Planning Your Time
Mount Rushmore and the small cities and tourist industries that grew up around it are filled with sights and activities to delight just about every kind of traveler. It is possible to spend as little as a day here, celebrating American history at Mount Rushmore, or a full two weeks or more, experiencing the outdoor recreation opportunities, museums, galleries, and attractions of the region.
In order to experience the best the Central Hills region has to offer, plan to spend a minimum of three days in the area. The Black Hills region in its entirety is compact, but the winding mountain roads in the Central Hills can result in a lot of time behind the wheel, so you’ll want to plan your time carefully.
There are two basic travel strategies for visiting the Black Hills. You can choose a location to use as a base camp and plot a series of day trips around it, or plan a meandering route through the hills, spending one night here, two nights there as the route and attractions dictate. The one itinerary for you will depend on your overall travel plans and personal preference.
If you plan to spend more than a day or two exploring the Central Hills, consider Hill City or Keystone as a base camp for your visit, as both are conveniently close to all of the attractions of the Central Hills. For a short visit, day trips from Rapid City, just 45 minutes from Mount Rushmore, can also be a successful approach.
If you are starting your journey into the hills from Rapid City, the fastest road to Mount Rushmore is U.S. 16, also known as Mount Rushmore Road. But if you have the time and would enjoy a dramatic approach, go a little out of your way to approach the carving from Iron Mountain Road (U.S. 16A). Iron Mountain Road begins in the south in Custer State Park and then heads north to Mount Rushmore.
To drive to Mount Rushmore on this scenic byway, travel south on Highway 79 and then head west (take a right), on Highway 36. Continue on for nine miles. Just as you enter Custer State Park, go north (take a right) on Iron Mountain Road.
Enjoy the scenery and watch for the faces of Mount Rushmore to appear, framed by one of the tunnels through which the road is carved. Bring carrots for the wild burro herd you are likely to encounter.
© Laural A. Bidwell from Moon Mount Rushmore & the Black Hills, 1st Edition