Are you thinking about visiting Mount Rushmore with kids? Then you have come to the right place! In this guide we round up all our favorite tips taking a Mount Rushmore family vacation whether you are traveling with toddlers or teens, or anything in between.
We recently went on an amazing South Dakota road trip and Mount Rushmore was definitely a highlight for our family. In this guide we round up the best tips for visiting Mount Rushmore with kids to help you make the most of your time at this National Monument!
Tips for Visiting Mount Rushmore with Kids
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Best Time of year to visit Mount Rushmore
As with any place in South Dakota there are definitely better times than others to visit. If you are traveling to South Dakota with kids then I definitely recommend not going in Winter.
In Winter the temperatures in South Dakota can get very low, and if you are not used to driving in the snow, the road conditions will be very difficult for you.
However South Dakota is an amazing place to take a summer vacation in kids. In fact, I would say anytime between April and October is a good time to visit Mount Rushmore as there are lots of family friendly activities on offer during this period.
It is also worth trying to avoid visiting Mount Rushmore over public holidays. For instance we traveled to Mount Rushmore over the Memorial Day weekend. While we were there very early in the morning the crowds were minimal, however later in the day the site became very crowded.
So if you want to avoid the crowds and get some amazing instagram snaps at Mount Rushmore we recommend avoiding the public holidays. Also if it is possible you will find that the crowds are usually less on weekdays as opposed to weekends.
Next Read: Ultimate South Dakota Summer Packing List
Best Time of Day to Visit Mount Rushmore National Memorial
The opening times of Mount Rushmore National Memorial vary according to the time of year you visit. However if you are going early March and October you will typically find that the parking structure and grounds of the memorial open at 5am and don’t close until around 9-10pm.
However the information center and the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center don’t open till around 8am usually. Despite this we still recommend heading to Mount Rushmore as early as possible.
When we visited we arrived at the memorial at 5am for opening and we were rewarded with the grounds to ourselves almost even though it was a public holiday weekend.
We used the first couple of hours in the park taking photographs at the Avenue of the Flags and in front of the memorial without crowds before going on a hike.
Then once 8am arrived we were ready to head back to the visitor and information center.
If possible we recommend trying to do the same if you want to avoid the crowd before leaving the park to do other nearby attractions (more on that later) and returning at night to see the Mount Rushmore illuminations.
How Long to Spend at Mount Rushmore with Kids
It really depends on what you want to do at Mount Rushmore as to how long you will want to spend there.
If all you wanted to get was a photo in front of the iconic monument you could be in and out in about an hour. However this really doesn’t do the site justice. Instead we recommend allocating half a day in your Mount Rushmore family vacation itinerary for the site so you can do all the best things on offer.
Pack your day pack correctly
Days out in South Dakota are long so it is really important to pack your day bag correctly.
To prepare for a day at Mount Rushmore we recommend packing:
- comfortable walking shoes – especially important if you plan on tackling the Presidential Trail.
- a carrier – for young children on the site, again this one is essential for completing the Presidential Trail with toddlers or babies,
- water and reusable water bottles
Best Things to Do At Mount Rushmore with kids
Walk the Avenue of Flags
The avenue of flags is the first place you will visit on your trip to Mount Rushmore. Every visitor walks from the car park to the monument through the avenue of flags.
There are actually 56 flags along the Avenue of Flags these represent the 50 states, one district, three territories and two commonwealths of the USA which is pretty impressive to see.
When we visited with our little one we played a fun game pf spotting the flags of the different places we have visited. If you are struggling to find your flag, it is worth noting that the flags are all hung in alphabetical order.
Underneath each flag is a plaque with the date of the State’s admittance into the union.
Spot the Faces from the Grand View Terrace
Once you have passed through the Avenue of Flags, the next stop on your Mount Rushmore itinerary is The Grand Terrace.
The Grand Terrace is the best view point at Mount Rushmore to take in all of the faces that have been carved into the mountain. It is also one of the best photo spots. During peak season this viewpoint gets very busy, so try and do this early in the day.
Also our little one loved looking in one of the many telescopes that are dotted along the Grand View Terrace as it is a great way to get a better look at the monument.
Take a Hike on the Presidential Trail
I know a lot of people go to Mount Rushmore for the photo opportunity at the Grand Terrace. However, this doesn’t do justice to Mount Rushmore. We therefore recommend taking on a hike on the Presidential Trail.
The Presidential Trail is actually a very short trail as it is only 0.6mile long which is an easy distance for even small children to do.
However the trail also takes in a LOT of stairs. And when I say a lot I mean a lot. There are actually over 400 steps to get to the top of the trail which can be challenging if you are visiting Mount Rushmore with toddlers or babies.
Therefore if you are traveling with younger children we definitely recommend you take a carrier or hiking backpack with you if you plan on hiking the Presidential Trail.
But trust me it is worth doing as it is a great way to get a close up view of the faces on the mountain and see some of the wildlife at Mount Rushmore such as goats, marmots, squirrels and chipmunks to name but a few.
One of the things that we noticed during our visit to Mount Rushmore was that even when the Grand View Terrace was very busy, the trail was much quieter. So this hike is another great way to beat the crowds at Mount Rushmore.
Visit the Lincoln Borglum Museum
The Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center usually opens at 8am during the Summer. We went here after we had done the avenue of the flags, the Grand View Terrace and the Presidential Trail.
It is a really great place to learn more about the monument. It tells the story of the monument from its’ inception to its’ completion. There are many objects on the display in the center including some of the tools that were used during the making process and models as well as a 14 minute film called Mount Rushmore: The Shrine.
I would say the video is not the most engaging for toddlers, so my husband and I took it in turns to watch this, however it is a great way to learn more about the site for older children and teenagers.
Also if you have any questions about Mount Rushmore that the exhibits and video don’t answer, this is a good place to get answers as there are lots of Park Rangers on hand to answer any questions you have.
Become a Junior Park Ranger
Whenever we visit a national park with kids, we always head to the Visitor Center to join the Junior Park Ranger program.
For those that don’t know the Junior Park Ranger program is a free program that is run at all the national parks in the US. It usually consists of a booklet with questions and tasks that your children have to complete as they wander through the site.
Once completed you return it to the Rangers Station where the ranger will check your answers and swear you in as a junior park ranger where you receive a badge.
My little ones love doing this. As we were traveling with a toddler my little one needed help to complete the tasks but it was nice that there was an easier version that she could have a go at.
Visit the Sculptor’s Studio
Once you have visited the Visitors Center we recommend heading to the Sculptor’s Studio. This information center focuses on the life of the architect and sculptor of Mount Rushmore, Gutzon Borglum as well as the workers who completed the memorial.
Also if you are traveling with older children there is another video and even a talk that may be of interest.
Eat the famous Mount Rushmore Ice Cream
When you need a break, our favorite thing to do at Mount Rushmore is to grab an ice cream at the Memorial Team Ice Cream Station.
One of the things I learnt while at Mount Rushmore is that Thomas Jefferson, one of the faces on the mountainside, created his own ice cream recipe in the 1780s. And at this station you can eat an ice cream that is based on Jefferson’s original recipe.
The Monumental Scoop is the most popular item on the menu at Carvers Cafe.
If you want to stop for a more substantial meal there are many larger meals on offer at Carver’s Cafe too.
Watch the Mt Rushmore Evening Lighting Ceremony
The Evening Light Ceremony at Mount Rushmore is absolutely a must do for anyone who is visiting between the months of May and September when this light show is on.
Now, full disclosure we did not attend this ceremony as our toddler was still experiencing jet lag and with all the things we had done that day, just didn’t have the energy to return into the memorial.
However I am already plotting a return to Mount Rushmore and South Dakota and will be prioritising the light show on our next visit.
The ceremony is a great way to see the monument illuminated against the the dark nights sky which looks stunning. The ceremony also has honours military personal in the crowd, when anyone who has served is asked to to head to the stage and call out their regiment.
If you do plan on going to the night time ceremony we recommend getting there an hour before to pick out your seat and take some snacks with you for younger children.
Drive the Iron Mountain Road
Ok so this one isn’t exactly in Mount Rushmore, but driving the Iron Mountain Road will reward you with one of the best viewpoints of Mount Rushmore.
Top Ten things to do near Mount Rushmore
Now for me Mount Rushmore is a place to do more than take a quick photograph. I In fact I recommend allocating half a day to do Mount Rushmore properly and then potentially heading back to see the evening show.
But what else can you do near Mount Rushmore. Our favorite things to do near Mount Rushmore are:
- Custer State Park
- Needles Highway
- Sylvan Lake
- Crazy Horse Memorial
- Black Hills Winery
- Wind Cave National Park
- Badland National Park
- Reptile Gardens
- Bear Country USA
- Devils Tower
- Dinosaur Park
- Storybook Island
For what to do in Rapid City with kids please check out this post.
Where to Stay Near Mount Rushmore
So now you know what to do when visiting Mount Rushmore with kids, where should you stay to visit the park.
The closest town to Mount Rushmore is Keystone. Now this is just a personal opinion but I found Keystone quote a touristy place. While undoubtedly the closest place to get to Mount Rushmore from I personally was happy to do a bit more of a drive to get there.
When we visited we wanted to stay in one place for our whole South Dakota vacation. We therefore stayed in central Rapid City as it had a lot of family friendly amenities.
But if you want to stay closer then some great options are:
- Mount Rushmore Under Canvas – this glamping location is very close to the memorial park. It books up very quickly so on our last minute trip we couldn’t get a reservation. Also given the accommodation set up it is probably better for those with older children as opposed to toddlers and babies.
- Custer State Park – again the lodging in Custer State Park book up well in advance but if you want a more outdoorsy vacation close to Mt Rushmore then this is a great option.
Facts about Mount Rushmore for Kids
Who are the four faces on Mount Rushmore?
The faces are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.
How many people died building Mount Rushmore?
No one died during the blasting and carving stage of building. Though some workers later died of lung related diseases.
How much did it cost to build Mount Rushmore?
In todays money – it cost almost 20 million to build Mount Rushmore!
FAQS about visiting Mount Rushmore with kids
How much does it cost to visit Mount Rushmore National Memorial Park?
The good news is that it is actually free to visit Mount Rushmore National Memorial. However please note there is a nominal parking fee to park at Mount Rushmore. For a private vehicle the cost is $10.
But the good news is that the parking pass can be used throughout the year, so if you return or decide to head to Mount Rushmore in the morning and back for the illuminations you don’t have to repay for parking.