A Mount Rushmore vacation is an American rite of passage and great introduction to the country for foreign tourists.

You get a good dose of American history 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.

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Quick Facts about Planning a Mount Rushmore Vacation

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This 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 of Rapid City Regional Airport, which is where most travelers will start their Mount Rushmore vacation.

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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.

You should never spend more than 2ish hours in the car with this itinerary.

  • Where To Stay 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. If you visit the Black Hills during the off season, you are likely to get a great deal on this beautiful hotel.

If not, or you prefer to rough it, there are plenty of reputable chain hotels in the area, like Best Western, La Quinta, etc.

MOUNT RUSHMORE VACATION BLACK HILLS ROAD TRIP hotel alex johnson

  • 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 definitly 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, 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

things to do in Rapid city South Dakota Presidents Sculptures

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 is takes to make the trek. 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!

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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.

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Mount Rushmore National Memorial

13000 South Dakota 244

Keystone, SD 57751

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Plan to eat lunch at the Carver’s Cafe at Mount Rushmore, leaving around 1:00PM. Next up is Crazy Horse! The drive takes about 30 minutes, putting your arrival at about 1:30PM

Things To Do Near Mount Rushmore Crazy Horse

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 and some R&R before your next full day or return to Mount Rushmore for the nightly lighting ceremony.

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Day 3: Badlands National Park and Minuteman Missile Silos

Things to do in the badlands how to get to the badlands

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

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Minuteman Missile Site

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.

Minuteman Missile Site South Dakota

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.

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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 back tracking to see everything.

Things To Do Near Mount Rushmore Wall Drug

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

Belle Fourche South Dakota: The Geographic Center of the United States

It’s about an 80 minute drive from Rapid City to Belle Fourche, South Dakota, home of the geographic center of the United Sates. 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

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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 Devils Tower.

Devils 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

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Devils 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.

MOUNT RUSHMORE VACATION BLACK HILLS ROAD TRIP hotel

just call me Hannah cause I’m in 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.

Things To Do Near Mount Rushmore Jewel Cave

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 its 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 wait around for your slot.

You don’t want to miss the bacon rocks!

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On the way back into town, stop into 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 Things to do in Rapid City

Reptile Gardens South Dakota

8955 US-16

Rapid City, SD 57702

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That’s a wrap on your Mount Rushmore vacation! Time to hit the road home or head to the airport for your flight home.

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This post is a part of my Black Hills Road Trip Series 

Many people choose to visit South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore, but there is so much more to the state than just seeing the men in the mountain!

One of my favorite “alternate activities” was a nearby geological wonder. The reasons to visit Badlands National Park are boundless, but I’ve narrowed it down to my top ten.

10 Reasons To Visit Badlands National Park South Dakota

reasons to visit Badlands national park south dakota

Scolding the lands for being so bad.

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Its Convenient Location

reasons to visit Badlands national park south dakota

Badlands National Park is a quick one hour drive from “Mount Rushmore hub” Rapid City, South Dakota and only 84 miles from the memorial itself, making it a viable and accessible option for tourists looking for other interesting things to do while visiting South Dakota.

It makes a perfect day trip from Rapid City, or pit stop on your way back east if you drove to see Mount Rushmore.

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The Cute Prairie Dogs

reasons to visit Badlands national park south dakota

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Y’all. Never in my life have I seen such adorable, chunky, and chatty prairie dogs as I did during my trip. They are reason enough to visit Badlands National Park.

Since I visited at the beginning of Spring, the little guys were just awakening from their winter stupor and were having a little bit of trouble navigating the entrances to their tunnels as they hadn’t quite started working on their summer bods yet.

It was very entertaining to see…like watching a tube of Pillsbury dough explode.

The Badlands Hiking Trails

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Perhaps the number one reason most people want to visit Badlands National Park is the hiking trails. There are steep, rugged trails. Flat, accessible trails. Long trails. Short trails. Easy trails. Hard trails. All kinds of ’em!

I’m not an expert hiker and definitly prefer moseying along a scenic byway as opposed to breaking a sweat, so I appreciated the variety of trails available.

The Breathtaking Views

Things to do in the badlands how to get to the badlands

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This reason goes along with hiking because as I attempted a trail that was harder than I thought it would be, I found myself needing to stop and “admire the views” quite often, if you know what I mean.

I’m still not sure if I couldn’t breathe because of how beautiful the Badlands looked glowing in the afternoon sun, or if because I was (and still am) very out of shape.

Be sure to build enough time into your visit to take a moment to appreciate the beauty of the Badlands!

The Movie Moments

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Did you know that Badlands National Park was the Dances with Wolves filming location? The 1992 film Thunderheart was also partially filmed inside the park.

This is one of my favorite reasons to visit Badlands National Park. It’s such a cinematic place, as soon as you arrive you’ll understand why Hollywood couldn’t stay away.

I also love seeing where movies were filmed, as it’s kind of like meeting a celebrity in its own way, so make sure to watch both of the films before visiting!

The Wide Open Spaces

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Big, blue South Dakota sky. Miles and miles of prairie land, stretching as far as you can see.

I think sometimes it’s easy to get wrapped up in ourselves. Whether we spend all of our time worrying about inconsequential things or acquiring a false sense of importance, a visit to the Badlands is almost spiritual in that it can instantly dispel both of these feelings.

Its wide open spaces remind you how small you are, but just like the insect buzzing from flower to flower, the deer drinking from the stream, or the mighty stone rising from the earth, you have a purpose and you have a place.

The Native American History

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The Badlands and surrounding areas have been sacred to many Native American tribes for thousands of years. For nearly 11,000 years, the area was home to paleo-Indians, the Arikara, and more recently, the Lakota and the Sioux. The hunting near the Badlands was particularly good and the rock formations offered natural fortifications and vantage points.

However, as a young United States pushed west, the Native Tribes were violently pushed off the land they called home and often forced into reservations. The conflict between American Homesteaders and the Plains Tribes cumulated in the Wounded Knee Massacre, a shameless slaughtering of the Native people about 45 miles from the park.

A visit to the Badlands can help expand understanding of a terrible event often omitted, or barely mentioned, in formal eduction.

The Unique Vegetation and Wildlife

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Called “the Badlands” by Native peoples because of the area’s harsh terrain and weather conditions, the lands within the park still support a plethora of life. There are prairie dogs, rabbits, deer, sheep, bison, and even coyotes out all the prowl. Although thankfully I didn’t come across any during my visit.

Make it a game and see how many you can spot during your time there!

The Geology

I only took one geology class in college, but it was enough to get me hooked! I love rocks. They rock.

The rock formations in the Badlands are like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The subtle tans, reds, and browns of each stone are so lovely they look painted and the varied jagged peaks of each mountain are thrown together with such clumsy perfection you’d think they were created simply to be photographed.

I imagine there are more specific and science-y components of the Badlands to be explored, but it’s all still pretty cool, even to my untrained eyes.

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After spending the morning admiring the boys set in stone, you might be wondering about other things to do near Mount Rushmore.

The Black Hills and surrounding areas are filled with fun things to see and do. Sure, you can get your fill of kitschy tourist traps, but there’s a reason all those places are there — the natural and historical wonders. You don’t want to miss out!

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7 Things To Do Near Mount Rushmore

I visited all 7 of these attractions during my trip to Mount Rushmore and can personally attest to how fun (and accessible!) they all are.

Crazy Horse Memorial

Things To Do Near Mount Rushmore Crazy Horse

Cost: $12 per person OR $30 for cars with 3+ people

Distance from Mount Rushmore: 16 miles / 28 minutes

Crazy Horse: the privately held answer to Mount Rushmore’s public offering. The folks who run Crazy Horse are proud to have never accepted any federal tax dollars for their work. It’s probably why the sculpture, began in 1948, is far from finished.

Admission also includes attractions like the Indian Museum of North America, the Mountain Carving Room, and the Native American Educational and Cultural Center, so visitors have the opportunity to learn more about the Lakota tribe, the culture of Native Americans as whole, and the history behind the monument. It one of the coolest things to do near Mount Rushmore, as many guests do both in one day.

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Badlands National Park

Things To Do Near Mount Rushmore Badlands

Cost: $20 per vehicle — valid for 7 days.

Distance from Mount Rushmore: 84 miles / 1 hour 30 minutes

Aside from the many bad pun opportunities (see what I did there y’all), Badlands National Park boats cute little gophers, mind blowing rock formations, and one of the world’s richest fossil beds! While visiting, you can go for a hike up into the heart of the Badlands Formations or across flatter stretches of land to peer into the canyons below.

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Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

Things To Do Near Mount Rushmore Minutemen Missiles

Cost: Guided tour $6 for adults / $4 for children — reserve in advance.

Distance from Mount Rushmore: 97 miles / 1 hour 36 minutes

“Hours of boredom punctuated by seconds of sheer panic,” is how our tour guide described the lives of the soldiers working on the missile silos.

During the Cold War, America’s missile stockpile was not locked in a vault in Washington, but rather sprinkled throughout the Great Plains, hiding in plain sight (I’m really on a role with the puns today, y’all). The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site is one of the best things to do near Mount Rushmore because of the special look you get into the every day “fighting” of the Cold War.

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Devils Tower National Monument

Things To Do Near Mount Rushmore Devils Tower

Cost:$20 per vehicle — valid for 7 days.

Distance from Mount Rushmore: 130 miles / 2 hours 13 minutes

Devils Tower likes to stand out. Not only does it rise in dramatic opposition to its surrounding topography, but it was also the very first United States Monument, ever. Teddy Roosevelt did the honors in 1906.

While many visitors (myself included), choose to simply wander around the base of Devil’s Tower and admire its ridged edges (given to it by a giant bear as he scampered up the side, legend has it), about 1% of the 400,000 annual tourists decide to make the arduous climb to the very top, just like the bear.

Will you be one of them?

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Reptile Gardens

Things To Do Near Mount Rushmore Reptile Gardens Rapid city

Cost: Varies based on season and age from $7 – $10 for kids and $10 – $18 for adults.

Distance from Mount Rushmore: 16 miles / 24 minutes

My sister and I actually only went to the Reptile Gardens because our flight out of Rapid City was delayed and we had two hours to kill, but they turned out to be two of the most fun hours of our trip! The Gardens has it all — snakes, turtles, crocodiles, birds, and more! We went to the snake show and actually has a blast learning about all the different kinds of snakes and their abilities.

I personally hate snakes, but will say I felt rather impressed by the employee who gave the snake show, as she handled and spoke to the reptiles in much the same way you might act towards a puppy you adore. Her job was obviously a great fit for her.

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Wall Drug General Store

Things To Do Near Mount Rushmore Wall Drug

Cost: Free to explore — various prices for food and souvenirs

Distance from Mount Rushmore: 76 miles / 1 hour 20 minutes

Famous for its free ice water (not as appealing when my sister and I visited during a chilly March), Wall Drug is the quintessential South Dakota Road Trip stop and one of the best things to do near Mount Rushmore simply because of its donuts.

Yes, it might try to lure travelers off of I-90 with promises of ice cold refreshment, the real kicker is the cake-y deliciousness of the donuts made fresh every day in house. I’ve never had anything like them!

Jewel Cave National Park

Things To Do Near Mount Rushmore Jewel Cave

Cost: $12 for basic tour — tends to sell out

Distance from Mount Rushmore: 32 miles / 46 minutes

Jewel Cave National Park is awesome because there are rocks inside side it that look like massive strands of bacon. Not even joking around, y’all. I left the tour starving.

The Park Ranger who gave us our tour looked suspiciously like Chief Hopper (from Stranger Things for those of you who live under a rock…omg another great pun…cause we were in a cave….get it, y’all) and although the tour is underground, it’s not an actual spelunking expedition. There’s plenty of room inside the cave and you walk on railed pathways, so there’s no need to worry about feeling trapped.

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