Updated: Jan 22, 2020
We all have an iconic image of the 4 presidents on the side of a mountain etched into our brains from those elementary school history classes, but for many of the visual of seeing it in person is something of a wonder and intrigue.
For this reason thousands flock to the South Dakota Black Hills to catch their glimpse of this iconic and special. landmark. But if this trip is one you would like to make there are a few things you might want to know before you make travel plans to this American gem.
1 - NOT ALL THE SITE IS CURRENTLY OPEN
When I choose to make the trip I had nothing but vivid ideas of what I would be seeing. I was a bit fooled by the internet to say the least. I envisioned walking up and having that iconic WOW moment where I was able to see Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt and Jefferson in their full gusto peering off into the distance on a grand scale.
I had this mental image of me walking though the Avenue of Flags with each state represented and me finding that perfect moment to capture a photo which encompassed the feeling of patriotism and pride.
What happened instead?
I walked in and found a large construction zone in place of this iconic walk!
I have to say there is nothing more disappointing than having an idea and dream be disrupted by the reality of expansion and growth. You never expect that when you visit such an iconic place. Small improvements, yes, but complete shut down of some of the most iconic pieces of your expectations, NO!
This construction undertaking began in Summer of 2019 and is slated to run for 18 months. During this time visitors will have very limited access. Access during this time is not available to the Avenue of Flags, the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center and the Grand View Terrace.
So what does that mean for those visiting during this phase of construction??
You will need to get creative with your photos as you will be at a further distance. You will need to make sure to heed warnings of being able to access lawn areas around the open areas which might be tempting to scale onto for better photos but are actually restricted. You will face heavier volumes of people since there are fewer places they can access.
2 - YOU WANT TO BE AN EARLY BIRD
Mount Rushmore is one of the most visited sites in the US and it quickly becomes congested as the day passes. Midday is the worst time of day to visit the park not only because of ongoing constructing limiting access but because of parking which can easily become a nightmare for those who have anxiety despite the parking structure being very well constructed.
While there is a bit of a break during fall months and earlier spring during the summer this is something which can make or break your day. If you are truly wanting to enjoy the beauty of the construction and have the most options at capturing the site without interruption of others arriving before 11 am is key.
3 - EVENING PROGRAM DATES
If you happen to be visiting the park from May to late September you will have the option to enjoy the evening program. This program is an iconic must when visiting the site and offers a look into patriotism and reverence for those who have served or are actively serving in the armed forces.
During this program they officially light the park for the evening, share a ranger talk about the site and a film which truly fills in many of the blanks you might be questioning. Typically this program is a lively event with frequent applause and more than a fair share of ooohhhs and awwws from the crowds.
This program is held in the amphitheater area and has plenty of seats for the crowds. They want this to be a fully inclusive event so there is access for those of all mobility requirements.
I personally suggest arriving early to secure your seats of choice. While this is a popular event nightly, it draws a very diverse crowd. Unfortunately sometimes this means that people simply are there to take photos and not necessarily listen to the program. You will be able to assess the situation by arriving early and make sure you are able to fully enjoy the experience on your terms by having more seating selection options.
4 - YOU WILL PAY $10 NO MATTER WHO YOU ARE
Have a park pass? That does not apply to this site!! Senior? Military? Again does not apply!!
When I visited I noticed that the location itself does not charge admission. Instead they charge for parking and this is something which allows them to garner $10 per vehicle. Now if you do the math on this one like I did, this is in large part why the park makes so much money despite being one of the smaller locations.
Just know before you go that this can be handled with cash or card and is NOT avoidable!
The upside of this fee? You can then access the park for up to 1 year if you hold onto your receipt of payment.
5 - OTHER VANTAGE POINTS
If you are not wanting to fight the crowds or simply cannot seem to manage the perfect photo during your visit there are 2 additional vantage points I would suggest in park and one outside of the park for making that special memory and capturing your moments.
A walk along the Presidential Trail will lead you to a location which is much closer to the sculptures and a bit more intimate. Even with other tourists visiting this trail, because it takes a bit more work to access you will notice that there are far more clear areas for making that perfect memory.
Along this trail additionally, you will find the Sculpture's Studio which not only has an impressive smaller scale version of the mountain and the iconic carvings, but also a window with a very interesting vantage to see.
Both of these points can be access from within the park, they do require a few stairs and a bit of walking to access but are well worth the effort if you visit just to have a unique look at the park, the sculptures and mountain.
Just outside of the park you an find a pull off which offers a side profile of Washington. He almost sneaks out of the mountain and as you drive you might just miss him if you aren't taking advantage of all of the unique pull off options.
When I visited I stopped to see something else and turned and it was surprised by the face almost popping out at me. I was able to walk down the side of the highway on a small gravel area which is sheltered from the shoulder and capture the perfect afternoon view of the first president. It actually to me was a much more intimate look than any view I could find in the park.
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