Mount Rushmore is an iconic American destination. Almost everybody has seen the famous sculpture in photos – perhaps you’re hoping to see it in person on your next road trip. But you might be wondering whether you can see Mount Rushmore from the highway.
You can see Mount Rushmore from the highway. The best way to see Mount Rushmore from the highway is to head out onto Iron Mountain Road. This road takes drivers along an incredibly scenic route and offers several phenomenal opportunities to see Mount Rushmore from the road.
So do you need reservations to go to Mount Rushmore? Can you see it at night? Who made it and why? Are there tunnels that show you Mount Rushmore? Find out the answers to these Mount Rushmore questions and more in the following sections.
Seeing Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore is a monument dedicated to four of the United States’ most famous presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. These enormous carved faces span about 60 vertical feet, making them absolutely gargantuan: they define the side of the mountain and are clearly visible for some distance.
But what inspired this massive monument? To be sure, there was a legitimate desire to pay tribute to some of our nations’ most admired presidents, but there was also a more pedestrian motive at play: tourism. The idea for Mount Rushmore was born from the mind of Doane Robinson, a historian from South Dakota who wanted to attract more tourists to the state.
Initially, Robinson envisioned the monument depicting western scenes and American explorers like Lewis and Clark.
Unfortunately, finding someone to carve a mountain is no easy task, but luckily, famous sculptor John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum was coming to prominence at the same time that Robinson was dreaming of a mega-monument.
Borglum was eventually awarded the contract, but as part of his terms, he demanded that the monument be built as a shrine to the westward expansion of America. It was with that theme in mind that Borglum selected four presidents to adorn the mountain:
- George Washington, our first president, who represented the birth of the nation;
- Thomas Jefferson, whose purchase of the Louisiana Territory almost doubled the size of the country;
- Theodore Roosevelt, whose construction of the Panama Canal expanded America’s economic opportunities;
- Abraham Lincoln, who fought to preserve the union of the American states during the Civil War.
Visitors to Mount Rushmore can easily view the monument from the comfort and safety of their automobiles while driving down the road. Most of the good viewing roads are contained within the Mount Rushmore National Memorial, which is free to enter. Two of the best roads for viewing Mount Rushmore are:
The Needles Highway (SD 87 North). This highway is only 14 miles long, but due to its twisty and turny construction and the need to pass through tunnels, this road takes more than an hour to drive. However, it’s worth doing: you’ll get to see Mount Rushmore framed in the tunnels!
Iron Mountain Road. This route connects Custer State Park with the Mount Rushmore National Memorial and takes motorists through some fantastic vistas. The magnificence of the badlands and the Black Hills is fully on display on Iron Mountain Road. It is only 17 miles long, but you should budget at least an hour to traverse this road.
Road Trip Answers Fun Fact: Mount Rushmore is named for a Philadelphia lawyer, Charles E. Rushmore. While working on mining claims in South Dakota, he asked his guide what the mountain was named; his guide is reported to have said, “It’s never had one until now; we’ll call the thing Rushmore!”
Travel Tip: You won’t see Mount Rushmore, but we would strongly recommend that you also take the Wildlife Loop Road through nearby Custer State Park. This 18-mile road takes you through ponderosa pines and prairies. You’re likely to see wild animals like buffalo, deer, elk, bighorn sheep, coyotes, and mountain lions on this road. Remember to be respectful of nature and don’t mess with the animals.
Of course, while you can see Mount Rushmore from your car, there are benefits to seeing it in person. Taking the time to stop and explore the monument lets you soak in the majesty of the place and feel the gravitas. On a lighter note, stopping and exploring the monument is also a great way to get that perfect family snapshot with the presidents looking over your shoulder.
Stopping at the monument is also an excellent opportunity to watch the Evening Lighting Ceremony, where a park ranger will come and explain the history of the monument as the sun sets over the Black Hills. Then, as the ranger guides us through history, the monuments’ lights come on, bathing the presidents in light and making for quite a stirring experience.
Can You see Mount Rushmore Without Paying?
If you want to see Mount Rushmore without paying a single penny, travel on Iron Mountain Road. This road has many scenic views of Mount Rushmore and is the only scenic road that passes through the park without a fee station.
Technically, entrance to the Mount Rushmore National Memorial is free. However, there is a fee for parking. You’ll need to pay $10 to park your vehicle. In the unlikely event that you drive a commercial bus or a school bus, you’ll have to pay $50 or $25, respectively.
Active duty military members do not have to pay for parking, and senior citizens aged 62 and up only have to pay $5.
What is the Best Time of Year to Visit Mt Rushmore?
In terms of weather, the best time to visit Mount Rushmore is definitely in the spring and summer. The months of May through October tend to have the most favorable weather for visitors.
However, the favorable conditions often mean that Mount Rushmore gets crowded in the summer months, as Americans and foreigners from around the world gather to take in the sights of the monument.
If crowds aren’t your thing and you can tolerate winter weather, you might have better luck visiting in the off-season. Temperatures in the winter tend to hover between highs in the 30s and lows in the teens. So as long as you prepare for the weather and conditions, you could undoubtedly visit Mount Rushmore in the winter months and dodge the crowds.
Do You Need Reservations for Mount Rushmore?
You don’t need reservations to get into the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. There is a fee to enter the park, but you don’t need to have a reservation if you’re just visiting for the day. None of the special programs require reservations, even the famous Evening Lighting Ceremony.
However, you do need special use permits if you wish to hold special events at Mount Rushmore. For example, if you’d like to get married or scatter the remains of a loved one, you’ll need to obtain a permit from the National Park Service.
You cannot camp at Mount Rushmore, but the surrounding area has many beautiful places to camp.
Can You See Mount Rushmore at Night?
Mount Rushmore is illuminated at night from the Friday before Memorial Day to September 30. The Evening Lighting Ceremony takes place at 9 pm from May through early August, and moves to 8 pm in mid-August until September. The park closes at 11 pm, and the monument remains illuminated until that time. It is worth it to see the ceremony – visitors report that it’s an inspiring experience.
Who Carved Mount Rushmore?
Mount Rushmore was carved by sculptor John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum. Descended from Danish immigrants, Borglum studied art in Paris and developed many influential and talented connections, including the sculptor of The Thinker, Auguste Rodin.
Eventually, Borglum began experimenting with making monumental statues, including an enormous Abraham Lincoln head, which now sits in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.
As his works grew in scale, Borglum was eventually asked to carve Stone Mountain. After embracing this task and completing it with gusto, Borglum was asked to come to South Dakota and work on Mount Rushmore, a job that occupied the remainder of his days.
Don’t Rush Rushmore
South Dakota may not be on your radar for your next vacation. After all, it is not a state that gets a lot of publicity. We don’t often see headlines about South Dakota or see it in movies or on TV. But despite its relative lack of publicity, South Dakota is a pretty fantastic place. And one of the highlights of the state is the Mount Rushmore National Memorial.
While it might be tempting to zoom in to the memorial, snap a photo for your social media, and then zoom back away, the Mount Rushmore National Memorial and nearby Custer State Park are best explored at a leisurely pace.
The astonishing scenery of the badlands and the Black Hills, the incredible wildlife, and of course the legendary stone heads of four of America’s favorite presidents are worth savoring. So sit back, put the car in low gear, and take it slow. There’s no need to rush when you’re visiting Mount Rushmore!