Story by Anya Murphy

What to Do and See in Mount Rushmore

Including Mount Rushmore… obviously.

Explore the nature of one of our nation’s most historical national parks on your next adventure! Of course Mount Rushmore itself is the main event, but don’t let anyone convince you there isn’t anything else cool to see. If you take the time to look, you’ll find an abundance of local wildlife, a rich cultural history, and some of the nation’s coolest off-roading terrain.

From the side of Mount Rushmore, the stratification of the rock formation is clear.

Mount Rushmore is a culturally important representation of American history, but it’s so much more than it stands for. According to the National Park Service, the monument hosts just over two million people every year, so it’s important that when you visit, you plan accordingly.

But most travel sites emphasize that you only need a couple of hours to see the park, so why make the trip all the way out there? Well, there’s far more to do in the Black Hills than you might think…

Wildlife Exploration

The Black Hills of South Dakota are home to more than just Mount Rushmore; they cover over 10,000 square miles of lands that include prairies, grasslands, badlands, and mountains. Much of that 10,000 square miles are made up of public lands, too. “Home to seven National Parks, Monuments, Memorials, Forests, Grasslands and many State Parks and Recreation Areas, we are definitely a very public place,” says the official Black Hills and Badlands website.

Elevations in the region vary from 2,500 feet to 7,242 feet, providing a home for the variety of hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, snowmobiling and ATV trails that criss-cross the region. Scenic Byways and Wildlife Loops offer driving excitement and panoramic vistas of the great outdoors for the ultimate overlanding view.

There’s an activity for just about every outdoor enthusiast in the Black Hills. ATV trails, off-road areas, and hiking trails abound, as do water recreation areas for canoers, kayakers, and fishermen. Trail riding on horseback? Yep. Water sports? You got it. Even in the winter months, you can still enjoy the outdoors, with ice fishing, snowmibiliing, and even some ski terrain. There’s also a massive geocaching culture, so keep your eyes open for caches!

Ties to Native Groups

According to the National Park Service, the Black Hills of South Daokta, where Mount Rushmore is located, are, “an important historical, spiritual, and cultural site to many tribal nations.” Many National Park sites occupy spiritually and culturally important places to Native peoples, and possess histories often marred by dispossession and exclusion of Native peoples from these sites. When you visit, it’s crictial that you treat all people and lands with care.

Mount Rushmore in particular represents the tension that has existed between the Native people of South Dakota and settlers for hundreds of years. The Black Hills themselves are held sacred by the Lakota Sioux tribe, whose history is steeped in the land itself. When settlers from the east came seeking gold in the late 1800s and early 1900s, they forcibly took land in the Black Hills from the Lakota Sioux, permanent;y damaging their relationship.

What does this mean for your visit to Mount Rushmore? Today, it’s important that we read up and learn about our history of violence throughout the West and be conscious of our ancestors’ impact on each other. Be sure you’re conducting yourself respectfully and being appreciative of all of the lives that were lost during the creation of the monument.

If you want to explore the full list of native tribes who populate the land around the Black Hills, you can find it the National Park Service’s website.

Wildlife of Mount Rushmore

Rocky Mountain Goats

If you’ve never seen a Rocky Mountain Goat before, you might be alarmed when you catch a glimpse of your first. It’s totally understandable; we were, too. They’re born climbers, and can often be spotted balancing on cliffs and other rock formations. Their soft hooves give them the ability to climb up and down the very steep terrain in the Black Hills.

According to the National Park Service, mountain goats are not native to the Black Hills. Actually, we can trace the entire population down to just six goats, a gift to Custer State Park by Canada in 1924, that escaped from their pens and found their home among the Black Hills granite peaks. There are now more than 200 mountain goats in the area. They have long, shaggy white coats that contrast sharply with their black horns, nose, and hooves.

Mule Deer

Mule deer are a commonly-spooted mammal throughout the northwest. They move with the seasons, so depending on when you decide to visit Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills, you may see them behaving differently. They spend summer days in the shade, moving and feeding during the early morning and late evening hours. In winter, they become more active during the warmer daylight hours. Mule deer eat a wide variety of grasses, wildflowers, shrubs, and parts of trees.

Yellow-bellied Marmots

You’re most likely to see Yellow-bellied Marmots along the Presidential Trail during the summer as they feed on grasses, broad-leaved plants and seeds. Marmots are true hibernators and are not active from late October until late April. During the warmer months and throughout the summer, marmots dig burrows, where they live in colonies.

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