Mount Rushmore National Memorial Overview

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Mount Rushmore stands at the gateway to the West and was built to embody the spirit of the foundation, preservation, and expansion of the United States. There is no greater monument to American expansionists' efforts to tame the wild and rugged terrain of the West. It took 14 years for an unconventional sculptor named Gutzon Borglum and his crew to carve 60-foot-tall faces of four U.S. presidents—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln—into a wall of exposed granite. The faces tower over a setting of pine, spruce, birch, and aspen on 5,725-foot Mount Rushmore.

It started as an idea to draw sightseers. In 1923 state historian Doane Robinson suggested carving some giant statues in South Dakota's Black Hills. Robinson was not the first American to think that a big country demanded big art. As early as 1849, Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton proposed a super-scale Christopher Columbus in the Rocky Mountains. In 1886 the 150-foot Statue of Liberty was unveiled. Now in the 1920's, Borglum was carving a Confederate memorial on Stone Mountain in Georgia.

There are some quick and worthwhile activities right near the monument: Hike the Presidential Trail for an up-close view, visit Sculptor's Studio to learn about the construction of the monument, pick up a commemorative spoon at the gift shop. But GORP suggests that you get these out of the way and take to the hills—the Black Hills, that is. Spending some time in the area surrounding Mount Rushmore is a great way to experience the West. The rugged rock formations, canyons and gulches, open grassland parks, tumbling streams, deep lakes, and caves of the Black Hills National Forest typify the majestic landscape that inspired Gutzon Borglum to build Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

How to get to Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore National Memorial is 25 miles southwest of Rapid City, South Dakota, via U.S. 16 and three miles from Keystone via U.S. 16A and S. Dak. 244. Major airlines and bus routes serve Rapid City. Mount Rushmore is surrounded by a network of public lands, including the Black Hills National Forest, Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park, and Black Elk Wilderness.

Hike the Harney Range
The Harney Range trail network boasts 50 miles of trail and 14 trailheads. With 12 trails to choose from, you can plan a trip of an hour, a day, or several days. The Harney Peak Loop is a combination of four trails starting at the Iron Creek Horse Camp that will take you to the top of 7,242-foot Harney Peak, the highest point east of the Rockies. This is a challenging trip, but from the summit you'll enjoy panoramic views of South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Montana.

Bike the Centennial Trail
This 111-mile multiuse trail runs the length of the Black Hills, from Bear Butte State Park in the north to Wind Cave National Park in the south. The Centennial Trail passes through prairie grasslands and then climbs into the Black Hills high country, skirting lakes and streams along the way. You'll come within one mile of Mount Rushmore, and maybe even closer to the buffalo that roam freely in the area. Other wildlife includes bighorn sheep, white-tailed deer, and mountain goats. Bikers share the Centennial Trail with hikers and horses most of the way, but they must use an alternate route around Black Elk Wilderness, which is closed to bikes.

Fish 400 Miles of Trout Streams
The Black Hills are home to over 400 miles of trout streams and 14 lakes. Sportsmen can cast fly lines in year-round solitude surrounded only by ponderosa pine forests. Brook trout populate the headwaters of the streams, while wild brown trout and stocked rainbow trout inhabit the main stems of the Black Hills waters. This is a dry-fly fishing haven, one where anglers can catch lots of 10- to 14-inch wild brown trout or search for one of the 25-inch browns lurking in the water's darkness.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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