Tips for a great vacation to Mount Rushmore.


There are so many choices one can make for a satisfying and fun summer vacation.  One consideration is whether or not it’s financially feasible to head out for a fun time.  I have found that the best travel options offer some learning.  Especially with families, the right choices can provide lasting memories.  Since we’re right in the middle of the country, options abound.  It’s easy enough to drive to many locations, and while gasoline prices are high, travel by car is less expensive than air or train travel.  I leave out buses, which are not my idea of a leisurely way to spend time unless you opt for a chartered tour.

A few years ago we decided to go to Mt. Rushmore.  This had been on my bucket list for a long time.  I suppose we’ve all seen pictures of the magnificent monument, and so we know what to expect, but it’s kind of like seeing the ocean in Hawaii.  It really is the same color you see in photographs, only even more beautiful.  Mt. Rushmore is an awesome sight.  I cannot even conceive how such a project was executed, and yet there it is.

There’s plenty to see along the way, if you choose this national monument.   You will experience the vastness of America as you drive from Sioux Falls to the National Park that is home to Mt. Rushmore.  Along the way there are old western towns that have been used in movie sets such as “Dances with Wolves.”

There’s no shortage of amazing vistas where one can see for miles and miles across the prairie.  A wonderful musical instrument museum in Vermilion at the University of South Dakota can be both interesting and educational.  Sioux Falls is full of iron sculptures which adorn the streets of the downtown area.  They’re really beautiful depictions of horses, bison and various other subjects appropriate to the area. Sioux Falls is the home of, you guessed it, Sioux Falls.  This rushing river cuts through the heart of the city and Falls Park is built on the banks of Big Sioux River, a tributary of the Mississippi.  A laser light show is projected on the side of an old mill that reviews the history of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

As you proceed across South Dakota you will come to Mitchell, the home of the “Corn Palace.”  Every year this venue is redecorated on the outside and every inch is covered with some part of the corn plant.  This landmark hosts a number of basketball games and other events and is a popular sight for anyone passing near there.

Also Wall, S.D., the home of Wall Drug is another landmark you will see.  This is a store with every possible piece of kitsch you can imagine. It covers a full city block and one can find all varieties of foods and souvenirs.  This is not my favorite place, but if you’re a flea market fan, you will surely find something here that you can’t live without.  Make sure and try a buffalo burger while in Wall.

Bison are abundant in ranches that flank the highway as you proceed across this great state. When you finally arrive at the memorial, you simply drive in and pay a flat fee for the carload. It was $10 when we went, which is most reasonable, and good for entry the rest of the year.  If you stay nearby, you can revisit the monument as many times as you like.  A wonderful and most reasonably priced cafeteria is available on the monument grounds.  You can sit outdoors and look up at the amazing sculpture while you enjoy a nice meal.  A visitor information center leads to an elegant marble walk that includes a gift shop, the cafeteria and the extended walkway with the fifty state flags lining the path.   The gift shop is a good one with nice jewelry and a number of other items made from the natural materials available from the surrounding terrain.

An amphitheatre nestled beneath the monument provides a proscenium style theatre where, in the evening a touching tribute to all who have served in the military completes the patriotic stirrings of the entire experience.  The back drop of the stage is made up of Ponderosa Pines and behind that stands the majestic sculpture of four of our great presidents.  The entire audience sings the National Anthem, and again, a brief and interesting history of the monument is relayed.  This all happens as the sun slowly sets behind the mountains to complete a tableau that is truly awe inspiring.

At the end of the presentation, the flag is retired with the help of all the veterans in the audience, who have been called to the stage to participate and be honored.  It is a truly moving experience, and this whole trip provides a historical and geographical treasure for students who return to school in the fall to write the ever expected, “How I spent my summer vacation.”   It’s an easy A to start out the year.

The closest town to the monument is Keystone, S.D.  Various tourist attractions dot the main street of Keystone, including the starting point for a fun 1880’s train ride to Hill City through the mountainous terrain, which is both fun and relaxing.

Once you leave the monument, you have the option of returning by a different route.  The Black Hills in the far western part of the state, the Crazy Horse sculpture still in progress, Jewel Cave National Park and other caves are available as you travel west and then south into Nebraska.  In Grand Island, NE, you can visit a living history farm that is enjoyable in part because it is interactive and again, educational.  It’s a hands on experience rather than a “don’t touch” museum.

I’ve been blessed to enjoy travel to many places in the world.  I can say without reservation that this is one of the most memorable trips I’ve ever taken.  If you’re a camper, it’s a great way to save even more money, but you will find that it’s a trip worth every penny you spend on it.