Jul 29 2011
South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore may be one of the nation’s most recognizable landmarks for adults and children alike. When our kids learned we were going to the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore was tops on their list of things to see.
So see it we did. We packed up our extended family, all 16 of us, and drove from our vacation home rental to the site. After paying the $11 parking fee (cash only, and it’s good for the rest of the year), we parked in the ramp and walked up to the memorial.
The avenue of flags has always been one of my favorite parts of Mount Rushmore, and my kids liked it as well, spotting the flags from various states as we walked to the primary overlook for the faces. With plenty of room to move about, this plaza was a good location for photos of not only the presidents, but us with the presidents, kids with the presidents, Mom and Dad with the presidents, and all of those vacation photos that need to be part of your scrapbook. We even took “Flat Kathy” from our local library along on our trip.
After we’d seen the memorial, we moved on to the Junior Ranger program. There are two places where you can pick up National Park Service Junior Ranger Program booklets for the kids–one is at the small information center as you walk in from the parking lot (across from the restrooms), and the other is in the visitor center/museum that is below the viewing plaza.
Bleachers set up in the shade on the plaza gave us a good place to start completing the booklets as the heat of the day grew, and then we moved down to the museum to do the rest. The short film about the making of Mt. Rushmore provided background information and was interesting for the adults in our party yet short enough to hold the kids’ attention (and contained the answers to some of the program booklet questions).
The Mt. Rushmore junior ranger program is divided by age, so the older kids in our group had different pages to do than the youngers. In all, six of the eight cousins completed the program and were sworn in as junior rangers when the completed their booklets. (The ranger did not let anything slide, and a few kids had to finish up things they’d missed before they could be sworn in.)
For those looking for souvenirs of Mt. Rushmore, there is a large gift shop just before the avenue of flags that is run by the park’s concessionaire, Xanterra. This is where you’ll find the pressed-penny machine, if you like to collect those, and there’s a wide variety of merchandise. It’s also very crowded.
There are also two smaller bookstores adjacent to the park ranger desks in the entry visitor center and the museum. If you’re looking for books, puzzles, postcards, or other such merchandise, you can find it in these less-crowded venues, and if you wish to become a member of the Mount Rushmore Sociey, you’ll receive a discount in these bookstores as well as others at selected national parks around the U.S. My favorite bookstore find was the Junior Ranger hat for the kids, which is perfect for storing and displaying the Junior Ranger badges they’ve collected over the years.
We spent about 2.5 hours at Mt. Rushmore just seeing the memorial and completing the Junior Ranger program. We did not hike any of the trails, and I regret that we were not able to return for the evening lighting ceremony, which I have heard is superb. Because we had arrived shortly after the memorial opened in the morning, crowds were moderate on our mid-July Saturday visit, but they were increasing as we prepared to leave. There is a large concession building with outdoor umbrella-covered seating, but we opted to eat lunch in nearby Keystone instead of at Mt. Rushmore.
Mount Rushmore is one of those American landmarks that is amazing to see, and even though this was my third time visiting, I was no less awed by the work that went into making this memorial. If you take your kids to Mount Rushmore, I highly recommend the Junior Ranger program, which can turn your visit from a ten-minute “ok-we-saw-it-let’s-go” visit to learning a lot about how this great mountain was carved into a lasting tribute to four American presidents.
Fellow family travel blogger Beth Blair of The Vacation Gals recently visited Mount Rushmore with her kids. Read her take on visiting Mount Rushmore with children.
Have you been to Mount Rushmore? Do you have any tips for visiting with kids?