Today kicks off National Park Week - one week every spring when the National Park Foundation and the National Park Service encourage everyone to experience nature and explore history with a weekend of free admission and several events planned throughout the week including Earth Day celebrations. This year is the 99th birthday of the parks and they're building up to a huge 100 year celebration in 2016. In honor of National Park Week we will be sharing our travels to destinations within the park system. Up first is Mt. Rushmore - we're going to share why we love this memorial and talk about what makes it an unmatched destination.
There is something special about a visit to the Black Hills of South Dakota. The rich history, the views, the buffalo, the landscape, the caves, the attractions and I could just keep going. The cornerstone of the Black Hills has to be Mt. Rushmore and it really is more spectacular than I ever imagined.
Mt. Rushmore itself is actually free to enter, but you do need to pay for the parking. It's not very logistical to park somewhere and walk up, though I'm sure it's possible, I would advise against it. Just pay the $11.00 and parking is covered and close, plus the parking pass is good for one year from the date of issue. We always make a point of going a few times during our visit to get use out of the pass.
Just inside the entrance is well stocked bookstore and information desk. Here you can pick up the audio tour - it's $5 and when I've asked other visitors they said it was well worth the cost. We haven't done it because an audio tour and little boys don't exactly go hand in hand. As you continue to walk towards the monument have the kids spot your state (or US territory) flag in the Avenue of Flags. It's a great picture op as well. You'll notice how pristine the grounds are - well designed and well maintained.
From the Grand View Terrace you will have the best full view of the monument and access to the amphitheater. The gift shop, ice cream store and cafe are also on this level. The gift shop is HUGE and you can find just about any trinket known to man. I'm not a souvenir person and even I find a few things in there to my liking. They also have sunscreen, pain relievers, etc. for those last minute emergencies. The ice cream tastes great on those warm summer days and the Carver Cafe offers general American cuisine. I wouldn't say a foodie would be in heaven, but it is good and your belly will be full.
To the left of the amphitheater is a very short walk called the Presidential Trail. It brings you closer to the monument are there are quite a few more things to explore including a Lakota tipi and the Sculptor's Studio. Definitely worth a trip over there. Just so you know strollers and wheelchairs won't be able to make it the whole way.
Below the Grand Terrace is an extensive museum with a short film and plenty of exhibits. Little kids might get bored in the film, but older kids and adults will enjoy it. They have a Junior Ranger program as well. And I hear that they are building a new kids area - I am excited to see that this summer! And we will be sure to blog about it.
We highly suggest going in the daytime and exploring the grounds, plan on about 2-3 hours to see everything. Though I really would spend more time if I could read everything without a little person pulling me away. And since you've already paid for your pass then come back one night at dusk for the lighting ceremony. The memorial is a whole new experience at night. Make your way to the amphitheater and grab a seat, they're all good seats. There is a veterans ceremony that will have you reaching for a tissue and further information on the monument from the park rangers. It's wonderful time to sit and take it all in.
If you're in the Black Hills and you skip Mt. Rushmore I really think you'll be disappointed. There are plenty of places around the area to get an amazing view of the monument, but experiencing it at the memorial is second to none. That being said, as you drive the area be sure to take a look at the sculpture from a distance, it's pretty impressive how far away you can see it!
- Summer is our favorite time to visit - we always avoid 4th of July and Sturgis because we don't want to deal with the crowds
- We've been to the park when it has been packed and never felt overcrowded
- The park accepts the major credit cards which is nice, but we bring cash for parking because it's faster
- The hours vary throughout the year so check the website when planning your trip
- No pets except service dogs
- Bring lots of water - it gets hot in the summer
- Allow more time than you expect
- Don't forget your camera!