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The 10 Best Things To Do Near Mount Rushmore

The 10 Best Things To Do Near Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a standout attraction for your visit to South Dakota. But you’ll only need around 3 hours to explore the memorial, so what will you do with the rest of your time? Well, there’s many more fun things to do near Mount Rushmore in the beautiful Black Hills.

In this guide we show you the 10 best attractions, activities and places to visit near Mount Rushmore based entirely on our own experiences.

Our Mount Rushmore Experience

Couple standing together underneath a welcome to South Dakota sign on the side of a road in a wide open landscape
Here we are entering South Dakota in April 2021

We’ve visited Mount Rushmore twice since we began traveling full time in 2018. First, we watched a stunning sunrise light up the four presidents faces in October 2019. The second time we saw a blanket of snow covering the sculpture in April 2021. During both visits, we spent 4 days exploring the top Black Hills attractions for a total of 8 full days in the region.

After traveling the US extensively, we honestly think South Dakota’s Black Hills are a hugely underrated region. There’s so much to do and it’s all located within a small area. Plus, the scenery is spectacular, the hikes are fun and there’s 2 national parks to visit. We recommend October as the best time to visit the Black Hills so you can see beautiful golden leaves covering the landscape. Read more about us.

About This Guide

There’s lots of things you can see and do in South Dakota’s Black Hills, but in this guide we’re only going to show you the 10 best activities, places and attractions near Mount Rushmore. You’ll likely only have a few days in the area, so you should focus on the top things to do!

Our list is randomly ordered to keep it completely free of bias. We think all 10 attractions work for a first visit to South Dakota, but you should pick out what you think fits best with your travel style and itinerary.

Further Reading: Our guide to visiting Mount Rushmore

Attractions Map

Click the map below to activate. Zoom in and out, move around the Black Hills and see the locations of the best places to visit near Mount Rushmore.

Map key:

  • Red – Mount Rushmore National Memorial
  • Blue – Top attractions near Mount Rushmore
 
Infographic by Where Are Those Morgans showing the 10 best things to do near Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota's Black Hills
Best things to do near Mount Rushmore infographic – Where Are Those Morgans

1. Badlands National Park

Hiker raising hand in the air in front of a wide open rugged landscape with canyons and colorful soil layers beneath a dark cloudy sky
Kristen enjoying the solitude in Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park is a unique landscape filled with buttes, spires, canyons, ravines and other rugged geological features. Not only is Badlands the best national park near Mount Rushmore, it’s also one of our favorite US national parks because it’s easy to visit, it’s close to the Black Hills and it’s incredibly photogenic.

You can hike short and easy trails or simply drive through the park stopping at overlooks with picturesque views. We’ve seen bison, prairie dogs and lots of bighorn sheep across our two visits to Badlands. It’s always very quiet, so the trails and overlooks are never too busy, and the animals are active. Entry is $30 per vehicle and the pass is good for 7 days, or you can use your America the Beautiful Pass.

  • Distance from Mt Rushmore: 84 miles
  • Drive time: 1 hour 25 minutes (one-way)

Further Reading: Best things to do in Badlands National Park

2. Custer Wildlife Loop

Close up photo of a huge bison walking along the edge of a road and eating grass
Bison on the side of Custer Wildlife Loop Rd

The Custer Wildlife Loop is an 18-mile one-way drive through tranquil rolling hills in Custer State Park. It’s perfect if you’re visiting South Dakota as a family because the loop road passes by wildlife roaming freely. You can drive straight through or you can stop and walk short distances from the road to better see bison, burros, deer, elk, prairie dogs, pronghorn and eagles.

You’ll pay $20 for a Custer State Park pass (it’s good for 7 days and you can use it for Needles Highway, Sylvan Lake and Black Elk Peak so keep it handy). We recommend you drive the wildlife loop early in the morning or much later in the day for the best chance of seeing active animals. It’s open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can reach the wildlife loop from Mount Rushmore by driving the exceptionally scenic US-16A, better known as Iron Mountain Road.

  • Distance from Mt Rushmore: 21 miles
  • Drive time: 50 minutes (one-way)

Further Reading: The best things to do in Custer State Park

3. Wind Cave National Park

Steps leading down into a cave with yellow light illuminating the path
Staircase leading down into Wind Cave

Wind Cave National Park features one of the longest and most complex cave systems in the world and it showcases unique honeycomb-shaped formations known as boxwork. Above ground, Wind Cave is also home to rolling hills, wildlife and hiking trails like Rankin Ridge Trail. We took a fantastic cave tour at Wind Cave and despite being further from Mt Rushmore, we think it’s well worth the trip.

The only way you can explore the caves is with a ranger-led tour, which typically cost around $16 per adult. There are several cave tour routes and times available daily but they change throughout the year. You can book certain cave tours in advance but there are always first come first served tickets available each morning. We recommend booking your cave tour in advance at this official recreation.gov site to avoid disappointment on the day.

  • Distance from Mt Rushmore: 48 miles
  • Drive time: 1 hour (one-way)

Alternative: If you can’t get on a Wind Cave tour, try nearby Jewel Cave National Monument instead.

4. Black Elk Peak

Mark and Kristen from Where Are Those Morgans holding onto a flagpole at the summit of Black Elk Peak hiking trail near Mount Rushmore in South Dakota
Here we are at the summit of Black Elk Peak

Black Elk Peak is a moderately difficult 7-mile roundtrip hike with 1,500 feet elevation gain. Several picturesque trails lead to Harney Fire Lookout Tower and the highest point in South Dakota at 7,242 feet, but we recommend you take trail #9 up and then trail #4 down. At the summit you’ll be rewarded with spectacular 360 degree views over Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota.

For us, Black Elk Peak is by far the best hike near Mount Rushmore. We’ve also included it in our guide to the 50 best US hikes because it really is fantastic. We recommend hiking the trail in October so you can see an ocean of emerald greens and golden yellows lighting up the Black Hills grey granite rocks. The trailhead is located on the shores of Sylvan Lake.

  • Distance from Mt Rushmore: 23 miles
  • Drive time: 40 minutes (one-way)

Further Reading: Black Elk Peak hiking walkthrough

5. Sylvan Lake

Hiker standing on log covered in snow in front of a lake surrounded by ice
Mark in the snow at Sylvan Lake SD

Sylvan Lake isn’t just where you go to hike Black Elk Peak. It’s a popular tourist destination in its own right, especially in summer when you can swim, paddle and float in the lake. You can use picnic tables, a campground (here’s our exclusive 30 day free trial with The Dyrt), a general store, a beach and canoe rentals. Look out for photographers and even weddings taking place around the lake in warmer months.

There’s a family friendly loop trail you can hike around the lake, but stronger hikers can also take on the fun Sunday Gulch Trail which begins behind big boulders on the west side of the lake. Those boulders were also used as a filming location for the entrance to the treasure room in Nicolas Cage’s National Treasure 2. Sylvan Lake has a 5/5 rating on Tripadvisor with more than 2k reviews, so it’s definitely not one to miss when you’re in the Black Hills.

  • Distance from Mt Rushmore: 23 miles
  • Drive time: 40 minutes (one-way)

Need help planning your Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone road trip?

Our popular 45+ page Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone Guidebook includes a detailed 10 day itinerary with maps, directions and top attractions.

6. Needles Highway

Narrow tunnel leading through granite rock with trees growing on top and a blue sky above needles highway scenic drive
Tunnel through rock along Needles Highway

Needles Highway is a scenic drive with twists, hairpin turns and stunning views. The 14-mile long road passes through ponderosa pine and spruce forests, piercing granite rocks and narrow tunnels. If you plan to visit the Black Hills in an RV, you should know that the tunnels are 8 feet wide and 10 feet tall, so you might not fit through. We certainly wouldn’t risk it!

It doesn’t matter which direction you drive Needles Highway, but we recommend you allow a few hours to hike the awesome Cathedral Spires Trail which is located half way along the road. It leads to a picturesque bowl shaped climax with needle-like granite rocks bursting into the sky. For us, Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road are the two unmissable scenic drives near Mount Rushmore.

West side of Needles Highway:

  • Distance from Mt Rushmore: 18 miles
  • Drive time: 25 minutes (one-way)

East side of Needles Highway:

  • Distance from Mt Rushmore: 14 miles
  • Drive time: 30 minutes (one-way)

7. Crazy Horse Memorial

Distant view of Crazy Horse Memorial mountain carving into granite rock on a cloudy day, similar type of attraction to Mount Rushmore but unfinished
The huge Crazy Horse Memorial in South Dakota

Crazy Horse Memorial is a partially carved mountain monument that has been under construction since 1948. The carving of a Lakota warrior riding a horse and pointing in the direction of his tribal land is still a long way from completion. But once it is eventually finished to its original design it will become the second tallest statue in the world.

Entry fees range from $12-35 depending on number of people in a vehicle and time of year. Admission includes an orientation film, views of the sculpture, scheduled cultural programs and 3 museums including the Indian Museum of North America which houses a large collection of art and artifacts from more than 300 Native Nations. There are optional add-ons if you want to take a guided tour to the bottom or top of the mountain.

  • Distance from Mt Rushmore: 24 miles
  • Drive time: 30 minutes

8. Deadwood

View up the old historic main street in downtown Deadwood SD with wooden building facades and tourists
Downtown Deadwood South Dakota

Deadwood is one of the best preserved Wild West gold rush towns in the US. It gained notoriety in the 1870’s thanks to legendary western characters like Wyatt Earp, Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok. Deadwood has retained many features from its old western appearance, but today you’ll actually find a thriving casino town.

The entire downtown area of Deadwood is listed as a national historic landmark. We’re not gamblers, so we simply took a walk down the historic main street, soaked up the unique western architecture and stopped in for a hot chocolate in a quaint cafe next to the site where Wild Bill Hickok was assassinated in 1876.

  • Distance from Mt Rushmore: 49 miles
  • Drive time: 1 hour 10 minutes

Further Reading: The best hotels in Deadwood SD

9. Spearfish Canyon

Narrow creek with snow on the ground and a tall cliff wall to one side
Devils Bathtub hiking trail in Spearfish Canyon

Spearfish Canyon is a 20-mile scenic byway carving through a deep canyon in the northern Black Hills. The winding road follows Spearfish Creek and is flanked tightly by 1000-foot tall limestone cliffs. Beginning at Cheyenne Crossing and ending in Spearfish, you’ll have a maximum speed limit of just 35mph, which means you can really relax and enjoy the scenery.

We recommend stopping to photograph Roughlock Falls, Spearfish Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. If you’re into hiking you can take on Iron Creek, Eleventh Hour Gulch or Devils Bathtub. We hiked the latter and it was a fun creekside trail with lots of creek crossings. For us, driving through Spearfish Canyon is the most underrated thing to do near Mount Rushmore. It’s a true hidden gem.

  • Distance from Mt Rushmore: 51 miles
  • Drive time: 1 hour 10 minutes

10. Devils Tower National Monument

Couple standing together for a photo on wide open field in front of Devils Tower in Wyoming
Mark and Kristen at Devils Tower WY

Devils Tower National Monument is a unique and mightily impressive natural rock formation in northeast Wyoming, just over the border from South Dakota’s Black Hills. Igneous rock (once magma) was cooled by weathering and over time it eroded to form what you’ll see today at America’s first national monument.

Entry fees for Devils Tower National Monument range from $15-25 but you can use your America the Beautiful Pass. We recommend hiking around the base of Devils Tower on the flat and paved path. But for the best middle-distance views, you should drive to Joyner Ridge and gaze back upon the skyline dominating formation.

  • Distance from Mt Rushmore: 83 miles
  • Drive time: 1 hour 30 minutes

Further Reading: Our guide to visiting Devils Tower

In Conclusion

Mount Rushmore is a bucket list US landmark, but it doesn’t take long to visit. You’ll need to fill your itinerary with other nearby activities and there are plenty of attractions to consider.

We think Badlands, Black Elk Peak, Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road, Wind Cave and Devils Tower are the best things to do near Mount Rushmore.

Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone Road Trip Guidebook by Where Are Those Morgans

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We hope this best things to do near Mount Rushmore guide helps with planning your trip to South Dakota’s Black Hills!

Please let us know if you have any questions or need help planning your visit in the comments below.

Happy Travels,

Mark and Kristen

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Karen Wamsley

Friday 21st of October 2022

We’ve been here all week and have had a blast!! Who knew the Black Hills were so gorgeous and that there were so many great things to do here!! Thanks for a great guide!! We’ve driven all the beautiful highways and hiked the great trails. We’ve recommended your guide to a few friends already. Thanks again.

Mark and Kristen Morgan

Thursday 27th of October 2022

Hi Karen, we're so happy to hear you have enjoyed your time in the Black Hills! It is such a great area to explore and we can't wait to go back again ourselves for another trip. Hope you were treated to those stunning golden leaves this time of year. Thanks for letting us know you found our guide helpful and happy travels!

MaryRuth

Sunday 17th of July 2022

This was so helpful! This will be our first trip To S. Dakota and had no idea there were so many great things to do near mt. Rushmore.

Thank you!!!

Mark and Kristen Morgan

Monday 18th of July 2022

Thank you, Mary - we hope you have a wonderful trip to South Dakota!

Cal

Wednesday 13th of April 2022

I was going to see Mount Rushmore and I never made it I left Deed wood stop by a small stream and I found the best trout fishing I ever I got Rainbow brown and Brook trout and all in Short time I was in fly fishing heaven and I didn't make it to see Mount Rushmore I don't regret what I did I only regret is I never got to go back

Mark and Kristen Morgan

Thursday 14th of April 2022

Cal this made us laugh ... Next time you head out to South Dakota, avoid all streams so you don't miss Mount Rushmore!

Betsy

Saturday 19th of February 2022

Great article & answered most questions I had @ this area 👍

Mark and Kristen Morgan

Sunday 20th of February 2022

Thanks Betsy, let us know if you have any other questions we didn't cover, we're happy to help.

Kaitie

Tuesday 7th of September 2021

This site was so helpful. I love the way you laid it out. Perfect.

Mark and Kristen Morgan

Wednesday 8th of September 2021

Thank you, Kaitie. Glad you found it helpful and have a great trip to South Dakota!