There are plenty of things to do near Mount Rushmore, it’s just a matter of knowing what you’re looking for.
South Dakota is one of the most ruggedly beautiful landscapes in the United States. It would be a waste to see Mount Rushmore and then move on when there is so much more to see and do right in the Black Hills area.
READ MORE: 11 Interesting Facts About Mount Rushmore
10 Things To Do Near Mount Rushmore
From exploring the maze-like caverns of the world’s densest cave system to playing poker in an authentic saloon to slipping down a natural waterslide, South Dakota has countless once-in-a-lifetime experiences to suit every traveler’s interests.
1. Custer State Park
At 71,000 acres, this is the largest state park in the country. Diving through the hills and valleys, you’re guaranteed to come across at least one heard of bison as there are more than 1,300 of them living within the borders of the park.
Sylvan Lake and Black Elk Peak are two of the biggest draws of the park. The lake offers a beautiful place to swim, picnic, and relax while the 7,242-foot tall mountain offers both a challenging hike and exceptional views.
2. Needles Highway
Technically the highway is a part of Custer State Park, but it deserves its own section. This 14-mile stretch of road boasts hairpin turns, gorgeous cliff faces, scenic vistas of the park, and a handful of tunnels through the mountain faces like the Needles Eye Tunnel – an incredibly narrow square keyhole chiseled out of the yellow rockface. Be sure to check the weather in shoulder-season, as unseasonable snows can close down the road as early as September and as late May.
3. Black Hills National Forest
The Black Hills are near Mount Rushmore and are massive, taking up most of the southwest corner of South Dakota. The reserve has endless scenic drives and plenty of hiking opportunities spread across 45 miles of trails. One of the most popular hikes takes visitors just over a mile to the Devil’s Bathtub in Spearfish Canyon. This little swimming hole features cool clear water and shallow cascades that can be used as a kind of natural waterslide.
4. Deadwood, South Dakota
Usually, locations on the National Historic Register are single buildings or maybe a small neighborhood, but in Deadwood, it is the entire town. The buildings are all original from when the town was built during the 1876 gold rush.
Despite the antique look of the town, it is actually a resort town complete with modern amenities like spas, casinos, and high brow cuisine. You can experience a deep tissue massage and a shootout reenactment in the saloon all in one night.
5. Wind Cave National Monument
The Wind Cave is the sixth-largest in the world. Visitors can explore some of the 140 miles of underground tunnels with a park ranger. There are three standard tours to choose from which vary in length and what part of the cave is explored but it is highly suggested that visitors try out a specialty tour. The Candlelit Tour explores the rocks by candlelight where the Wild Cave Tour leaves the developed trails to explore the narrow crevices and deeper portions of the cave not seen by most visitors.
6. Jewel Cave National Forest
Even larger than Wind Cave, Jewell Cave got its name from the shiny crystals that line its walls. Tours explore the depth of the caves. Where the Wind Cave system is close and maze-like (it’s considered the densest in the world) Jewel cave is vast and open. Above the tunnels, the reserve extends for 1279 acres with hiking trails, picnic areas, and a vast array of wildflower fields that explode with blooms every spring and summer.
7. Bridle Ridge Horse and RV Camp (Near Mount Rushmore)
Just seven miles north of Custer, this camp offers some of the most picturesque riding trails in the Black Hills. The trails are privately owned by the camp and after riders are paired with their mount based on size and experience, they take the group through forested paths to lookouts with 360-degree views of the surrounding hills as well as the Crazy Horse Memorial which is the largest mountain statue still in production.
While the future completion of the memorial is constantly in question thanks to funding issues and disagreements among Crazy Horse’s descendants, the face is still clearly visible and dwarfs the faces of Mount Rushmore by almost 30 feet.
8. Prairie Berry Winery
When picturing American wines, people imagine California, Oregon, and occasionally Washington. Usually, South Dakota isn’t high on their list of wine destinations yet this winery has racked up over 1,000 international awards.
Fifth-generation winemaker Sandi Vojta creates each wine onside from locally available ingredients, her great-great-grandmother’s recipes, and a lot of tenacity. Flavors range from the more traditional to out-of-left-field flavors like their beloved Red Ass Rhubarb. Visits include five free tastes, though visitors usually end up leaving with a bottle or two.
9. Black Hills Balloons (Near Mount Rushmore)
Black Hills Balloons has been flying above the Badlands and the Black Hills for over 30 years. Tours begin before sunrise with the setting up and filling of the balloon. Then its time to fly as the sun rises. The tour begins with views of the sun breaking through the morning mists of Custer State Park and the Black Hills.
At this time of day, there are abundant animals out and about including elk, deer, bison, and bear. As the day begins to warm, champagne and a snack are served on board and the tour completes in time for a full lunch.
10. Sylvan Rocks Climbing School
The geology of the Black Hills makes it perfect from rock climbing with plenty of hand and footholds. Sylvan Rocks gets climbers out of the indoor gyms and onto the cliff face with personal classes that are tailored to the group’s level of experience and comfort. They offer climbs at The Needles, Mount Rushmore, and Devil’s Tower National Monument.
Their experienced instructors teach the basics of climbing as well as the skills needed to belay. Reservations are required ahead of time to match each group with the right instructor and location.