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Appallingly constructed on sacred ground of the Teton Sioux tribe, Mount Rushmore National Memorial or the ‘Shrine of Democracy’ took nearly 14 years of construction to reach its current state, but was originally supposed to depict the presidents from head to waist. The project was abandoned in 1941 due to lack of funding, but still fulfills its original purpose of being a major tourist attraction, bringing in nearly 2 million tourists per year.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial is open 365 days a year, with the gates opening before dawn at 5am, and closing at 11pm. This monument draws a pretty big crowd, so if you want to escape from the masses I suggest coming early or late in the evening for the nighttime lighting. I’d also suggest checking out the visitors center, which is open 8am-10pm during the summer, is only closed on Christmas Day – but does have shorter hours in the colder months (you can see all their hours for the entire year here). Also, the monument is free to visit, but parking costs $10 per car (waived for active military members). Still, an extremely reasonable price to this extremely famous monument of (literally) presidential proportions.
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On top of the typical knick-knacks and t-shirts you can get in the gift shop, the monument also has in depth information about the (rather disturbing) history of the monument and a cafe – I’d highly recommend the vanilla ice cream, which is an original Thomas Jefferson recipe. The sculptor’s studio was also a fascinating element, which features miniature planning models created by the sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, for the memorial’s design.
Beyond seeing the memorial itself, the must-do attraction I can recommend is to walk the President’s Trail up to the mountain engravings. At 0.6 miles long the trail is relatively short, but features 422 stairs so be prepared for a bit of a climb. The trail is extremely well maintained, and had gorgeous pines growing all along it. Unfortunately, the trail isn’t really designed for those with mobility issues, but there is still an excellent view of the monument from the first lookout point.
My only complaint is that there is not much really to do once you have visited the information center and walked up to the memorial. Whilst seeing the glorious faces carved into the mountain is as awe-inspiring as you can imagine, this is really more a short morning stop then a full-day event. It’s definitely one of those parks that you get what you put in; If you are heading onwards to nearby Custer State Park and Wind Caves National Park to the south, then the national memorial is perfect for a quick stop – but those looking to spend a day or two here might find themselves running out of things to do by the first morning.