Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore

Visiting Mount Rushmore National Memorial in the Black Hills National Forest of South Dakota is a childhood must visit ritual for most Americans. Luckily, this iconic landmark is located relatively close to Montana residents with about a 5-hour drive from Billings and a 10-hour drive from Missoula.

The kids and I crossed it off our list last summer on a quick 4-day weekend trip departing from Missoula. To break up the drive we stopped roughly halfway in between in Red Lodge, MT, a rustic and scenic resort town south of Billings. During the winter, skiers and snowboarders flock to Red Lodge Mountain, a fantastic mid-sized ski area with an approximate 2,400 vertical feet of riding. With no time to explore or recreate, we cruised downtown and had a nice meal.

On the road to Mount Rushmore the following day, we made a slight detour to Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming, best known as the site of the climatic scenes from the 1977 classic movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. A visually stunning national landmark, it is also a must visit attraction at some point with the kids. Being a national monument, there is a $25 entrance fee per car. We chose to enjoy the scene from outside the park entrance as were still trying to make it to our final destination.

From Devils Tower, you can make it to Mount Rushmore in about 2 hours after passing through Rapid City, South Dakota’s 2nd largest city (pop. 77,000). Mount Rushmore lies near the touristy town of Keystone, SD, home to countless curio shops, gift stores, ice cream shops and reasonably priced lodging. Over the decades, Keystone and the surrounding area has offered numerous family amusements and entertainment options as the actual visit to Mount Rushmore can sometimes be relatively brief.

We arrived mid-afternoon and immediately went to the Memorial which is just 3 miles up from downtown Keystone. The 3-mile drive is actually exciting in terms of when the first glimpse of the classic mountain carving comes into sight. There is no entry fee to the Memorial but there is a parking fee. Walking into the main property through the visitor center and the Avenue of Flags is an awe-inspiring sight.

The kids of course knew which presidents were represented and each had their own opinions on why they were great. After viewing the memorial from the top of the amphitheater, we hiked the short Presidential Trail which brings you to the base of the incredible carvings and loops around to other historical points such as the Sculptors Studio. The visitor centers and museums tell a fascinating story of how this incredible wonder of the world was created in the 1930’s. An hour or two is sufficient time to explore and learn about this American icon of history, especially considering the attention span of today’s kids.

The remainder of trip was spent exploring the amusement and adventure options in the area. Our list included mountain slides, miniature golf, mountain coasters, wingwalker challenges, gemstone mining, and aerial adventures.

Learning the lessons and importance of these four great presidents may make this a repeat trip as the kids get older.

For more information about Mount Rushmore go here.

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