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Head to Mount Rushmore just before sunrise and you won’t be disappointed. The morning sun highlights the granite giving you a truly unique look at the mountain and postcard-perfect pictures. The best light on the mountain is from sunrise to about 10:30 a.m. After watching the sun come up, sit down for a hot breakfast and morning latte with a spectacular presidential view. Visitor Center, gift shop and concessions open at 8:00 a.m. (Mountain Time).
Enjoy a scenic drive to Crazy Horse Memorial, just a few miles from Mount Rushmore. This ongoing mountain carving is the world’s largest and a majestic tribute to all Native American tribes across the country. The visitor complex includes a welcome center, the Indian Museum of North America, the Native American Educational & Cultural Center, the sculptor’s log home studio and workshop, indoor and outdoor galleries, museum gift shop and expansive viewing veranda. Enjoy lunch at the Laughing Water Restaurant.
After leaving Crazy Horse Memorial, head underground for a look at the beauty below the surfaces. Jewel Cave National Monument is approximate 20 miles west of Crazy Horse and is the world’s second longest cave. Located about 30 miles from Jewel Cave you’ll find the world’s fourth longest cave, Wind Cave National Park. Both caves have daily tours. Prices and final tour time varies based on season.
Be sure to head back to either Mount Rushmore or Crazy Horse Memorial for their evening shows. During the summer season, Mount Rushmore holds a nightly lighting ceremony. This patriotic and moving event highlights the making of the monument with a video, flag lowering ceremony and a salute to veterans.
At Crazy Horse, you can experience a laser light show nightly during the summer. It also holds two special night blasts. The first night blast of the year is June 26. It celebrates the birthday of Mrs. Ruth Ziolkowski, wife of the late Crazy Horse sculptor. The second traditional night blast of the year is on September 6th. The blast celebrates the dual anniversaries of the 1877 death of Crazy Horse and of the 1908 birth of sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski.
DAY 2: National Park and Monuments
Badlands National Park is located about 70 miles east from Rapid City. This 244-thousand acre park is full of jagged spires, eroded buttes and prehistoric fossils. The moon-like surfaces of the Badlands create a hiking challenge with breath-taking scenery. Drive the loop or get out of the car and enjoy a picnic at one of the scenic overlooks.
The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site (also known as the Minuteman Missile Silo) is a one-of-a-kind attraction, located at the south entrance to Badlands National Park, takes visitors into the control room of an actual nuclear missile silo. South Dakota and Ellsworth Air Force Base in Rapid City played a strategic role in the Cold War, operating 150 missile silos and 15 launch control facilities in the western part of the state. Guided tours for a limited number of visitors are available but times may vary.
It may not be a national park or monument, but the City of Presidents in downtown Rapid City is a great way to end your National Parks and Monuments tour. These life-sized bronze statues will take you on a journey through American Presidential history.