I have lived in the Black Hills for over a decade and have been to Mount Rushmore countless times. With each visit, I still look up at those granite faces and am fascinated. The time, effort, and skill that went into the creation of this memorial is truly a wonder to see. In recent years, the memorial has made enhancements to different parts of the grounds to improve operational and energy efficiency, visitor safety and accessibility. If you haven’t visited in a few years, or even if you’ve never been to the memorial, here are some things to check out and make sure you don’t miss on your next visit!
*Grab a map when you arrive at the memorial so you have a visual of all the things to see.
The Avenue Of Flags
The most noticeable improvement that took place during recent renovations was the Avenue of Flags. This portion of the memorial was widened to improve traffic flow, enhance accessibility and provide a better sight line for visitors as they approach the carving. New, sleek flag poles replaced the large brick ones the avenue previously had, and new decorative concrete was laid down. They also removed the last archway as you approach the Grand View Terrace to make the memorial more visible throughout your walk in the avenue. The updates are a huge improvement, check out the before and after images below!
*If you count as you walk the avenue you’ll notice your final number isn’t 50 flags for all 50 states. There’s actually 57 flags featured. The memorial has flags for districts, commonwealths and U.S. territories.
The Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center
This museum is easily overlooked, literally, as visitors soak up the view from the Grand View Terrace many don’t realize they are actually standing on the roof of the Lincoln Borglum Visitors Center. The mountain dominates the horizon in front of you, meaning many miss the opportunity to venture below. Mount Rushmore actually estimates that about only 35% of visitors find the Visitors Center, so it’s a great thing to know before you go. Within this museum you’ll catch the 14-minute film “Mount Rushmore: The Shrine”, see the tools and models used during carving, and witness just how those workers accomplished this impressive piece of art.
While the recent updates to the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center are less apparent than those made to the Avenue of Flags, they were equally as important. Water intrusion issues were repaired, they replaced the elevators, upgraded plumbing, and improved the heating, ventilation and cooling systems.
An important part about visiting Mount Rushmore, and the Black Hills in general, is acknowledging it’s history. The carving is located on Lakota, Nakota and Dakota land on a mountain that was originally known to the Lakota as the Six Grandfathers. Four days a week the memorial hosts Lakota interpreters, storytellers and musicians at the Lakota, Nakota and Dakota Heritage Village which can be found along the Nature Trail. These interpreters are around to interact and share the history and beauty of Native American culture with visitors from 10am to 4pm Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.
The Sculptor’s Studio is located further down the Nature Trail and is the location of a ranger talk that explains how the mountain was made, as well as what it was originally supposed to look like. That’s right. The memorial as you see it wasn’t supposed to be the final draft. From the window of the Sculptor’s Studio you can do a unique comparison of the model to the finished carving – and it makes for a great photo!
The Presidential Trail starts down the stairs from the Sculptor’s Studio and connects you back to the Grand View Terrace, along the way the trail provides the closest view you can get of Mount Rushmore. Now, I wouldn’t say this trail is tough, but it does have quite a few stairs. 422 to be exact. Thankfully the trail offers plenty of shaded spots and benches so can sit down and relax every once in awhile and really appreciate the natural setting located at the base of this carving. Add to the experience by renting either an audio or multimedia tour to enjoy during your walk that explains the history of Mount Rushmore and guides you along the trail.
Evening Lighting Ceremony
The Mount Rushmore Evening Lighting Ceremony is the number one attended program in the entire National Park Service. The ceremony takes place every night of the summer starting the Friday of Memorial Day weekend and ending at the end of September. During the ceremony you can enjoy a 10-minute Ranger Talk, a 20-minute movie about the memorial (the current movie was released in 2001 by the Discovery Channel, the memorial is currently working on a new one), followed by the lighting of the mountain. The best part, however, is when Veterans, active duty, or anyone who has lost a love one in military conflict are invited down to the stage to be recognized and take down the flag. I can try to paint the picture of what attending this ceremony feels like, but in reality you need to experience it for yourself to really understand how moving it is.
I know, you’re all visiting to feast your eyes on the world famous Mount Rushmore. But, either as you're heading into the memorial or as you leave, do yourself and favor and look east first. I don't have a picture that does this justice, but the plains that spread out before you are astonishing. You’ll be able to see charming Rapid City, and on clear days you’ll be able to spot the formations of the Badlands. The expansive view of the surrounding area is something not to be missed during your visit to Mount Rushmore.
Last but not least, if you’re still up for an adventure you can head over to Blackberry Trail which is right across the street from the parking lot. This hike is a mile long but just to warn you, it is not a loop. You will have to turn back around at the end, but this hike gives you another spectacular view of Mount Rushmore while also taking in the beauty of the Black Hills.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial is visited each year by almost 3 million visitors, and for good reason. It’s a bucket list item for many, so make the most of your visit by taking in all the locations within the memorial, and for even more to do check out our top ten list. You’ll also want to make the most of your visit to the Black Hills of South Dakota by giving yourself time to explore this stunning destination. Check out all the other parks, monuments and memorials in the area that you can visit.