Mt. Rushmore and the Black Hills with kids

Why You Should Visit Mt. Rushmore

Mt. Rushmore is not only amazing to see in person, it is a historically significant monument that was very ambitious for its time.  If you choose to visit there you will have the chance to step away from your every day life to marvel at the history of our country and the foresight of our founding leaders and to immerse yourself into a truly beautiful place that has many natural wonders to enjoy.



Planning a Trip to Mt. Rushmore

I always wanted to visit Mt. Rushmore. My husband suggested that we take our family there last summer. I couldn't wait to start planning! Our family dynamics make any outing a bit of a challenge. We have one teenager and three small children with a seven year gap between our oldest and the next kid. So, keeping in mind the schedules and interest of everyone, I set out to plan a trip that our whole family could get behind.



Lodging Near Mt. Rushmore

We decided to stay at a cabin in Keystone. (It was the BEST decision for us!) With less than an hour drive each direction, it was a great central location for all the places we planned to visit. They also have a quaint downtown filled with interesting shops, a small grocery store where we stocked up on supplies and kid friendly restaurants. Our toddler particularly loved driving by the Train Museum every time we went through the main street in Keystone.

The cabin we stayed at was right off the main road, but was completely surrounded by pine trees so we still felt like we had a quiet, peaceful place to return to after a day of noise and crowds. There was an outdoor playground, a hiking trail,  and a sauna that we could use as well. 


Mt. Rushmore




Mt. Rushmore the National Memorial


The first main stop on our trip was Mt. Rushmore. We enjoyed driving  through the beautiful mountains on our way there. Suddenly as we were going along we spotted the carved faces right in the midst of all the pine trees. It was a surreal moment for me. 



There is no fee to see the memorial, but parking was $10. They had a nice information center at the entrance and then the impressive walk with all the state flags and the memorial in the background. There is also a huge museum that talks about the history of how the memorial was made and a little bit of information about each of the presidents whose faces are carved into the Black Hills forever more.




Inexpensive Activities Near Mt. Rushmore 


Storybook Island


We decided that our kids would like to visit the Storybook Island in Rapid City. There is no entrance fee for that park either. There are a whole lot of fun characters and play areas base on famous stories! It took us several hours to make our way through the whole park and to see all the characters come to life. It was very reminiscent of Disneyland, but a whole lot less crowded. All of the kids really enjoyed playing there and of course we payed the $2 to take our toddler on the train ride. For some of our kids, that was the highlight of the trip.



Chapel in the Hill

While we were in Rapid City we stopped at the Chapel in the Hill. It is a replication of an old Norwegian chapel that was built sometime in the 12th or 13th century. It is smaller than I expected it to be, but the details are amazing. Of course, it is located in a beautiful mountainous area. There is a little trail that you can hike along after you have looked around in the the chapel. They also have a small  museum cabin with items that originally came from Norway and date back to the 1800's. It was very beautiful and there was something there for all of us to enjoy.



Custer State Park

Custer State Park (which has an entrance fee of $20 per vehicle) has a brand new visitor center with a short video that shows some spectacular views of the park as well as as shots of some of the wildlife you might see. They also have some fun and interactive displays for the kids. I highly recommend asking the rangers for suggestions of where to look for the buffalo. They get frequent updates on buffalo sightings and have a good idea of where they will be.


The old visitor center also has some fun displays and a nice sized sand box in the back. My kids really enjoyed having a chance to run around and explore everything. We also ate lunch there and it was a beautiful backdrop with few people around.. 



Next we headed to the Needle Nose Highway. Wow, there are some spectacular views there and it's a drive I highly recommend.  It was also quite entertaining to watch a tour bus try to fit through the namesake tunnel that really is quite small.  




To round out our visit in Custer State Park we went to Sylvan Lake. There is a beach area and a place for swimming. There is also a really easy hike that goes all the way around the lake. There are more difficult hikes as well. The hike around the lake was perfect for satisfying the more adventurous members of our family without tiring out the little ones. Once again I was so impressed with the beauty of the Black Hills. I was not expecting to see so much beauty. It was a balm for my soul.



The Activities near Mt Rushmore that we spent Money On


Big Thunder Gold Mine

We saved a lot of the touristy things for last. We visited Big Thunder Goldmine during the hottest recorded day of the year. It was nice to cool off in the cave tour and then we panned for gold at the end. The kids LOVED panning for gold. They could have stayed for hours, but it was really  hot so we finally persuaded them to go. They all talked about that experience for weeks after. I think collectively it was the favorite activity for our kids.




 Candyland, the largest candy store in South Dakota, was a must stop for our candy loving gang. The colors and fun displays alone are worth stopping in for. They have a lot of retro candy and some specialty candy from other places. We kept the spending to a minimum by giving each kid a dollar limit. They were happy to see everything and walk away with a little treat.


Purple Pie House


We also had dinner at the Purple Pie House. The food was nothing to write home about, but my husband ordered the pie and it was, well, it was good. That is what they are known for. So, I suggest skipping the food and just ordering pie. 

The first night we ate at a cowboy themed restaurant in Keystone that had a really fun atmosphere.  At the entrance they had a saddle the kids could sit on for a photo op. The food was ok, but it was a bit pricey.


Traveling Tips 


I learned a few things about traveling with kids on this trip.  It's nice to find a balance between planning activities and having down time.  Since we had a centrally located cabin we were able to stop in for meals or to rest in between our activities. For our kids that was important to prevent the dreaded melt downs or tantrums that occur with not enough sleep and too much stimulation.

Our cabin was only minutes from town so we were able to grocery shop and do our laundry midway through the week.  That saved us a lot of space when we were packing for the trip.

There are LOTS of tourist attractions in the area and plenty of other activities as well. We spread out our vacation over five days. It was a great trip that was a perfect balance of sight seeing, playing, and enjoying time in the beautiful Black Hills of Dakota. 


If you go on a trip to Mt. Rushmore, take a picture and tag me @peachtreedrive in it !  I know you will love it as much as we did.  My kids still ask me when we are going back.


Also, if you love to travel, you should check out my post about when I visited Washington D.C. for a quick getaway.

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