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 the 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 the rest of your vacation in South Dakota will need to be filled.
Add some (or all!) of these 10 amazing places to your travel itinerary and read our best hotels near Mount Rushmore list next to pick the perfect lodging!
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Map Of The Best Things To Do Near Mount Rushmore
This map will show 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 attraction.
- 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. Like we mentioned in the beginning of this guide, we have driven through this area twice on amazing US road trips through the region.
We will definitely return again in the future.
There is so much to experience, but if this is your first time visiting, you need to know exactly where to go, especially if you are limited on time.
This is exactly what we tried to accomplish with this list. We have only included the very best sites, with everything you need to know about each stop.
1. Badlands – Best National Park Near Mount Rushmore
What Is Badlands National Park?
Badlands National Park is a harsh and hostile but extraordinary landscape. It is one of the most unique national parks in the USA.
Smooth and jagged buttes and spires, colorful geological layer lines and a wide open flat expanse sit isolated in rural South Dakota.
Why Visit Badlands National Park?
Badlands is surprisingly beautiful. Photographers will enjoy sunrises, sunsets and stargazing, hikers can take on the 7 most popular trails and it is a very easy park to visit in just a few hours.
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 for 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 itinerary if time allows.
Additional Badlands Resources:
- 18 Things to See and Do at Badlands – Don’t miss the must see places
- Top Rated Hotels Near Badlands – Best places to stay for your visit
- 7 Most Popular Badlands Hikes – Explore all your hiking options at Badlands
- Badlands Best Hike Notch Trail – Our favorite hike from this area
2. Custer Wildlife Loop
What Is Custer Wildlife Loop?
Custer State Park is a wonderful family friendly state park containing a handful of the places on this list of best things to do near Mount Rushmore within its boundaries.
Custer’s 18 mile one-way wildlife loop is at the heart of what makes this such a popular park.
Why Visit Custer Wildlife Loop?
Driving slowly along Custer’s 18 mile loop is perfect for the kids, with plenty of animals to spot roaming in natural environments.
Wildlife spotting include bison (a lot!), burros, deer, elk, prairie dogs, pronghorn and eagles.
What Makes Custer Wildlife Loop Great?
- One of the best places in the US to see bison
- Very relaxing and easy going
- 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 unmissable on a visit to the Black Hills and the best part is you get to drive the amazing Iron Mountain road (US-16A) from Keystone to Custer visitor center.
Read more about Custer State Park:
- 5 Amazing Things to do in Custer State Park – Be sure to visit all the must see sites
3. Wind Cave National Park
What Is Wind Cave National Park?
Wind Cave is one of the longest and most complex cave systems on the planet, featuring unique formations known as boxwork.
But on the surface, rolling prairies are home to wildlife, hikes and viewpoints.
Why Visit Wind Cave National Park?
If you’ve ever wanted to walk through caves, this safe and controlled environment is the place to try it out for the first time with the whole family.
Various tours run all day in the cave networks, ranging from basic to serious caving.
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’s located right inside the Black Hills.
Hiking trails are typically quiet but cave tours sell out quickly each day, so our top tip is to arrive as early as you can.
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 beginning at Sylvan Lake.
The trail is gorgeous but 360 degree panoramic views from its 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.
It 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 this trail again the next time we are in South Dakota!
Black Elk Peak Hiking Tips?
- Hike early in Summer when temperatures are high
- Take layers in Spring and Fall for stops and the top
- Don’t forget a packed lunch and plenty of fluids
- Fall is the most stunning time to hike for Autumnal foliage
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.
Read more about Black Elk Peak:
- Hiking Walkthrough For Black Elk Peak, SD – One of our favorite hikes in the area
5. Sylvan Lake
What Is Sylvan Lake?
Sylvan Lake is a postcard perfect and family friendly resort at over 6,000 ft elevation.
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 immaculately.
Why Visit Sylvan Lake?
Water sports and hiking are the two major activities but it is also the perfect place for a picnic and to relax in beautiful surroundings.
It is one of the more popular places to visit near Mount Rushmore.
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 easily 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 National Treasure 2.
6. Needles Highway
What Is Needles Highway?
Needles Highway is a super-scenic road twisting and turning through the most stunning parts of South Dakota’s Black Hills National Forest.
Expect tunnels, hairpin turns, granite needles and unforgettable views. This scenic drive is just another reason we included the 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.
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’ve driven Needles Highway 4 times now for various reasons.
The main reason being that 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, this is the perfect way to see the best of Black Hills National Forest close to Mt 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 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!
The memorial does not accept funding of any type except entry fees from visitors. It is unfinished but there’s enough to see what it could become in time.
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
Crazy Horse is a popular tourist destination, but we have to be honest and say if you are traveling on a tight budget, this might be a stretch.
Entrance fees are twice as much (sometimes three times as much) the cost of visiting nearby Mount Rushmore and the statue has yet to be finished.
If budget is of no concern and you are interested in learning about the heritage of North American Indians, then this would be a great stop for you.
What Is Deadwood?
Deadwood 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 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.
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 in the northern Black Hills.
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 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.
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
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’ for your visit to South Dakota. It’s not exactly a secret, but far fewer people venture up to the northern parts, preferring to stay near Mount Rushmore instead.
However, Spearfish Canyon is seriously awesome and a certain must-visit, especially if driving onto Devils Tower / Yellowstone afterwards.
We hiked the fun Devils Bathtub trail one late April afternoon in lots of snow!
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.
Igneous rock (once magma) cooled by weathering and eroded over time has resulted in one of the most popular rock climbing arenas in North America.
Why Visit Devils Tower National Monument?
Photos don’t really do Devils Rock justice, it’s much easier to appreciate in person.
Easy and scenic hikes circle the impressive rock formation and you can watch climbers on the rock. It is arguably the most significant stop off on a Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone road trip.
Best Things To Do At Devils Tower?
- Hike the Devils Tower trail
- But don’t miss hidden gem 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 America the Beautiful Annual National Parks 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 Mount Rushmore area to Yellowstone / 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.
Read more about the Devils Tower:
More From South Dakota …
- Mount Rushmore: Complete Mount Rushmore Vacation Planner
- Hotels: The Best Places to Stay Near Mount Rushmore
- Badlands: 18 Things To See and Do in Badlands National Park
- Black Elk Peak: Complete hiking walkthrough Black Elk Peak Trail
- Custer: 5 Things You Can’t Miss in Custer State Park
- Yellowstone: Epic 10 Day Road Trip From Mt Rushmore to Yellowstone
Plan your entire South Dakota road trip with our in depth planning resource, including where to stop, where to stay and itinerary.
More From Wyoming …
- Yellowstone: The Ultimate Yellowstone Vacation Planning Guide
- Grand Teton: How to Spend the Perfect 2 Days at Grand Teton
- Wyoming Road Trip: Epic 7 Day Road Trip Salt Lake City to Yellowstone
We hope this guide to 10 of the best things to do near Mount Rushmore helps you plan your visit to South Dakota’s stunning Black Hills!
Have you been to the Black Hills? Where would you recommend visiting near Mt Rushmore?
Please let us know if you have any questions or need any help planning your visit.
Mark and Kristen
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