommend taking the walking trail!
Visit the Crazy Horse Memorial
Like I mentioned, we visited the Black Hills area in late October, and it was already snowing! We visited the Crazy Horse Memorial on a snowy day and didn’t get the best views because it was snowing so hard. By the time we visited the museum, you couldn’t even see Crazy Horse in the distance because the air was so thick with snow. So just be aware that the weather could mess up your views when you’re planning your trip.
The Crazy Horse monument has been under construction since 1948, and it still has a ways to go to be completed. Once it’s completed, it will be the second tallest statue in the world.
The monument depicts the Oglala Lakota warrior Crazy Horse riding on a horse. He was a well known warrior and fought against the encroachments on Native American territory, and he’s famous for leading warriors at the Battle of Little Bighorn. Korczak Ziolkowski was a sculptor who worked on Mount Rushmore, and he was invited to design the memorial for Crazy Horse and worked on it until his death in 1982.
You can take a tour to get closer to the memorial, but it was snowing so hard and it was hard to see anything outside so we decided to tour the Indian Museum of North America at the memorial site. It features a lot of artifacts and you can learn more about the Native American culture and history in the area. I highly recommend visiting both the Crazy Horse memorial (even if it’s snowing!) and museum if you’re looking for things to do near Mount Rushmore!
Go for a hike
There are lots of hikes you can do around the Black Hills and Custer State Park! Since it was snowing and we didn’t have the best clothes for hiking in the snow, we just did an easy trail around Sylvan Lake. I’ve heard that it’s a beautiful place to visit in the summer, but it was also beautiful with a snow dusting! And the trail around the lake was pretty flat, so it’s an easy trail to walk with kids or if you just want to go for an easy walk.
Sylvan Lake has some interesting rock formations, so it’s a pretty cool place to photograph!
Drive on Needles Highway and through the Needle Eye Tunnel
Needles Highway is a winding road through the Black Hills with tall rock formations that are thought to look like needles. The road is pretty steep and curvy in some places, so it does get shut down in the winter because it can be too dangerous in the snow. So we just made it in the nick of time in late October. And RVs or other large vehicles aren’t allowed on Needles Highway, so you can only take a car.
Needles Highway is also famous for the Needle Eye Tunnel, in the photo above. It’s a very narrow tunnel that both lanes of traffic have to drive through! And it’s so small that RVs couldn’t fit through if they tried. The road does widen outside the tunnel, so you can pull over and get some photos of it.
There were some other crazy drivers up there with us, so I’m sure there might be traffic jams during the busier seasons. But I think it’s one of the most unique things to do near Mount Rushmore and definitely worth the experience!
There’s a lot to see around Mount Rushmore, so make sure you spend at least a few days exploring the Black Hills and Custer State Park! And hopefully you’ll have some better weather than we did 🙂