In 1923, South Dakota state historian Doane Robinson had a bold idea to increase tourism to the Black Hills. He envisioned giant carvings of frontier heroes piercing the skyline. To realize his vision, Robinson convinced sculptor Gutzon Borglum to come to the Black Hills and carve the granite spires known as “the needles.” But Borglum wanted more than Wild West heroes, he wanted a monument that represented all of America and what the country stood for. Instead of carving the Needles, Borglum chose to carve a mountain.
Blasting of the granite began in October of 1927. Over 400 men worked on the mountain setting dynamite charges and chiseling the faces of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. These laborers climbed 100 stairs every morning and made only eight dollars a day. They endured extreme danger and volatile weather conditions, but miraculously not a single person died during the 14 years it took to carve the faces. In 1941, Borglum suddenly died and the monument was officially dedicated, even though it was never fully completed.
While the memorial carving wasn’t completed, the vision of increasing tourism to the Black Hills was realized. Mount Rushmore National Memorial hosts over three million visitors a year. You can gaze upon the 60-foot faces from the viewing terrace and amphitheater. If you want a closer view, walk the half-mile Presidential Trail, which loops along the base of the mountain.
Mount Rushmore offers a variety of guided Ranger tours, interpretative programs and an award-winning audio tour. During the summer months, a moving and patriotic evening program ends with the lighting of the faces. A gift shop, café, museum and Sculptor’s Studio are also onsite.
Location: approx. 25 minutes north of Custer on SD HWY 244
Hours/Seasonality: Mount Rushmore is open year-round except for on Christmas Day. Gift shop, café and Sculptor Studio hours vary by season. Lighting ceremony held from Memorial Day weekend until the end of September.
Fees/Reservations: There is no entrance fee for the park but a parking pass is required.