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.

things to do in Rapid city South Dakota Berlin Wall Memorial Dinosaur Park Presidents

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

how to get to devils tower national monument Wyoming

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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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Devils Tower National Monument is a geographic and historic wonder nestled in the Bear Lodge Mountains of northeastern Wyoming, an extension of the Black Hills. It makes a great day trip from Rapid City, South Dakota and many who choose to visit the region for Mount Rushmore also explore Devils Tower.

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How To Get to Devils Tower

Things To Do Near Mount Rushmore Devils Tower

Devils Tower National Monument is located in northeastern Wyoming. The entrance to the park is 33 miles northeast of Moorcroft, Wyoming and 27 miles northwest of Sundance, Wyoming.

Most navigation apps will pick up the location by simply typing in the monument’s name, but if you are having trouble, you can enter

149 State Highway 110
Devils Tower, WY 82714

It’s only about a 90 minute drive from Rapid City, South Dakota to Devils Tower, making it an excellent day trip option.

Quick tip: make sure to stop in Belle Fourche, South Dakota on the drive over. It’s the geographic center of the United States! 

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Quick Tips for Devils Tower

how to get to devils tower national monument wyoming

It’s best to visit in the spring or fall, when the weather is cooler and the crowds aren’t as large. If you visit during the summer, get there early, as parking is often completely full for a few hours a day.

The park is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but the visitor’s center has more restricted hours. It is open daily from 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM, with the exception of being closed December 24th, 25th, 31st and January 1st.

It is currently $20.00 per vehicle to enter the park.

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Why Is Devils Tower Important?

how to get to devils tower national monument Wyoming

Devils Tower National Monument was the very first National Monument in the United States, designated as such by President Teddy Roosevelt on September 24, 1906.

The name “Devil’s Tower” originated from an 1875 expedition when an interpreter misunderstood a Native name to mean “Bad God’s Tower.” However, it’s now referred to as simply “Devils Tower” because apparently the geographic naming standard indicates that all apostrophes should be eliminated. 

So as much as it’s killing me to write it without one, “Devils Tower” is the correct name.

But many don’t think so.

Long before it was a National Monument, the mountain and surrounding area was sacred to many Native Americans. For 10 years, from 2005 to 2015, there was a campaign to rename the monument Bear Lodge National Historic Landmark in recognition of its original discovery and meaning. Unfortunately, unlike the campaign that changed Mount McKinley’s name to Denali, this one failed…so far.

Why Bear Lodge National Historic Landmark, you may ask? Well, for the name of the mountains surrounding it. But there’s history behind that, too…

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The Legend of Devils Tower

how to get to devils tower national monument Wyoming

There are a few variations on the legend of how Devils Tower came to be.

The Kiowa and the Lakota tribes say the one day, when a group of little girls were playing on the plains, a group of giant bears began to chase them. The girls were terrified and climbed on top of a rock to try and get away from the bears, but the rock was not high enough to keep them safe. So, they cried out to the gods for protection.

The Great Spirit heard them and made the rock grow into a tall mountain, whisking the girls away from the bears, who didn’t give up and tried to climb the new mountain, their claws leaving deep gashes in the sides. The mountain eventually grew to touch the sky and the girls became the Pleiades constellation.

The Sioux believe that when two small boys wandered away from the village, Mato, a huge bear, began to chase them because he wanted to eat them for breakfast. His claws were the size of tipi poles, so the boys were terrified and prayed to Wakan Tanka the Creator for help. He heard them, raising them on a rock for protection.

But Mato was very hungry, so he persisted, his huge claws leaving scratches on every side of the mountain. He eventually gave up, and the wise eagle, Wanblee, helped the boys back to their village.

Bottom line: Children in distress. Pursued by a giant bear. Saved by the gods.

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Things To Do at Devils Tower

how to get to devils tower national monument Wyoming

Devils Tower is all about nature: hiking, camping, and climbing. Of the 400,000 visitors a year, only 1% choose to climb to the top. If that’s you, congratulations! If not, there’s still plenty to see and do.

Stop by the visitor’s center for more information on the geographic, cultural, and historic context of Devils Tower before hiking the one-mile loop around the base of the monument.

There are plenty of places to stop, rest, and enjoy the view of Devils Tower and surrounding valleys, so plan to take at least an hour, if not 90 minutes for the hike.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind was also filmed in the area, so keep an eye out for aliens as well.

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The draw of the Four Corners is that you can be in four states at the same time. In fact, my right index finger has done exactly this. The draw of Belle Fourche, South Dakota is that you can be right smack dab in the middle of it all. The United States, that is. If you count Alaska and Hawaii (you really should).

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Where is Belle Fourche?

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

It’s in western South Dakota, serviced by Highways 85, 212, and 34. The nearest airport is in Rapid City, South Dakota and it takes just under an hour to drive over.

If you choose to fly into Gillette, Wyoming, the drive to the Center of the Nation Monument is about 90 minutes.

Luckily, the drive from both directions is easy and scenic.

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Why is Belle Fourche Important?

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

Before Alaska and Hawaii became a thing, the very center of the United States was somewhere near Lebanon, Kansas. In fact, it still is, but it’s now known as the geographic center of the contiguous United States.

When the two youngest states officially joined the Union, things had to be switched around a little bit to accommodate their locations. Enter Belle Fourche.

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

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What Is There To Do in the Area?

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

Other than stopping to take a photo with the large granite compass flanked with flags from all 50 states that marks the center of the nation, you can stop into the Center of the Nation Visitor Center and the Tri-State Museum, if open.

It’s hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 10AM to 4PM, Mountain Standard Time, but the monument is always accessible.

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What’s the Catch?

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

Unfortunately, the actual geographic center of the nation is located on private property about 20 miles away. When it was discovered, a metal pole was placed into the ground to mark the location, but the owner of the land wasn’t interested in turning his property into a full-blown tourist attraction.

So, based on the results of a National Geodetic Survey, it was decided to place the monument in Belle Fourche, as it is the closest town to the real location, and actually within the margin of error.

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You have my permission not to mention this to your friends after your visit, though. Just let them think you stood right in the center of it all.

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

If, however, you’d like to really go and see the actual geographic center of the nation, follow these instructions from the Belle Fourche Chamber of Commerce:

Drive 13 miles on HWY 85 north from the intersection of HWY 85 and 212. Turn left onto Old HWY 85 (look for a small blue sign with white lettering) and drive 7.8 miles until you see a barn on your left hand side.

On the right side of the road, you will see a small sign in red, white, and blue telling you that you have reached the Center of the Nation. Looking into the pasture, you will see a US Flag flying freely. Feel free to park and climb through the barbed wire fence and make the short walk out to the location. Make sure to watch for cow pies and snakes! At the location you will see the survey marker highlighting the “Center of the Nation.”

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

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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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