Mount Rushmore National Memorial is an unmissable landmark attraction for anyone planning a South Dakota road trip vacation – but what else is there to do nearby? Well, we’re going to walk you through the 10 best things to do near Mount Rushmore and we think you will be impressed by what you find in South Dakota’s beautiful Black Hills.
Supremely-scenic drives, two very different national parks and a handful of memorable hiking trails are just the beginning. We visited the gorgeous Black Hills for the first time in October 2019 and revisited in April 2021 to explore more of this hugely underrated region.
You will only need around 3 hours to visit Mount Rushmore National Memorial, so you will need to find other attractions near Mount Rushmore to fill the rest of your Black Hills itinerary.
Add some (or all!) of these 10 amazing places to your SD travel plans and read our popular guide to the best hotels near Mount Rushmore next to pick the perfect place to stay!
Map Of The Best Things To Do Near Mount Rushmore
This interactive map shows you the exact locations of Mt Rushmore and the best things to do nearby.
Click or touch to activate the map, zoom in / out and move around South Dakota to find each of the top attractions near Mount Rushmore.
- Dark Red – Location of Mount Rushmore National Memorial
- Dark Blue – Locations of the 10 best things to do near Mount Rushmore
10 Unmissable Things To Do Near Mount Rushmore, South Dakota
The Black Hills in South Dakota is a beautiful region to drive through. We can all but guarantee you will be impressed.
Like we mentioned in the beginning of this guide, we have personally explored this area twice as part of amazing US road trips through the region. And we will definitely return again in the future.
There are dozens of fun things to do in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
However, if this is your first time visiting the area, you will only want to know the top attractions near Mount Rushmore, especially if you are limited on time.
This is exactly what you will find in this guide.
We have only included the very best things to do around Mount Rushmore, with everything you need to know about each stop.
Let’s get started with Badlands National Park!
1. Badlands – Best National Park Near Mount Rushmore
What Is Badlands National Park?
Badlands National Park is harsh and hostile, but it is also an extraordinary and unique landscape.
Smooth and jagged buttes and spires, colorful geological layer lines and a wide open flat expanse sit isolated in the Badlands of rural South Dakota, not far from Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills.
Badlands is always quiet, which means hiking trails are never overcrowded.
Why Visit Badlands National Park?
Photographers will enjoy sunrises, sunsets and stargazing in Badlands National Park. Whereas hikers can take on 7 popular trails, both behind the Badlands Wall and on top of it.
One of the best things about Badlands is that it is a very easy national park to visit in just a few hours. You will see bighorn sheep, bison and prairie dogs.
Overall, we think Badlands is one of the best national parks in the USA and it is a quick side trip on your visit to Mt Rushmore.
Best Things To Do At Badlands National Park?
- Drive the scenic loop stopping at every overlook
- Yellow Mounds is a tourist favorite
- Hike Notch Trail for a bit of adventure
- Door Trail is an easy walk with excellent Badlands Wall views
- Spot a surprising amount of wildlife
How Far Is Badlands National Park From Mount Rushmore?
- 83 miles from Mt Rushmore to Badlands Loop Road
- Drive time under 1h 30m via I-90
Despite being a 3 hour round trip, Badlands National Park is one of the better things to do near Mount Rushmore and we highly recommend you include the park on your Black Hills SD itinerary if time allows.
Our Badlands Guides:
- 18 best things to do at Badlands
- Top rated hotels near Badlands
- 7 best Badlands hikes
- How to hike Notch Trail
2. Custer Wildlife Loop
What Is Custer Wildlife Loop?
Custer State Park covers a huge portion of land in South Dakota’s Black Hills and it contains several of the places on this list of best things to do near Mount Rushmore within its boundaries.
The Custer State Park wildlife loop is a wonderful and family friendly 18 mile one-way wildlife drive at the heart of what makes this such a popular park.
Why Visit Custer Wildlife Loop?
Driving slowly along Custer State Park’s 18 mile wildlife loop is perfect for the kids, with plenty of animals to spot roaming throughout natural environments.
Wildlife to look out for includes bison (a lot!), burros, deer, elk, prairie dogs, pronghorn and eagles. You can park up in several spots to climb small mounds for higher elevation vantage points.
Just don’t forget your binoculars!
What Makes Custer Wildlife Loop Great?
- One of the best places in the US to see bison
- Very relaxing and easy going
- Option to see everything from the car with no hiking required
- Begins at Custer visitor center with educational exhibits
How Far Is Custer Wildlife Loop From Mount Rushmore?
- 20 miles from Mt Rushmore to Custer State Park visitor center
- Drive time 45m via US-16A (scenic and epic road!)
Custer wildlife loop is one of the most unmissable things to do near Mount Rushmore and in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
We highly recommend driving the twisting and super scenic Iron Mountain Road (US-16A) from Keystone to Custer visitor center.
Our Custer State Park Guide:
3. Wind Cave National Park
What Is Wind Cave National Park?
Wind Cave National Park features one of the longest and most complex cave systems on the planet, showcasing unique formations known as boxwork.
There are several different cave routes for tourists to explore with a guide each day. Some are more challenging to navigate than others.
Back on the surface, rolling prairies are home to wildlife, hikes and viewpoints all within Wind Cave boundaries.
Why Visit Wind Cave National Park?
If you’ve ever wanted to walk through caves, the safe and controlled environment inside Wind Cave National Park is the place to try it out for the first time with the whole family. It is very child friendly.
Various tours run all day in the cave networks, ranging from basic to serious caving.
Tours in Wind Cave are based on first come first served each day, so it is important you arrive early to avoid disappointment.
Things To Do At Wind Cave National Park?
- Ranger led cave tours (first come first served each day)
- Wildlife spotting (more bison!)
- Very quiet hiking trails such as Rankin Ridge and Centennial
- Backcountry camping
How Far Is Wind Cave National Park from Mount Rushmore?
- 40 miles from Mt Rushmore to Wind Cave visitor center
- Drive time 55m via US-385
Wind Cave is South Dakota’s much lesser known and less visited National Park and it is located right inside the Black Hills.
Hiking trails around Wind Cave are typically very quiet but cave tours sell out quickly each day.
Important – You can also consider visiting Jewel Cave National Monument, which is closer to Custer and may suit those with less time available.
4. Black Elk Peak – Best Hike Near Mount Rushmore
What Is Black Elk Peak?
Black Elk Peak (formerly known as Harney Peak) is a fantastic moderately rated 6.5 mile roundtrip loop hike beginning at Sylvan Lake.
The trail is gorgeous but 360 degree panoramic views from Black Elk Peak summit and fire watchtower are spectacular.
Black Elk Peak is listed in our popular guide to the 50 best hikes in the USA.
Why Hike Black Elk Peak?
We personally think Black Elk Peak is the best all-round hike in the Black Hills and South Dakota.
In fact, we would go as far as saying hiking Black Elk Peak is the number one thing to do near Mount Rushmore if you are a big hiker.
The trail isn’t too steep or demanding, the scenery is beautiful and the summit view over 4 US states really is special.
We will certainly hike to Black Elk Peak summit again the next time we are in South Dakota!
Black Elk Peak Hiking Tips?
- Make sure you hike early in the morning in Summer when temperatures are high
- Take layers in Spring and Fall to keep warm at stops and the top
- Don’t forget a packed lunch and plenty of fluids, it is a long day
- Fall is the most stunning time to hike for Autumnal colors
How Far Is Black Elk Peak from Mount Rushmore?
- 16 miles from Mt Rushmore to Black Elk Peak Trailhead
- Drive time 35m via SD-244 and SD-87 (Needles Highway)
If you’re looking for an epic trail to hike in the morning before visiting Mount Rushmore later in the day, Black Elk Peak is by far our top recommendation.
Our Black Elk Peak Hiking Guide:
5. Sylvan Lake
What Is Sylvan Lake?
Sylvan Lake is a postcard perfect lake and resort at over 6,000 ft elevation, not far from Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
At 17 acres in surface area, the lake is only 30 ft deep at its deepest and on a still day you can see boulders with trees reflecting on the water immaculately.
Why Visit Sylvan Lake?
Water sports and hiking are the two most popular things to do around the family friendly Sylvan Lake area. But it is also the perfect place for a picnic and to relax in beautiful surroundings.
Sylvan Lake is one of the more popular places to visit near Mount Rushmore. In Summer, you will find crowds gathering around the lake to swim and sunbathe.
Hikers should be aware that Sylvan Lake has a fun loop trail with boulders on the far side. Plus, for more experienced hikers, a fantastic trail called Sunday Gulch begins right around those same boulders.
Best Things To Do At Sylvan Lake?
- Swimming in Summer
- Canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding
- Photography year round
- Hiking around the lake in a picturesque loop
- Sunday Gulch Trail 4 mile loop (moderate) for more experiences hikers
- Starting point for Black Elk Peak
How Far Is Sylvan Lake from Mount Rushmore?
- 16 miles from Mt Rushmore to Sylvan Lake
- Drive time 35m via SD-244 and SD-87 (Needles Highway)
Sylvan Lake is the perfect place to spend a day if some members of your party want to take on Black Elk Peak and / or Sunday Gulch while others relax by the lake.
It is very central along Needles Highway and is definitely one of the best things to do near Mount Rushmore.
Fun Fact: Smooth granite boulders on the lake edge were used as filming location for an entrance to the treasure room in the movie National Treasure 2.
6. Needles Highway
What Is Needles Highway?
Needles Highway is a super-scenic road which twists and turns through the most stunning parts of South Dakota’s Black Hills National Forest.
Expect tunnels, hairpin turns, granite needles and unforgettable views.
The scenic Needles Highway drive is just another reason we included South Dakota’s Black Hills in our guide to the 50 best places to visit in the USA.
Why Drive Needles Highway?
Needles Highway and nearby Iron Mountain Road are both exceptionally scenic drives, which allows anyone to see the best of the Black Hills without having to hike or pay entry fees.
You can drive Needles Highway to reach Sylvan Lake and Black Elk Peak from Keystone and Mt Rushmore. Pull over as often as possible to soak up the region’s immense beauty.
Hikers should be aware that Cathedral Spires Trail begins along Needles Highway. This short hike is one of the most popular in the Black Hills.
Tips For Driving Needles Highway?
- Drive slowly and take care of other vehicles
- Tunnels funnel into one lane
- Don’t miss Cathedral Spires hike trailhead on Needles Highway
- Parking for Cathedral Spires is on a tight U bend
- This road will be busy in Summer so arrive early
- RV’ers max width 8 ft and max height 11 ft to pass through tunnels
- Needles and Iron Mountain Road form a scenic loop between Keystone and Custer
How Far Is Needles Highway From Mount Rushmore?
- 9 miles from Mt Rushmore to west Needles / 14 miles east Needles
- Drive time 15m west Needles / 30m east Needles
- Needles Highway is 17 miles long and would take 40 mins without stopping
We have personally driven Needles Highway a half dozen times. It is truly a wonderfully scenic route surrounded by granite needle like rocks and vibrant ponderosa pine trees.
If you’re not big into hiking, driving the likes of Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road is the perfect way to see the best of Black Hills National Forest close to Mount Rushmore.
7. Crazy Horse Memorial
What Is Crazy Horse Memorial?
Crazy Horse is a partially carved mountain monument, which has been under construction since 1948 and is still a long way from completion.
When it is eventually finished to the original design, Crazy Horse is slated to become the second tallest statue in the world.
Why Visit Crazy Horse Memorial?
To help with funding the project for a start!
Crazy Horse Memorial does not accept funding of any type except entry fees from visitors. It is unfinished but there’s enough to see what it will hopefully become in time.
You can learn all about the history of the site and the project underway through various information boards.
Tips For Visiting Crazy Horse Memorial?
- Ticket prices vary depending on season
- You will pay per person not per vehicle
- There are 3 museums and orientation film
- You can see the sculpture from the main road
How Far Is Crazy Horse From Mount Rushmore?
- 22 miles from Mt Rushmore to Crazy Horse
- Drive time 35m via US-16 and US-385
Is Crazy Horse Worth Visiting On A Trip To The Black Hills?
If budget is of no concern and you are interested in learning about the heritage of North American Indians, then yes Crazy Horse will be a great stop for you.
However, despite Crazy Horse being a popular tourist destination, we have to be honest and say if you are traveling on a tight budget, it might be worth skipping this one for now until it is more complete.
Entrance fees are twice as much (sometimes three times as much) the cost of visiting nearby Mount Rushmore and the memorial has yet to be finished.
Just something to consider.
What Is Deadwood?
Deadwood SD gained notoriety in the 1870’s thanks to the Black Hills Gold Rush and legendary old west characters such as Wyatt Earp, Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok.
Deadwood’s town is listed as a national historic landmark district thanks to its old-west architecture.
Why Visit Deadwood?
Deadwood might now be a Black Hills gaming resort but if you look past the casinos, there are still plenty of historic references, quaint coffee shops and old buildings to enjoy for a few hours.
Even if you head over to Deadwood just to see some of the more famous sites from the old west, it is well worth a quick stop when combined with Spearfish Canyon and Devils Tower.
Best Things To Do In Deadwood?
- Walk the historic main street downtown
- Embrace the Wild West theme in town
- Summer reenactments of Wild Bill assassination
- Hike or bike the George S Mickelson trail
- Visit the Adams Museum for Deadwood history
- Broken Boot gold mine tour
How Far Is Deadwood From Mount Rushmore?
- 50 miles from Mt Rushmore to Deadwood
- Drive time 1h via US-385
Deadwood has lost some of its old world charm but it is still a fun place to visit for an hour or two between Mount Rushmore and Spearfish Canyon.
We just walked the historic main street, stopped for hot chocolate in an old cafe and continued to a hike along Spearfish Canyon.
9. Spearfish Canyon – Most Underrated Thing To Do Near Mount Rushmore
What Is Spearfish Canyon?
Spearfish Canyon is a 20 mile scenic byway cutting down through a stunning canyon in the northern Black Hills of South Dakota.
Spearfish Creek is flanked by narrow 1000 ft tall limestone cliffs and a winding road for drivers to relax and enjoy the scenery with a 35mph speed limit.
Why Drive Spearfish Canyon?
Spearfish Canyon is more than just a scenic drive.
You can stop to hike various trails, photograph a number of picturesque waterfalls or just pull over to gaze up at the magnificent canyon walls.
For those who want to do more scenery and less hiking near Mount Rushmore, driving Spearfish Canyon is up there with the best things you can do.
Best Things To Do In Spearfish Canyon?
- Bridal Veil Falls, Roughlock Falls and Spearfish Falls
- Hike Iron Creek, Eleventh Hour Gulch or Devils Bathtub
- Cycle up or down the uniform 3% grade
- Wildflowers, wildlife and stunning natural environment
- We hiked the fun Devils Bathtub trail one late April afternoon in lots of snow
How Far Is Spearfish Canyon From Mount Rushmore?
- 51 miles from Mt Rushmore to Cheyenne Crossing (start of Spearfish Canyon descent)
- Drive time 1h 12m via US-385, 277 and US-14 ALT
Spearfish Canyon is our top rated ‘hidden gem‘ attraction near Mount Rushmore for your visit to South Dakota’s Black Hills.
It’s not exactly a secret, but far fewer people venture up to the northern areas of the Black Hills, preferring to stay near Mount Rushmore instead.
However, Spearfish Canyon is a certain must-visit, especially if driving onto Devils Tower or even on to Yellowstone afterwards.
10. Devils Tower National Monument
What Is Devils Tower National Monument?
Devils Tower is a unique, remarkable and unmissable natural rock formation in northeast Wyoming just over the border from South Dakota near Mount Rushmore.
Igneous rock (once magma) cooled by weathering and eroded over time created Devils Tower, which today is one of the most popular rock climbing arenas in North America.
Why Visit Devils Tower National Monument?
Photos really don’t do Devils Rock justice, it is much easier to appreciate the sheer scale and size of the formation in person.
Easy and scenic hikes circle the impressive Devils Tower and you can also watch climbers on the rock.
When driving a Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone road trip, Devils Tower is the most significant place to visit between the two popular tourist spots.
Best Things To Do At Devils Tower?
- Hike the Devils Tower trail
- But don’t miss the hidden view from Joyner Ridge trail
- Awesome photography opportunities, particularly sunrise
- Rock climbing
- Campground for tents and RV’s on site
Top tip: Entrance is free to Devils Tower if you have an America the Beautiful Pass.
How Far Is Devils Tower From Mount Rushmore?
- 130 miles from Mt Rushmore to Devils Tower
- Drive time 2h 10m via US-16 and I-90
- Or drive through Deadwood and Spearfish Canyon on the way to Devils Tower
For us, Devils Tower is a dead cert stopping off point if you plan to drive from the Mount Rushmore area to Yellowstone and Grand Teton.
If you’re just on a short South Dakota road trip, we still think it’s worth visiting but give it more thought as it is a 4 hour round trip.
Our Devils Tower Guide:
Best Things To Do Near Mount Rushmore FAQ’s
Let’s take a quick look at some of the most asked questions about what you can do around Mt Rushmore.
There are 10 unmissable attractions around Mount Rushmore to consider including in your itinerary. Badlands, Custer State Park and Devils Tower are the three top attractions you should prioritize.
You can easily see Mount Rushmore in just a few hours, there’s not much to do at the memorial except hike a boardwalk trail and admire the sculpture from below. After you finish at Mt Rushmore you can spend the rest of your time exploring several fantastic nearby attractions.
Yes, you can quite easily do both Mt Rushmore and the best of Badlands in one day. There is no real benefit to starting and ending at one or the other, although sunrise over Mount Rushmore is spectacular if you can make it work with your itinerary.
More From South Dakota
- Badlands: 18 Things To See and Do in Badlands National Park
- Black Elk Peak: Complete hiking walkthrough Black Elk Peak Trail
- Black Hills Hotels: The Best Hotels To Book Near Mount Rushmore
- Custer: 5 Things You Can’t Miss in Custer State Park
- Keystone: 8 best hotels in Keystone South Dakota
- Mount Rushmore: Complete Mount Rushmore Vacation Planner
- SD Road Trip: The Perfect 4-7 Days South Dakota Road Trip Itinerary
- Yellowstone Road Trip: Epic 10 Day Road Trip From Mt Rushmore to Yellowstone
More From Wyoming
- Grand Teton: How To Plan The Perfect 2 Days Itinerary In Grand Teton
- Yellowstone activities: Best Things To Do In Yellowstone National Park
- Yellowstone Itinerary: The Perfect 4 Days In Yellowstone Itinerary
- Wyoming Road Trip: Epic 7 Day Road Trip Salt Lake City to Yellowstone
We hope this guide to the 10 best things to do near Mount Rushmore helps with planning your visit to South Dakota’s stunning Black Hills!
Please let us know if you have any questions or need any help planning your visit.
Mark and Kristen
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Mark and Kristen Morgan are travel, hiking and photography experts. Over the last 6 years traveling full time, they have explored more than 40 countries and 30 US states.
Their work has been featured in USA Today, Gestalten, Get Your Guide, CityPASS and Condé Nast Traveler along with various other publications.