A winding road leads visitors to Mount Rushmore, South Dakota, where the sculpted faces of four presidents -- George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln -- gaze into the distance. Neither the National Park Service nor concessionaires operate any accommodations at the national memorial, but nearby towns provide ample hotel and motel rooms, inns and campsites.
Keystone, a former gold-mining town, is just two miles northeast of Mount Rushmore. Once you’ve seen the memorial, you can take an excursion train ride through the Black Hills on the 1880 Train or try your luck at the Big Thunder Gold Mine. Rushmore View Inn has rustic rooms with a Western motif. The inn also manages a vacation rental that was the home of William B. Franklin, owner of the Holy Terror Mine. Pet-friendly Keystone Boardwalk Inn and Suites has standard rooms and larger, family-sized suites with two beds, a pull-out sofa, mini-fridge and microwave. Kemp’s Kamp has sites for RVs with full and partial hookups, and no-hookup tent sites.
Twelve miles northwest of Mount Rushmore, Hill City was the first town established in the Black Hills because of the discovery of gold, but it made its fortune from tin mining. While “Sue,” a remarkably complete Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton unearthed in Hill City, is now on display in Chicago, visitors can stop by the museum at the Black Hills Institute to explore the region’s natural history. Harney Peak Inn, with only six standard rooms, provides a guest reception nightly during the summer season. Holly House, a bed and breakfast featured in author Richard Paul Evans’ book “The Road to Grace,” has five themed rooms. Palmer Gulch is a KOA camping resort with cabins, a lodge and a campground.
In 1875, General George Crook rode into an illegal mining camp and told the men the area wasn’t open to settlement yet, but they could lay out a town and come back when the Black Hills opened to non-Native Americans. Twenty miles southwest of Mount Rushmore, Custer, named for the general who would die a year later at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, has a historic courthouse and playhouse. Budget-friendly Calamity Peak Lodge has motor court-style standard rooms surrounding a two-bedroom vacation rental. Fans of the architectural style known as “googie” will appreciate the Rocket Motel’s 1950s neon sign and décor. If you’re traveling with kids, The Flintstones Bedrock Theme Park & Camping Resort has campsites and cabins.
Rapid City, 23 miles northeast of Mount Rushmore, is the largest municipality in the area and has the greatest selection of chain hotels, inns and motels. Founded in 1876 by a couple of miners who decided to lay out a city and hope settlers would move there, Rapid City has a historic downtown where full-sized bronze sculptures of U.S. presidents stand on each corner. Hotel Alex Johnson, a member of Historic Hotels of America, appeared in director Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “North by Northwest.” The upscale hotel has standard rooms and suites, a spa and salon, and a restaurant and coffee shop.
State Parks and National Forests
Custer State Park, 28 miles southeast of the memorial, has multiple camping options including equestrian, primitive, improved and group campgrounds. A herd of bison have free range of the park, including the campgrounds, so it’s wise to learn how to behave around the massive animals. Scenic drives wind through prairie dog towns and past granite spires. Black Hills National Forest surrounds Mount Rushmore, covering an area 65 miles wide and 125 miles long. Of the 30 campgrounds in the forest, Grizzly Bear Campground, one mile southeast of Mount Rushmore, is closest to the memorial. Big rigs are not recommended.