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The Mount Rushmore Of Family Vacations

Always on the lookout for enriching creative and heritage experiences, Ginny counts Rapid City and the Black Hills as one of her favorite destinations. A southern girl with a yen for open spaces with powerful stories, she loves nothing more than helping people discover the places that make their own stories richer.

February 13, 2020

Four Big Ideas for Families

Our world-famous monument has become part of our national culture, representing something different about the American experience for all who see it. So what does it mean to be the Mount Rushmore of family vacations – or of anything, really? If we’re talking rock stars, baseball or wrestling greats, let the debate begin.

When it comes to summer vacations, I say we look to the mountain for guidance. Imagine a family vacation with fun and purpose, inspired by the reasons Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln became the faces of Mount Rushmore in the first place. 

George Washington and Reptile Gardens in Rapid City
George Washington and Reptile Gardens

IDEA 1: Founding, represented by George Washington.

Beginnings can be tough, with uphill battles and long odds before you. There may be no better way to appreciate brave beginnings than a visit to Mount Rushmore National Memorial itself, where we’ll follow the story of sculptor Gutzon Borglum and the tons of dynamite and years it took to complete his vision. Speaking of early beginnings, their dinosaur exhibits fit the bill, along with a trip to The Mammoth Site of Hot Springs. Fossils and raptors are cute, but we’ll be ready for cuddly new beginners of the wildlife walk at Bear Country USA and even the wiggly little ones at Reptile Gardens. A life-size statue of George is waiting to hear all about it at the corner of 6th and St. Joseph Streets in the City of Presidents.

Thomas Jefferson and Spearfish Canyon
Thomas Jefferson and Spearfish Canyon

IDEA 2: Growth, represented by Thomas Jefferson. 

Jefferson is credited with westward expansion of the country through the Lewis and Clark expedition and the Louisiana Purchase, so westward we will go. We’ll cruise through the Black Hills for spectacular scenery on the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway as we head to Devils Tower National Monument. Jefferson was a foodie who worked hard at growing a vineyard and making his own wine – we’ll probably do better than he did on a visit to Prairie Berry Winery or Naked Winery. In Rapid City, we’ll stop at the corner of 7th and St. Joseph Streets for face time with TJ in the City of Presidents – and indulge in his greatest culinary gift to America: ice cream. Jefferson’s cultural side is easy to honor in Rapid City, where galleries, performances and public art are part of daily life.

Teddy Roosevelt and Custer State Park
Teddy Roosevelt and Custer State Park

IDEA 3: Development, represented by Theodore Roosevelt.

He was a conservationist with big plans for the future, a Rough Rider, reformer, progressive and the father of our National Park System. Teddy was especially fond of our region, and even campaigned as “The Cowboy of the Dakotas,” so we’re off to meet the buffalo at Custer State Park on his behalf. To appreciate the National Parks Service, we’ll check out Wind Cave National Park, which was signed into being by President Theodore Roosevelt himself. To get a taste of the region during Teddy’s time here, we’ll take a ride on the 1880 Train and catch the Fort Hays Old West Town & Dinner Show. We’ll speak softly but won’t carry a big stick when we pay Teddy a visit at the corner of 9th and Main Streets in the City of Presidents.

Abe Lincoln and Badlands National Park
Abe Lincoln and Badlands National Park

IDEA 4: Preservation, represented by Abraham Lincoln.

Keeping it together on a family vacation is an accomplishment, but Lincoln had a much bigger challenge to preserve the nation after the Civil War. We’re feeling the gratitude on a trip to Badlands National Park, where the landscape has a way of making us feel small and the Night Sky Program has us concentrating on the heavens. We’re appreciating diversity in Downtown Rapid City, where Summer Nights finds us celebrating all we have in common.  We’re pumped for freedom at Independence Day celebrations at Main Street Square, Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial. And we’re moved by what we discover of the region’s Native American Culture. We’ll be stopping by the corner of 9th and Main Streets in the City of Presidents to thank old Abe.