A Mount Rushmore vacation is an American rite of passage and a great introduction to the country for foreign tourists.
You get a good dose of American history on the Black Hills itinerary as the “beautiful for spacious skies” you hear so much about. My Black Hills road trip was one of the best adventures I’ve had, so I put this itinerary together to help others make the most of the area.
Mount Rushmore Vacation Itinerary: The Best of the Black Hills
Quick Facts about Planning a Mount Rushmore Vacation
This Mount Rushmore road trip itinerary is based out of Rapid City, South Dakota because it’s centrally located to all the attractions in the Black Hills region. It’s also home to Rapid City Regional Airport, which is the closest airport to Mount Rushmore.
The activities on each day are grouped by geographic proximity. So if you’d like to do day 3’s activities on day 4, it would work — but you shouldn’t mix activities from different days because they would be too far apart, spread across the Black Hills.
You should never spend more than 2ish hours in the car with this Mount Rushmore Road Trip.
- Where To Stay in Rapid City / The Best hotels in Rapid City
My sister and I stayed at the historic Hotel Alex Johnson in Downtown Rapid City. It’s where Hitchcock stayed when he was in the area for North by Northwest filming AND it’s allegedly haunted. No word yet on the Mount Rushmore Illuminati, though.
If you visit the Black Hills during the off-season, you are likely to get a great deal at this beautiful hotel. If not, or you prefer to rough it when planning a trip to Mount Rushmore, there are plenty of reputable chain hotels in the area, like Best Western, La Quinta, etc.
- Places To Eat in Rapid City
Black Hills Bagels (closes 3pm daily)
913 Mt. Rushmore Road
Rapid City, SD 57701
Wobbly Bobby (opens 3pm daily)
510 Main Street
Rapid City, SD 57701
- Where To Rent a Car in Rapid City
If you fly in, you’ll definitely need to rent a car to properly experience the Black Hills. It’s best to pick up your rental car from Rapid City Regional Airport as it’s the closest airport to Mount Rushmore, so you can spend as much time exploring as possible and then drop it off right before you fly back out.
If your flight arrives late at night, consider returning to the airport via your hotel’s shuttle in the morning to save on rental fees, as odd pickup hours tend to drive up the rental price.
Day 1: Arrive in Rapid City and Get Settled
Whether you’re on a Mount Rushmore road trip or flying into Rapid City, odds are you will arrive in town in the late afternoon or evening simply due to the time it takes to make the trek. No matter if you’re driving from Kansas City to Mount Rushmore, or flying in from Houston like I did, I recommend spending your first evening settling into your hotel, gearing up for the fun you’ll be having, and exploring downtown Rapid City.
You could even watch a movie filmed in the area!
- Mount Rushmore Movie Scene: Films Made in South Dakota
- Paleontology and Presidents: Things To Do in Rapid City South Dakota
Day 2: Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse
You should get an early start to Mount Rushmore, stopping at Black Hills Bagels on the way for a spot of breakfast.
The drive from Rapid City to Mount Rushmore takes about 30 minutes. Plan to arrive no later than 10:00AM.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial
13000 South Dakota 244
Keystone, SD 57751
- 10 Things To Do at Mount Rushmore: Ways To Make the Most of Your Visit
- 9 Reasons To Visit Mount Rushmore: A Snapshot of America
Plan to eat lunch at the Carver’s Cafe at Mount Rushmore, leaving around 1:00PM. Next up is Crazy Horse! The drive from M Rushmore to Crazy Horse takes about 30 minutes, putting your arrival at about 1:30PM.
Crazy Horse Memorial
12151 Avenue of the Chiefs
Crazy Horse, SD 57730
After your time at Crazy Horse, you can head on back to Rapid City for a nice dinner because there isn’t a Crazy Horse restaurant. Enjoy some R&R before your next full day or return to Mount Rushmore for the nightly lighting ceremony.
Day 3: Badlands National Park and Minuteman Missile Silos
Another early start! Plan to leave your hotel again between 8:00AM and 8:30AM, as it’s a solid one-hour drive to Badlands National Park from Rapid City.
Ben Reifel Vistors Center
25216 Ben Reifel Road
Interior, SD 57750
- 10 Bad Reasons To Visit Badlands National Park South Dakota
- Bad Puns Alert: 5 Bad Things To Do in the Badlands
You don’t want to miss out on the Minuteman Missile tour! While you can look at the Delta-09 silo without a reservation, if you want to go down into the Delta-01 launch facility, you’ll need a reservation.
Tours run Thursday through Monday at 1:15PM and 2:00PM. The tour typically lasts about 30 minutes and because of limited space, accommodates six people and one Park Ranger. You should reserve your spot ASAP, up to three months in advance, here.
Unfortunately, no same-day reservations are allowed. You don’t want to miss out, so book now!
If “day 3” of your Mount Rushmore Vacation happens to be a Tuesday or Wednesday when no tours are offered, just swap out today’s activities with a different day.
As you can see, Badlands National Park and the Minuteman Missile Silos form a nice “loop” with the highway. Depending on your time of arrival and the pace at which your progress through the Badlands, you might have to do a little backtracking to see everything.
Be sure to stop at Wall Drug General Store on the way back to Rapid City for some good food and a fun souvenir.
Day 4: Devils Tower National Monument and the Geographic Center of the Nation
It’s about an 80-minute drive from Rapid City to Belle Fourche, South Dakota, home of the geographic center of the United States. It used to be in Kansas, but then Alaska and Hawaii joined the Union and things shifted.
Geographic Center of the Nation Monument
415 5th Avene
Belle Fourche, SD 57717
You can spend anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes in Belle Fourche, depending on whether the museum at the monument is open. Then head to Devil’s Tower.
Devil’s Tower is a geological wonder heavily featured in Close Encounters of the Third Kind and regional Native American tradition, so it’s a can’t-miss!
Devils Tower National Monument
149 State Highway 110
Devils Tower, WY 82714
Devil’s Tower is also conveniently close to the Montanan border, so if you’d like to check Big Sky Country off the list on your Mount Rushmore Vacation, it’s easy to take a route back to Rapid City that cuts through the corner of Montana.
Day 5: Jewel Cave National Monument and Reptile Gardens
The last day of your Mount Rushmore vacation should go out with a bang! The bang of bacon-looking rocks and lots of reptiles.
Start the day by making the 70-minute drive to Jewel Cave National Monument, southwest of Rapid City. Set your GPS to Custer, South Dakota, and from there, follow Highway 16 West. There are signs for the monument’s entrance along the road.
If needed, here are the exact coordinates:
594270, 4842528 (UTM NAD 83)
Latitude / Longitude:
43 43′ 46.6153″ N
103 49′ 46.6522″ W
You’ll want to head that way quite early as it’s a popular destination, you can’t reserve tickets ahead of time, and tours tend to fill up fast. Try to arrive at least 30 minutes ahead of the day’s first tour if you want to minimize the time you have to wait around for your slot.
You don’t want to miss the bacon rocks!
On the way back into town, stop at Reptile Gardens! It’s got an impressive menagerie of snakes, frogs, turtles, and birds. There’s even a Bond Girl crocodile. It’s the perfect place for a little family bonding over your shared love (or hatred) of snakes!
Reptile Gardens South Dakota
Rapid City, SD 57702
That’s a wrap on your vacation to Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills of South Dakota! Time to hit the road home or head to the airport for your flight home.