American landmark took 14 years to complete, meant to commemorate the nation ‘until the end of time’
A monument’s dimensions should be determined by the importance to civilization of the events commemorated.
— Gutzon Borglum
The creation of Mount Rushmore which set the images of four American presidents in towering monumental relief in the Black Hills of South Dakota began on this day in history, October 4, 1927.
“Mount Rushmore is a project of colossal proportion, colossal ambition and colossal achievement,” writes the National Park Service (NPS) which assumed management of the landmark by order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933.
The monument immortalizes presidents George Washington (1789-97), Thomas Jefferson (1801-09), Theodore Roosevelt (1901-09), and Abraham Lincoln (1861-65).
Danish-American sculptor Gutzon Borglum led the effort which employed about 400 men and women before it was completed on October 31, 1941.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial is open year-round, seven days a week, and is located 23 miles from Rapid City. The memorial offers a variety of activities so plan to spend at least four to five hours there. Visitors can leave and return to the memorial the same day for the evening lighting ceremony. Mount Rushmore also features a gift shop, an information center, and an award-winning audio tour.
“A monument’s dimensions should be determined by the importance to civilization of the events commemorated,” Borghlum said of his majestic relief in which the face of each president stands about 60 feet in height.
“Let us place there, carved high, as close to heaven as we can, the words of our leaders, their faces, to show posterity what matter of men they were. Then breathe a prayer that these records will endure until the wind and the rain alone shall wear them away.”
When Texas Sen. Tom Connolly questioned the project, Borglum responded fiercely, “Mount Rushmore is eternal. It will stand until the end of time.”
The artist never saw his vision to completion.
He died of a heart attack in March 1941. His son Lincoln Borglum oversaw the project in its final months.
The face of each president was slowly revealed over years of work: first Washington (1930), then Jefferson (1936), then Lincoln (1937), and finally Roosevelt (1939).
Washington’s faith in the new republic in its darkest hours earned him the title Father of His Country.
Jefferson gave humanity the belief that “all men are created equal.”
Roosevelt was one of the world’s leading reformers and environmentalists and won the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize.
And Lincoln emancipated from slavery nearly 4 million Americans and inspired the nation through the tragedy of the Civil War.
Yet those achievements are not good enough for some Americans today—as Mount Rushmore has come under attack in recent years by “woke” pundits.
“Can we retire using Mount Rushmore? That should be offensive to all of us especially Native Americans—indigenous people who were the first people here before Christopher Columbus,” former NBA star and basketball analyst Jalen Rose said in a video tweet. “That land was stolen from them when it was discovered that it contained gold,” he also said.
Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., responded days later by introducing the Mount Rushmore Protection Act.
The act prohibits the use of federal funds “to alter, change, destroy, or remove the likeness, the name of or any of the faces on the Mount Rushmore National Memorial,” Johnson’s office said in a press release.
The process for carving the monument from a mountain face of granite and sandstone was ambitious, daring, and dangerous.
Rock was first blown off the mountain with the use of targeted explosives before the process got increasingly more precise.
“Dynamite was used until only three to six inches of rock was left to remove to get to the final carving surface,” writes the NPS.
At this point, the drillers and assistant carvers would drill holes into the granite very close together. This was called honeycombing. The closely drilled holes would weaken the granite so it could be removed often by hand.”
NPS also said, “After the honeycombing, the workers smoothed the surface of the faces with a hand facer or bumper tool. In this final step, the bumper tool would even up the granite, creating a surface as smooth as a sidewalk.”
The work “was exciting, but dangerous”—yet not one person died in the 14 years of construction despite the explosives, heights and daunting conditions, the NPS reports.
The noble countenances emerge from Rushmore as though the spirit of the mountain heard a human plan and itself became a human countenance.
Few truly wild places remain in the U.S. Custer State Park is one of them. Nearly 1,300 bison wander the park’s 71,000 acres which they share with pronghorn antelope, elk, mountain goats, and a band of burros. Trail rides, scenic drives, bike rides, and safari tours are perfect ways to explore this impressive South Dakota attraction.
Below are two highlights of a fall visit to Custer State Park: Needles Highway and the legendary Bison Roundup.
The Needles Highway is a spectacular drive through pine and spruce forests, meadows surrounded by birch and aspen, and rugged granite mountains.
As names go, Needles Highway does the job well. Along this winding 14-mile stretch of South Dakota Highway 87 in South Dakota’s Custer State Park, eroded granite spindles and pillars tower all around, hundreds of rocky splinters stitching the sky.
The Needles Highway is more than a 14-mile road—it’s a spectacular drive through pine and spruce forests, meadows surrounded by birch and aspen, and rugged granite mountains. The road’s name comes from the needlelike granite formations that seem to pierce the horizon along the highway.
On foot and horseback in the early 20th century, South Dakota Gov. Peter Norbeck mapped out the entire striking, spiking passage of what is now known as the Needles Highway. All you need are four wheels. Set aside an hour for a scenic drive through forests of ponderosa pine and spruce, past meadows of aspen and birch, around hairpins, next to rock walls, through tight tunnels.
Visitors traveling the highway pass Sylvan Lake and a unique rock formation called the Needle’s Eye, so named for the opening created by wind, rain, freezing, and thawing. The route includes the not-quite-9-foot-wide (8 feet 9 inches wide by 9 feet 8 inches high) Needles Eye Tunnel; creeping through it feels like threading its namesake.
Take it easy
Winding drives throughout the park are most enjoyable at a slower pace. Allow ample time to travel at a safe speed—generally 25 miles per hour or slower. Expect a travel time of about 45 to 60 minutes to enjoy Needles Highway.
If a coveted parking spot remains at the cramped Cathedral Spires Trailhead near the tunnel, grab it. Even the view from the lot is pretty but sure-footed visitors can get even bigger, more dramatic vistas from the trail.
This trail features areas unique to the Black Hills area such as the Cathedral Spires/Limber Pine Area, a Registered National Natural Landmark. This is a one-way trail and does not connect to the Black Elk Peak Trail System.
The 2.3-mile out-and-back starts gently enough. Soon, though, hikers encounter steps, switchbacks, and steep scrambles. The trail ends in a flat mountain valley, spires rising like a Gothic holy place—albeit the kind with mountain goats flaunting their fleet feet. Keep a camera close at hand. Goats give great faces, their spindly little horns right on brand with the well-named scenery.
The Sunday Gulch Trail offers perhaps the most unique scenery of all the park’s hiking trails. Descending into Sunday Gulch the trail crosses the stream several times while passing over large boulders and near magnificent granite walls. Sunday Gulch presents a variety of unique plants rarely seen in other areas of the park. Spruce, pine, and a mixture of hardwoods line the trail.
The Sylvan Lake Shore Trail offers passing motorists an opportunity to stretch their legs on a leisurely walk the whole family will enjoy. This trail makes a complete loop around Sylvan Lake and is among the easiest trails in Custer State Park. Enormous granite formations line portions of the lake making it one of the most picturesque in the Black Hills. While most of this trail is relatively flat, a portion contains steps and crosses exposed rocky areas. Sections of the trail are not suitable for strollers.
Take it slow
Don’t worry about cramming everything at Custer State Park into one day. A $20 park pass allows entry for seven consecutive days. Annual passes are available too. The park’s lodging offers a choice of four resort areas with plenty of activities and camping sites.
Take it steady
Mountain goats have four appendages helping them stay upright in this craggy landscape. No shame in doing the same with a good pair of hiking poles.
It is the quiet before the thunder. The morning sun has further gilded the golden grasslands of Custer State Park, spread over more than 70,000 acres in western South Dakota. Cowboys and cowgirls mill on their mounts, dotting ridgelines above a sprawling valley. Riders chat; horses whiny. Most eyes fix on the sight below—hundreds of cocoa-hued bison, grunting, wandering, and waiting.
Then, a hoot. A whipcrack. More shouts. Riders begin to move in an annual choreography to gather the herd from the open range, check its health, and chart its future.
The annual Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup and Arts Festival attracts more than 20,000 spectators who edge the vistas the last Friday of each September (September 28-30, 2023) to watch riders corral the beasts. But this isn’t herding cattle. (And, if we’re getting technical, they aren’t buffalo.) The bison is North America’s largest mammal. Bulls can weigh up to a ton and reach 6 feet tall. And they can move, running 35 mph with the ability to turn on a dime.
Around 1,300 head of bison call the park home. But they don’t just live here. They are the lifeblood, the heartbeat of this place. Once 30 million strong and the cornerstone of life for Native Americans who used them for food, fuel, shelter, and spiritual celebration, bison were driven to the brink of extinction by settlers.
Custer bison descend from the private herd of a South Dakota rancher named James Scotty Philip whose wife was part Cheyenne. Philip and his family worked at the turn of the 20th century to rescue the dwindling species and eventually sold a few dozen animals to the state of South Dakota.
More than a century later, the herd thrives, freely and at home on this range in the Black Hills, a sacred landscape to the Lakota, Cheyenne, and other peoples. However, the park holds only so much grass, disrupting the bison’s instinct to roam. With bulls consuming dozens of pounds a day, it’s critical to manage the population so that all have enough to eat.
Riders work in teams to guide the animals, collecting wayward groups and stragglers. The crews are alert and watchful, striving for balance. Pushing but not driving. Finding flow, not forcing it. Hundreds of hooves pound the ground in a musical rumble. The bison move as one, like flocks, like fishes. Dust rises, billows, drifts.
After several miles and several hours, the herd is contained and visitors can gather at the corrals outside the new-in-2022 Custer State Park Bison Center to watch crews work. Calves get shots, ear tags, and brands. Cows are checked for pregnancy. A few hundred heads depart for auction. After a few days, the remaining animals are released.
The sun is now bright overhead, the dust continues its unhurried return to the earth. But the history here still thrums, long after the thunder has quieted.
Before you go, decide on the North or South viewing area—they’re both great but not close together. Arrive early to stake out a good spot. Parking lots open at 6:15 a.m. and the roundup starts around 9:30.
What to eat
You can buy breakfast and lunch on-site: pancakes and coffee in the viewing areas and a hearty chuckwagon-style lunch at the corrals.
Keep your distance
Don’t be the one who goes viral for trying to befriend a bison. Admire these huge animals from afar.
Enjoy the fest
An arts fest lasts all weekend. Sip a beer and browse bison-themed art, hand-woven bullwhips, and turquoise jewelry.
Plan your fall trip
There is much more to see and do in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Let’s explore further:
Relax on a long weekend RV trip that fits perfectly in that sweet spot between summer and fall
If you missed taking a vacation during summer getting away for the long Labor Day weekend may be just what you need. You can enjoy time at the beach or a dip in the lake or head to the mountains for a mild breeze and a hopeful peek at fall.
These 10 favorites are ideal for relaxing RV trips anytime. You might even find availability and rates that better fit your schedule before or after the holiday. No matter when you go, you’ll feel refreshed and rewarded by the chance to escape your daily routine at these great escapes.
1. Jekyll Island Club Resort on Jekyll Island, Georgia
If you’re looking for a family beach getaway with sunny weather and shoreline for miles then head to Jekyll Island. Stay at the historic Jekyll Island Club Resort and visit the Georgia Sea Turtle Center or Summer Waves Water Park. Kayaking, biking, dolphin cruises, exploring Tidelands Nature Center—there are plenty of ways to adventure here.
2. Edisto Beach State Park, South Carolina
Edisto Beach State Park has various activities on the east coast of South Carolina. The park offers a beach, hiking trails, and cabins. The park is also home to a nature center, gift shop, and nature trail.
If you’re interested in camping in the area, Edisto Beach State Park offers two campgrounds: Beach Campground and Live Oak Campground. Both campgrounds offer great views of the ocean and marsh. The campgrounds also have a large lake, a popular fishing spot.
Both campgrounds offer water and electrical hookups. In addition, the campgrounds have restrooms, showers, and other amenities. A general store and coffee house/cafe is also available at the campgrounds. There are also picnic tables and fire pits.
Spanish Mount Trail leads to a 4,000-year-old shell midden. The trail also has informational signs about land surveying. Another trail, the Bache (Monument) Trail leads to a granite monument that was used to measure the east coast of the United States in the mid-1800s.
Fuel up the rig and pop Louisiana into the GPS because it’s time to visit Camp Margaritaville RV Resort Breaux Bridge. Camp Margaritaville RV Resort Breaux Bridge has 452 RV sites and 25 new luxury cabins.
Last winter, Camp Margaritaville announced it was transitioning the Cajun Palms RV Resort into Camp Margaritaville RV Resort Breaux Bridge. The resort reopened as Margaritaville property on May 23. It’s located 15 miles east of Lafayette in Henderson.
The RV resort invites guests to pull up and unplug. They can hang by one of the resort’s three pools—each comes with private cabanas. One even has a swim-up bar. Plus, there’s an adults-only hot tub for guests 21 years old and older.
It’s also ideal for a family getaway as it has a water park for little ones, cornhole, minigolf, and a playground that opened in June. There are also arts and crafts sessions—think sand art, tie-dye, and ceramics.
4. Santa Fe, New Mexico
With rich Native American history, strong Spanish influences, and a vibrant arts scene from the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum to Canyon Road, a stretch of art galleries featuring a diverse selection (think: Fernando Botero sculptures, handwoven Navajo rugs), you can’t go wrong with Santa Fe. A trip to the city is worth it alone just to check out the Bishop’s Lodge, a legendary 150-year-old landmark that Auberge Resorts recently restored into a luxurious property sitting on 317 acres bordering the Santa Fe National Forest. It beautifully pays homage to the city’s Southwestern heritage with activities like sunrise horseback riding and alfresco art classes.
5. Black Hills, South Dakota
The Black Hills offer opportunities for outdoor adventures along with lots for history buffs and animal lovers too. Located in the southwest corner of South Dakota, this densely forested area is filled with sparkling lakes, waterfalls, and wildlife.
You can’t see and do it all in three days so if you have to choose head to Custer State Park. One of the country’s largest state parks, it boasts miles of scenic hiking trails, the legendary scenic Needles Highway with its unique rock formations, tranquil lakes for swimming, fishing, and paddle boating as well as an array of wildlife, including wild burros, bison, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and elk.
Just outside the park is iconic Mount Rushmore, a sculpting feat that honors four presidents. To delve into Old West history, head to Deadwood, less than an hour north. The popular HBO series Deadwood was filmed here and you’ll also find interesting museums, gambling, and lots more.
6. Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston is a charming city oozing with Southern hospitality and a whole lot more. Boasting some of the prettiest beaches on the east coast, it’s a haven for sun worshipers, ocean enthusiasts, surfers, and kiteboarders too. Sunset cruises around the harbor, picking up fresh produce at the festive farmers market, and attending the annual Greater Charleston Lowcountry Jazz Festival which features big-name musicians, are just a few of the popular things on top for Labor Day weekend.
7. Sedona, Arizona
Sedona has long been considered a sacred place by Native Americans and many visitors head here for its healing energies as well as its gorgeous red rock scenery and multiple recreational opportunities. If you need a potentially life-changing escape, this is the spot. Renowned for its vortexes, you can sit with a spiritual guide to take part in healing meditations and breathing exercises in these powerful spots or take a mystical tour with a Native guide who shares spiritual wisdom and sacred songs.
If that’s not up your alley, you can always go on a scenic hike, rent a 4X4 and hit the back roads, indulge in spa treatments, or just browse the many galleries and boutiques in town.
8. Gruene, Texas
Gruene is pronounced like the color green and its location along the Guadalupe River allows the town to be exactly that—at least, more so than other Texas towns. Only 50 minutes from Austin, Gruene in its entirety is designated as a historic site.
The music scene and Gruene Hall in particular can claim a good chunk of the credit for that storied status. It’s there that Willie Nelson has his own private entrance and that he and George Strait and Lyle Lovett have all graced the stage. Gristmill River Restaurant & Bar is right across the street for sustenance and libations.
The less musically inclined might find adventure and float down the Guadalupe with Rockin’ R River Rides where the atmosphere may be particularly rowdy with revelers enjoying the long weekend.
9. Utah’s Mighty Five
While Utah’s national parks are swamped with tourists during the summer season, as the end of summer approaches the crowds die down giving you a bit more space to explore the hiking trails within the five national parks and numerous state parks that give Utah its celebrity status as a nature lover’s dream destination.
Whether you prefer to spend your days exploring hiking trails or stargazing at night from one of Utah’s many campgrounds, a long weekend spent in Utah’s national parks is the ultimate last hurrah of summer.
Ideas for your epic Utah Labor Day Weekend include:
Find a campground near Utah’s national parks to stargaze all night long
10. Newport, Rhode Island
Set on Rhode Island’s Aquidneck Island is the coastal city of Newport. This resort town is a cool, relaxing destination to explore in the summertime. Its rich Gilded Age history and sailboat-filled marinas make for a scenic and luxurious vacation.
Soak up ocean views: Newport has panoramic ocean views that go on for miles. The best way to capture it is to take a stroll along the Cliff Walk. This 3.5-mile cliffside trail features tranquil picnic spots, benches, and access points to other interesting Newport experiences.
Tour lavish mansions: The most famous Newport features are its Gilded Age mansions found across the city. These lavish summer cottages built for the rich and famous are open to the public for tours. Head to Bellevue Avenue to explore the iconic Breakers and Marble House!
Pro tip: If you plan to walk the entirety of the Cliff Walk, wear layers, sturdy shoes, and sunblock. Utilize the public restroom found a mile into the walk—it’s the only one directly along the route.
11. White Mountains, New Hampshire
New Hampshire’s White Mountains comprise stunning alpine peaks cloaked in forest. The higher you go, the cooler it will be. Low elevations see summer temperatures in the mid-70s; the high points are perpetually chilly sometimes not even shedding their layers of snow until well into July. Temperatures on Mount Washington, the tallest peak in the Northeast, range from about 40 to 55 degrees at the height of summer. Visitors can climb out of the heat by foot on the many hiking trails or drive up the slopes on the scenic Kancamagus Highway.
There are some special towns nestled in the White Mountains. Quaint villages like Sugar Hill enjoy blooming fields of lupines in the summer while North Conway is home to ziplining tours and Alpine Slide adventures.
The White Mountains are filled with exciting activities like hikes and sweeping summit views. Ride the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway to feel like you’re flying, hike the famous Artists Bluff Loop, or drive to the summit of Mount Washington. Don’t want to take the difficult hike or the foreboding drive up to Mount Washington? Ride the historic Mount Washington Cog Railway. This steam train will chug its way up to the summit.
12. Tombstone, Arizona
Tombstone, Arizona, a town with a name as intriguing as its history, is a must-visit for those with an interest in the Old West. Located in the southeast part of Arizona, this town is a living testament to the Wild West era. It’s the place where the infamous Gunfight at O.K. Corral occurred, an event that has been immortalized in numerous films and books.
Visitors can relive this piece of history at the O.K. Corral Historic Complex or learn more about the town’s mining past at the Goodenough Mine Tour. Despite its wild past, Tombstone is now a friendly town offering a variety of activities such as stagecoach rides and visits to the Bird Cage Theater which once was a saloon, gambling hall, and brothel. This town, which was once the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco, is a destination that deserves a spot on every traveler’s itinerary.
Is not this a true autumn day? Just the still melancholy that I love—that makes life and nature harmonize.
These are 25 of the most beautiful places for RV travel
What is the most beautiful place in America? To compile most beautiful places in the U.S. and Canada is an inherently subjective and impossible task but we’d like to think that this list at least scratches the surface of some of the extraordinary beauty the continent has to offer.
Focusing largely on national parks, mountains, beaches, deserts, and other natural wonders, my list is sure to inspire your next RV road trip. Join me for a journey to some of the most beautiful places that you can visit in an RV from mountains that rival the Alps to red rock wonder with colorful layers to glorious underground caverns.
There are so many amazing places to see, I couldn’t possibly include them all in just one list. But, these breathtaking destinations are definitely worth bumping to the top of your travel bucket list—whether you’re looking to relax on a beach, get off the grid, or explore a charming town—these are the most beautiful locations to consider.
1. Grand Canyon, Arizona
The Grand Canyon has to be one of the most photographed sites in the world but there’s no way pictures can do it justice as impressive as they may be. Offering some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet, the Grand Canyon truly merits the term breathtaking. The vast geologic wonderland, one mile deep and up to 18 miles across, displays countless layers of colorful rock and practically hypnotic vistas.
Historic Antebellum Mansions, Civil War sites, year round festivals, pristine beaches, barrier islands, and mouthwatering Lowcountry cuisine are just a few of the reasons why Charleston is one of America’s favorite destinations. Experience this diverse southern city which blends French, English, West African, and traditional Southern American cultures into the music, art, food, and lifestyle.
Renowned for the radiant red sandstone formations surrounding it, Sedona is set in a serene spot. The towering red cliffs are almost other-worldly in a way and they are definitely worthy of a photo or two. Make sure to check out some of the area’s most popular sightseeing spots while you’re there such as the Chapel of the Holy Cross and Coffee Pot Rock.Located in the center of Arizona, the small city has long been considered a sacred and spiritual place. Many New Age shops, alternative healing and wellness centers can be found around town.
Lake Winnipesaukee is the largest lake in New Hampshire. It is approximately 21 miles long (northwest-southeast) and from 1 to 9 miles wide (northeast-southwest) covering 69 square miles—71 square miles when Paugus Bay is included—with a maximum depth of 180 feet. The center area of the lake is called The Broads.
The lake contains at least 264 islands, half of which are less than a quarter-acre in size and is indented by several peninsulas yielding a total shoreline of approximately 288 miles. The driving distance around the lake is 63 miles. It is 504 feet above sea level. Winnipesaukee is the third-largest lake in New England after Lake Champlain and Moosehead Lake.
Experience the beauty of Lake Winnipesaukee during a narrated scenic tour aboard the historic M/S Mount Washington. Learn about the history of the region and local folklore surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery in New England.
6. Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina and Virginia
Stretching 469 miles from the Great Smokies to Shenandoah, the 45 mph, no-trucks route winds past overlook after overlook letting road-trippers marvel at the mountains’ dreamy blue hue. Driving down this highway will allow you to take in the stunning Appalachian Mountains including multiple valleys and peaks such as the Peaks of Otter and Roanoke Mountain.
Canada’s oldest national park showcases the majesty of the Canadian Rockies. The park is known for its staggering peaks, dense pine forests, hot springs, animals (grizzlies, bighorn sheep, and moose all call the park home) and azure glacier-fed lakes such as Moraine Lake set in a bowl amid the Valley of the Ten Peaks.
8. Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe is the oldest state capital in the U.S. and as such it has a very colorful history including a historic main plaza that will make you feel as if you’re in an entirely different country. The City Different is renowned for its abundance of unique attractions, a wide array of art galleries, extraordinary museums, and magnificent architecture. Not surprisingly, for decades Santa Fe has also been a haven for artists including Georgia O’Keefe. By staying in the downtown area’s historic La Fonda you can walk to the Plaza to discover handmade jewelry and browse beautiful works of art.
Monument Valley is a minimalist attraction located along the border of Utah and Arizona. In spite of its simplicity, this red-sand desert may just be one of the most beautiful places you will ever see. A 17-mile Valley Drive leads into the area, and you can spot multiple sandstone buttes that make for amazing pictures. This valley will make you feel like you are part of an Old Western movie, set in the Wild, Wild West. John Ford’s Point is a great way to look over the scenery allowing you to feast your eyes on the Mittens buttes.
10. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee
There are plenty of reasons to visit the gorgeous Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is packed with hiking routes ripe with emerald greenery, waterfalls and bodies of water, and pretty wildflowers ready for photos. Plus, there are many great stops along the way such as Clingmans Dome which contains an observation tower resting on top of the area’s highest peak for breathtaking views. There’s also Cades Cove which is a quiet little valley that feels like a calm, quiet place lost in historical times.
The unusual landforms of Writing-on-Stone resulted from the dynamic interaction of geology, climate, and time. In a dramatic landscape of steep-sided canyons and coulees, sandstone cliffs, and eroded sandstone formations called hoodoos. Indigenous peoples created rock art in what is today Southern Alberta. Thousands of petroglyphs and pictographs at more than 138 rock art sites graphically represent the powers of the spirit world that resonate in this sacred landscape and chronicle phases of human history in North America including when Indigenous peoples first came into contact with Europeans.
12. Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona
A comparatively little-known canyon, Canyon de Chelly (pronounced de shay) has sandstone walls rising up to 1,000 feet, scenic overlooks, well-preserved Anasazi ruins, and an insight into the present day life of the Navajo who still inhabit and cultivate the valley floor. This park is owned by the Navajo Nation and is managed cooperatively. A few Navajo families still live, raise livestock, and farm in the park. For the most memorable experience take a canyon tour with a Navajo guide. It’s a truly authentic, welcoming experience you’ll remember forever.
Savannah is an old city that is home to multiple fascinating sites. Its streets are paved with cobblestones and flanked by old buildings like museums and churches that are simply stuffed with history. Downtown, you’ll find one of the biggest National Historic Landmark districts in the U.S. which also connect to the riverfront and the coast. Forsyth Park was built in the 1840s and fitted with a stupendous fountain, romantic benches, and plenty of iconic oaks covered in moss for an even more calming aesthetic.
One of Tucson’s most popular attractions is Saguaro National Park which is a great place to experience the desert landscape around this well-known town and see the famous saguaro cacti up close. With an east and west portion, the park has two sections approximately 30 minutes apart. Both sections of the park offer great opportunities to experience the desert and enjoy hiking trails.
Wells Gray is not as highly acclaimed as Mount Robson or the national parks in the Canadian Rockies. And having been there, I have no idea why. I mean… this place is awesome!
Wells Gray has something to offer every outdoor interest: lush alpine meadows, excellent birding and wildlife viewing opportunities, hiking, boating, canoeing, and kayaking. Guiding businesses offer horseback riding, canoeing, whitewater rafting, fishing, and hiking. The history enthusiast can learn about the early homesteaders, trappers, and prospectors or about the natural forces that produced Wells Gray’s many volcanoes, waterfalls, mineral springs, and glaciers.
Many people head to Wells Gray for the lakes but there are also over 40 named waterfalls in the park. Many of them are in remote corners of the park but eight of them are easy to reach from Clearwater Valley Road.
Badlands National Park may sound foreboding but in reality it’s one of the most beautiful places in the US. It is famous for holding an extremely rich and diverse fossil bed that is definitely one of the best that earth has to offer. On top of that, Badlands National Park is packed with incredible rock formations that look stunning at all times of the day with their differently shaded stripes. There are also grasslands if you’re more for wildlife where you can spot all the prairie dogs herding sheep for a calm, serene experience.
Petrified Forest is known for its treasure trove of fossilized logs exposed after eons of erosion by wind and water. About 60 million years ago tectonic action pushed the Colorado Plateau upwards exposing the layers of rock containing the park’s Triassic fossils. The park is composed of two sections: the north section is a colorful badlands called the Painted Desert and the southern section contains most of the petrified wood.
The park consists of a 28-mile road that offers numerous overlooks and winds through the mesas and wilderness. Visitors can also choose to hike a variety of trails ranging from easy to difficult.
You can’t come to the Southwest and not truly experience the Wild West with staged gunfights in the streets and characters walking through town in period costumes to recreate the glory days of this small Arizona town. With attractions such as OK Corral, Allen Street, Boothill Graveyard, and Courthouse State Historic Park, each shop, restaurant, and attraction is designed with tourists in mind and provide the opportunity soak in the town’s history.
An incredibly unique location, White Sands National Park consists of a reaching, widespread expanse of white gypsum crystal sand dunes backdropped by a picturesque blue sky. Though the sight of white sand as far as the eye can see isn’t the most exciting trip for some this tranquil environment is so individual and one-of-a-kind that it is easily one of the most beautiful places in the U.S. Bask in the calm peace, feel the soft, warm sand beneath your toes, and marvel at the vastness of this monument.
Linking Arizona and Nevada, Hoover Dam is one of America’s great engineering marvels to date and a fantastic Arizona road trip. Completed in 1935, this massive and hard to miss structure crosses the Colorado River and sits at a total of 726 feet high and 1,244 feet long. You are able to drive or walk across the dam for free or take a tour of the dam. The visitor center provides information on the tours and has a café where you can stop for some basic grub.
The Arches National Park looks like a scene out of a movie. Erosion from millions and millions of years has led to the creation of more than 2,000 arches each fashioned naturally from sandstone. It is worth noting that environmental change has caused 43 of these arches to fall to time which means officials warn against getting too close. Still, the sight of these bright, orange structures is well worth the extra caution and you’ll want to plan your trip soon to catch as many of them as possible in full glory.
Starting on the outskirts of Lake Charles and ending at the Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Creole Nature Trail All-American Road is a network of byways where you’ll find more than 400 bird species, alligators galore, and 26 miles of Gulf of Mexico beaches. Also called America’s Outback, the Creole Nature Trail takes visitors through 180 miles of southwest Louisiana’s backroads.
Big Bend National Park on Rio Grande is an absolute wonder of untamed wildlife, spanning over much of the Chihuahuan Desert and all of the Chisos mountains. You can go on a road trip down the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, relax in the Langford Hot Springs, view the Sam Nail Ranch’s broken-down husk, and enjoy sights of limestone formations across the Rio Grande. There’s so much to do that you may just need to come back again!
In the early 1800s, 60 million buffalo roamed the plains. Rampant overhunting decimated their ranks and by 1889 fewer than 1,000 remained. Today, their numbers have climbed to 500,000; Custer State Park manages a healthy herd. Roading the Black Hills you’ll see the iconic buffalo and other legendary sights including the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, sprawling parks and the town made famous for having no law: Deadwood.
In the Chihuahuan Desert lie more than 100 limestone caves and one of them is none other than the Carlsbad Cavern. Spikes hang from the ceiling in droves and clusters and its winding rocky walls are perfect for spelunkers and adventurers. The way you choose to go is up to you. You can go in through the beautiful, conventional entrance or you can begin 750 feet underground. Either way, you’re in for some enticing exploration,
With spectacular towering rock spires, gorgeous lakes, scenic drives, and abundant wildlife, Custer State Park is a world of beautiful nature
Encompassing 71,000 acres in the Black Hills, Custer State Park is home to plentiful wildlife and adventure; camping, hiking, biking, swimming, fishing, or relaxing, there’s something here for everyone.
Over 2 million people from around the world visit Custer State Park every year and it’s easy to see why. With its combination of rolling hills, stunning granite peaks, and abundant wildlife, Custer is a uniquely beautiful location. The park itself can be seen and enjoyed in two to three days but I suggest a longer stay to enjoy the area around the park and all it has to offer. If you are planning a trip to South Dakota or want to be inspired, read on to find out all you need to know about this beautiful and unique destination.
History of Custer State Park
Custer State Park was born in 1919. Governor Peter Norbeck had long admired the beauty of the Black Hills of South Dakota and once elected governor of the state, he set out to permanently preserve the area. Once the park was created, Norbeck himself helped to plan the layout of roads and scenic vistas throughout the park. The twisty turns and narrow granite tunnels of the Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road are designed to offer breathtaking views while blending with the scenery they traverse.
When asked about the routes he had planned throughout the park, Norbeck famously said “You’re not supposed to drive here at 60 miles per hour; to do the scenery justice you should drive at no more than 20. To do it full justice you should just get out and walk it.”
During the summer of 1927, President Calvin Coolidge spent three months visiting the Black Hills and Custer State Park in particular. He and Mrs. Coolidge stayed primarily at the State Game Lodge during this time, earning it the nickname the “Summer White House.”
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was responsible for many of the projects we currently enjoy in the park. From 1933 to 1941 they built the dams, bridges, and buildings that makeup Stockade Lake, Center Lake, Wildlife Station Visitor Center, the Mount Coolidge Lookout Tower, and most notably the Peter Norbeck Visitor Center.
Location of Custer State Park
Located in southwestern South Dakota, Custer State Park is a 30-minute drive from Rapid City, South Dakota. The drive south from Rapid City on Highway 79 is an easy and pleasant one offering impressive views of the Black Hills. Turn right onto Highway 36 and the main entrance to the park. Once you enter the park gates, the highway name changes to Highway 16A which can be a little confusing. Turning right onto Highway 16A takes you north on Iron Mountain Road to Mount Rushmore National Monument while continuing straight on Highway 16A takes you west on the park’s main road.
Two of the Park’s lodges (State Game Lodge and Legion Lake Lodge) and three of its campgrounds (Game Lodge Campground, Grace Coolidge Campground, and Legion Lake Campground) are located along this route. Turning south just past Legion Lake, one encounters Highway 87 which takes you to the Blue Bell Lodge and campground and Custer’s famed Wildlife Loop Road.
The area immediately surrounding the park is a tourist playground with scenic drives, national monuments (Mount Rushmore), and private attractions such as the Crazy Horse Monument. The town of Custer is located just outside the west entrance to the park and is convenient for restocking on fuel and groceries or for grabbing a bite to eat.
Geography of Custer State Park
Granite spires, stunning mountain views, and rolling grasslands all combine in this very special and scenic location. Located in Black Hills National Forest, Custer State Park encompasses approximately 71,000 acres of land.
The change in topography in this area is one part of what makes Custer so unique. Toward the south of the park there are rolling grasslands that provide a home for over 1,500 bison as well as pronghorn antelope, elk, wild burros, and prairie dogs. Toward the north part of the park, the elevation increases dramatically and tall granite spires appear to shoot out of the ground dozens of feet into the air. The sheer sides and steep drops from the spires create a magnificent landscape.
Woven throughout this landscape are several streams and lakes that further add to the beauty and ambience of the area. Taken together, Custer State Park offers a unique landscape that creates a stunning palette of colors, shapes, and textures that many consider to be unparalleled in its scenic beauty.
Wildlife in Custer is abundant and includes bison, deer, pronghorn antelope, elk, bighorn sheep, wild turkeys, coyotes, burros, and prairie dogs. While wildlife can be viewed throughout the park, the Wildlife Loop Road in the southern region of the park is known to have an abundance of animals that can be seen without even leaving your car. During our visit, I observed (and photographed) bison, pronghorn antelope, prairie dogs, and Custer’s begging burros during our drive along the road.
The begging burros (as they are known) have inhabited the grasslands of Custer for nearly a century. Originally, these donkeys were used as pack animals to shuttle visitors between Sylvan Lake Lodge and Black Elk Peak (the highest peak east of the Rockies). When their services were no longer needed these animals were released into the wild to roam freely in the park.
The begging burros are extremely friendly and easily approachable. They’ve even been known to poke their heads into the windows of passing cars that stop long enough on the side of the road. Although park officials don’t recommend it, visitors enjoy feeding the burros that are eager to accept almost any handout that is offered.
The big wildlife draw in Custer is their herd of over 1,500 wild bison. The herd roams freely in the grasslands in the southern part of the park and has thrived in this area. Visitors on the Wildlife Loop Road are almost guaranteed to see bison during their drive. And it’s not uncommon to be caught in a “buffalo jam.”
This unique experience occurs when the bison herd stops on the roadway or crosses the roadway in the park. Don’t be surprised to find a car or truck surrounded by bison almost like a metal island in a sea of brown hides and horns. While not tame, the bison are also not easily intimidated by people or automobiles. This is truly a unique experience that would be hard to duplicate anywhere in the world outside of Custer State Park.
Almost every road in Custer can be considered a scenic drive! But, there are three that stand out above the others.
The Needles Highway (also known as Highway 87) is a beautiful drive that runs from Highway 16A in the park up to the northwest corner of Custer where Sylvan Lake is located. This 14-mile road is part of the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway and was once thought to be impossible to build by many engineers. However, through hard work and dedication, it was completed in 1922. This spectacular drive twists and turns its way through forests of pine and spruce, across sunny meadows, and up rugged mountains.
The highway’s name is derived from the rugged granite spires (tall granite towers) that rise majestically into the air. The road terminates at Sylvan Lake after passing through Needles Eye Tunnel, a one-lane tunnel carved into a mountain of granite that measures only 8 feet 4 inches wide by 11 feet 3 inches tall. With the many twists, turns, and narrow tunnels, this highway is definitely not RV-friendly so leave the rig at the campsite while enjoying this drive. Expect a 45-minute drive one-way from end to end.
Iron Mountain Road
Iron Mountain Road is the portion of Highway 16A that travels north after one enters the park from the east on Highway 36. This 17-mile stretch of highway is yet another example of determination and ingenuity. The road was specifically designed with 314 curves, 14 switchbacks, and three one-lane tunnels to force visitors to go slow in the hopes that they would enjoy and take in the scenery during their drive.
The southern portion of the road begins in Custer then leaves the park after a few miles and ends at Mount Rushmore National Monument. Along the way, visitors are treated to the scenic beauty of the Black Hills including many overlooks and beautiful pine forests. On your journey toward Mount Rushmore, you will cross over wooden “pigtail” bridges (bridges that loop over their road as they climb). As you near the end, be on the lookout for Doane Robinson Tunnel. This tunnel carved through the mountain is 13 feet 2 inches wide and 12 feet 2 inches tall and was designed to perfectly frame Mount Rushmore while you’re heading north. It is quite an impressive sight. This beautiful drive is not an RV-friendly stretch of highway so once again you’ll want to leave your rig parked while exploring this road. Expect a 60-minute drive one way along this route.
Wildlife Loop Road
As mentioned before, this 18-mile scenic loop travels through the south end of the park and winds through open grassy meadows and hills dotted with pine and crosses clear flowing streams. Depending on the day, you can see pronghorn antelope, deer, coyotes, prairie dogs, and the begging burros on your drive. But, perhaps the most well-known feature of the drive is Custer’s bison herd. At over 1,500 animals strong, this herd roams the grasslands in the park’s southern end and can almost always be seen from the road. We have seen and experienced cars completely surrounded by bison and it makes for an extremely unique experience. Depending on “buffalo jams,” and whether you stop to feed the burros, we recommend planning around 1 hour to 1½ hours for this drive.
The park offers many hiking opportunities that allow visitors to get off the beaten path and explore the park in an up close and personal way. In addition to the designed and marked trails, off-trail hiking also is encouraged in Custer and visitors are allowed to hike wherever they would like. Depending on the area of the park in which you hike, the trails differ greatly in their topography and geography.
Camping in Custer
Custer features 10 campgrounds, each with a unique feel, throughout the park:
Blue Bell Campground
Center Lake Campground
French Creek Horse Camp
French Creek Natural Area
Game Lodge Campground
Grace Coolidge Campground
Legion Lake Campground
Stockade North Campground
Stockade South Campground
Sylvan Lake Campground
Most campgrounds offer electric sites with water available at various locations throughout the campground. The lone dump station in the park is located at Game Lodge Campground.
Sylvan Lake is a beautiful body of water located in the northwest corner of Custer State Park. It can be accessed via the Needles Highway if you’re in the Park or by Highway 87 from the north. The Sylvan Lake area offers many activities to visitors; you can rent canoes or kayaks or try your hand at fishing for the trout, panfish, and bass found in its waters.
The loop trail that goes around the lake is 1.1 miles in length, mostly flat and comprised of packed gravel making it a relatively easy hike for most individuals. The views from the trail can be stunning as it traverses the shoreline and there are several large boulders along the way that kids and adults alike will enjoy scrambling to the top of in order to enjoy the breathtaking views from that vantage point. There is even a small swimming beach at the lake for those that are interested in cooling off on a hot summer day.
The nearby Sylvan Lake Lodge offers visitors a chance to grab lunch in the restaurant or stock up on drinks, snacks, and souvenirs while they are there. Due to the many activities and its scenic beauty, Sylvan Lake is quite popular and parking can be somewhat limited. So, we suggest arriving at the lake early in the day when crowds are somewhat minimized.
Custer State Park is home to a number of other activities as well. The streams in Custer are teaming with trout waiting to be caught. The trails and roads in Custer are perfect for biking and walking. Eagles and other birds fill the skies and are waiting to be seen by all those who are interested. And the lakes in the park are waiting for you to take a cool refreshing dip.
Truly Custer is a magnificent destination unlike any other we have experienced!
Annual Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup
Watch cowboys and cowgirls as they roundup and drive the herd of approximately 1,500 buffalo. Not only is the roundup a spectacular sight to see, it is also a critical management tool in maintaining a strong and healthy herd.
The Buffalo Roundup begins at 9:30 a.m. with the parking lots opening at 6:15 a.m. Guests must stay in the viewing areas until the herd is safely in the corrals, generally around noon. Breakfast is available at 6:15 a.m. in both viewing areas. Lunch is served at the corrals once the buffalo are rounded up. There is a fee for both meals.
Testing, branding, and sorting of the buffalo begins at 1 p.m. and lasts until approximately 3 p.m.
At the Annual Buffalo Roundup Arts Festival, up to 150 vendors offer their fine arts and crafts for sale including many South Dakota made products.
Start your morning with a pancake feed and enjoy on-going Western and Native American entertainment under the big top. All events and vendors will be located on the festival grounds across from the Peter Norbeck Outdoor Education Center.
The annual roundup, held the last Friday in September, is open to the public. In 2022, the 57th annual Roundup is scheduled for Friday, September 30.
Park Size: 71,000 acres
Camping: 10 campgrounds with 341 campsites and 50 camping cabins, horse camp
Park entrance fees: $20 per vehicle (valid for 7 days); $36 for annual pass; vehicles traveling non-stop through the park on US Highway 16A do not need an entrance license
Operating hours: Open year-round (between October 1 and April 30, showers, flush toilets, and other water systems may be closed; vault toilets usually remain open)
Nearest towns: Custer, Rapid City, Hill City, Keystone
Custer State Park offers forest, meadows, mountains, and wildlife including a herd of 1,300 bison
Custer State Park in the beautiful Black Hills of western South Dakota is famous for its bison herds, other wildlife, scenic drives, historic sites, visitor centers, fishing lakes, resorts, campgrounds, and interpretive programs. In fact, it was named as one of the World’s Top Ten Wildlife Destinations for the array of wildlife within the park’s borders and for the unbelievable access visitors have to them.
One of America’s largest state parks, Custer has been home to diverse cultural heritages for thousands of years and has provided an array of scenic beauty and outdoor recreation for visitors since the early 1900s. Custer State Park is full of lush forests, quiet and serene meadows, and majestic mountains. Few truly wild places remain in this country. Custer State Park is one of them.
Thirty to sixty million bison once roamed the great plains of North America. By the close of the 19th century, it’s estimated that less than 1,000 bison survived. Historically, the animal played an essential role in the lives of the Lakota (Sioux), who relied on the “Tatanka” for food, clothing, and shelter.
Today, nearly 1,300 bison wander the park’s 71,000 acres of mountains, hills, and prairie which they share with a wealth of wildlife including pronghorn antelope, elk, white-tailed and mule deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, coyotes, wild turkeys, a band of burros, and whole towns of adorable prairie dogs.
The bison herd roams freely throughout the park and is often found along the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road in the southern part of the park. Bison seem docile but can run very fast and turn on a dime. Weighing as much as 2,000 pounds, these animals are forces to be reckoned with. Visitors should stay inside their vehicles when viewing the bison and not get too close. Most wildlife can easily be seen from your car. Bear in mind, they are wild. Keep your distance.
Visit the last Friday in September and feel the thunder and join the herd at the annual Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup (September 24, in 2021). Watch cowboys and cowgirls as they round up and drive the herd of approximately 1,300 buffalo. Not only is the roundup a spectacular sight to see, but it is also a critical management tool in maintaining a strong and healthy herd.
The Buffalo Roundup begins at 9:30 a.m. with the parking lots opening at 6:15 a.m. Arrive early to pick your spot. Guests must stay in the viewing areas until the herd is safely in the corrals, generally around noon. Breakfast is available at 6:15 a.m. in both viewing areas. Lunch is served at the corrals once the buffalo are rounded up. There is a fee for both meals. Testing, branding, and sorting of the buffalo begins at 1 p.m. and lasts until approximately 3 p.m. Crews will work the remainder of the herd in October.
In addition to wildlife, the park features several historic sites, including the State Game Lodge, the Badger Hole, the Gordon Stockade, the Peter Norbeck Visitor Center, and the Mount Coolidge Fire Tower. The Black Hills Playhouse, which hosts performances each summer, is also located within the park, as are four resorts, each offering lodging, dining, and activities.
The park also has four mountain lakes. These lakes, along with several streams, offer many water recreation and fishing opportunities.
In March 1919, Custer State Park was named the first official state park. In 2019, South Dakota’s oldest state park celebrated 100 years of outdoor tradition. Each year, more than 1.5 million visitors enjoy the numerous and varied activities, attractions, and events found year-round within Custer State Park.
The park is a driver’s delight. There are three scenic drives—Needles Highway, Iron Mountain Road, and Wildlife Loop Road—which are part of the extensive network of backcountry lanes on the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway for 70 miles, the route threads its way around pigtail bridges, through one-lane rock-walled tunnels, and ascends to the uppermost heights of the Needles.
The needle-like granite formations that seem to pierce the horizon in Custer State Park, known as the Needles, are truly see-it-to-believe-it phenomena. Drive Needles Highway to see for yourself just how majestic these outcroppings are in person. The Needles Highway is much more than a 14-mile road—it’s a spectacular drive through pine and spruce forests, meadows surrounded by birch and aspen, and rugged granite mountains.
The adventurous should carve out time to hike Cathedral Spires Trail. This moderate 1.5-mile trail offers spectacular views of these unique rock formations. You’ll likely pass rock climbers hauling gear in or out of the trail, as the spires are home to some of the most sought-after climbing routes in the Black Hills.
Other top trails include Sunday Gulch Trail, Little Devils Tower Trail, Lover’s Leap Trail, and Sylvan Lake Shore Trail. You can begin your trek to Black Elk Peak at one of two trailheads within the park.
The roadway was carefully planned by former South Dakota Governor Peter Norbeck, who marked the entire course on foot and by horseback. Construction was completed in 1922.
Visitors traveling the highway pass Sylvan Lake and a unique rock formation called the Needle’s Eye, so named for the opening created by wind, rain, freezing, and thawing.
The 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road takes visitors through open grasslands and pine-speckled hills that much of the park’s wildlife call home.
The 18-mile Iron Mountain Road winds between Mount Rushmore National Memorial and the junction of U.S. 16A and SR 36. Constructed in 1933, only a portion of this road lies within the park, but it is a must-see.
The Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway complements the park’s three scenic drives and includes some of the most dramatic natural and historic features in the Black Hills.
Following an action-packed day, sleep under the stars in Custer State Park. There are nine campgrounds tucked away in ponderosa pine forests, alongside fresh flowing streams, or near a mountain lake. The choice is yours! Campsites accommodate RVs and tents. Each campsite offers gravel or paved camping pad, a fire grate, and a picnic table. Electric hookups are available in most campgrounds. Or, you can relax in a one-room, log-style camping cabin or historic lodge located throughout the park.
The clear mountain waters are inviting and the open ranges are waiting to be discovered. Bring your family to Custer State Park and let yourself run wild.
When your spirit cries for peace, come to a world of canyons deep in an old land; feel the exultation of high plateaus, the strength of moving wasters, the simplicity of sand and grass, and the silence of growth.
There is more than gold in the Black Hills of South Dakota
Above dense forests and pristine streams, Mount Rushmore National Memorial represents a national treasure. Symbolizing the ideals of freedom and democracy, it is a tribute to four presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln and their invaluable contributions to the United States.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial represents not only the past, but also a promise for the future. It is a place surrounded by American history where the names of Gutzon Borglum and Crazy Horse are still heard, buffalo once again run free in Custer State Park, and the vision of the Keystone miners still cast a shadow on long deserted claims.
Freedom, justice, hope—South Dakota‘s beloved national memorial, Mount Rushmore, is a testament to these deeply cherished American values. The quartet of presidential busts carved into a granite peak in the Black Hills is one of the most iconic symbols of the United States.
In fact, the colossal, 60-foot profiles of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt are so instantly recognizable, they’ve been spoofed in commercials, used as film backdrops, and reproduced in all sizes and forms including a 3 million-piece construction at Legoland. But for all of Mount Rushmore’s widespread fame (and 3 million annual visitors), it’s also a place with a deep history and plenty of little-known facts.
Located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, 30 minutes from Rapid City, this colossal monument was the brainchild of state historian Doane Robinson, who conceived of the mountain carving in 1924 as a way to draw people from all over America to his state.
Whether a lifelong destination or a stop on a road trip, your visit to Mount Rushmore will be one you will tuck in your memory book forever.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial is located in Keystone, South Dakota. It is surrounded by the lands of the Black Hills National Forest. It offers a unique experience year-round for outdoor adventures, sightseeing, and opportunities to soak up the history that surrounds the area.
Get there early for the best lighting conditions, or exercise your low-light skills with photos of the nightly lighting ceremony. Regardless of your timing, make sure to explore the many photo opportunities from different vantage points along the half-mile-long Presidential Trail.
Chad Coppess, staff photographer for Travel South Dakota, recommends a spot right off the trail, which takes you down a little spur between two giant boulders. Look through a big crack between them to frame the Presidential faces from a vantage point often overlooked by most visitors.
Enjoy the works of genius by touring the various exhibits at the Sculptor’s Studio or Lincoln Borglum Museum. Both self- and ranger-guided tours are available.
Stroll the Avenue of Flags with flags representing 56 states and territories lining the walkway. View the memorial against the evening sky each night at the amphitheater (May through September) during the Evening Sculpture Lighting Ceremony. A sense of awe will come over you as the Memorial lights up the sky.
A short stroll along the Presidential Trail will provide close access to the sculpture. More intimate views of the artwork are available along the way as either a self- guided or ranger-guided walk.
Two other trails lead to Borglum View Terrace and the Sculptor’s Studio: One is a nature trail that starts from the main entryway; the other is a steep trail with uneven steps that starts from Grandview Terrace.
Here’s the thing, visit South Dakota once and the place SELLS ITSELF. Much more than just the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, and the Badlands, SoDak is the most scenic places you knew nothing about. Until now.
You don’t carve the faces of presidents into a mountain unless you’re doing something right.
If you’re using Google Maps to locate this national landmark, be very, very specific. Apparently, general searches for Mount Rushmore often send travelers astray. If you find yourself at a Methodist campground called Storm Mountain Center, you’re about 12 miles away from the memorial.
Driving the Needles Highway isn’t about getting to the next destination—it’s about taking in the scenery
Highway 87 in South Dakota might not be that long, but it’s 14 miles of really awesome road that twists and turns its way through some of South Dakota’s most stunning natural scenery. This curvaceous stretch of narrow pavement, known as Needles Highway, travels through unique rock formations in the southeastern portion of Black Hills National Forest.
We traveled southbound from Medora and Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota south into South Dakota for about four hours. Eventually, the oil derricks and rigs dotting the North Dakotan landscape gave way to vast and open tracks of South Dakota.
It’s a desolate place with a hauntingly beautiful feel. It consists of mostly flat and wild grassland. Colorful buttes and mesas pop up here and there. But then the Black Hills start.
There is nothing quite like the Black Hills of South Dakota. Around Black Hills National Forest, one finds numerous well-known sites including Mount Rushmore, the work-in-progress Crazy Horse memorial, the town of Sturgis—famous for the Motorcycle Rally attracting 50,000 motorcyclists each year for ten days of wild partying, and Deadwood (famous for its gold mining and heavy-handed gambling past, also the resting place of Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane). Of course, all of these sites are interesting and merit a visit of their own, but, when it comes to natural beauty, few can match the Needles Highway.
First arriving in the Black Hills, the thought “Black Hills Shmack Hills, what’s the big deal?” might be a fleeting thought. Trust me, just be patient and give it a little time because the 1.2 million acres of Ponderosa Pine forests and mountains will charm and win you over. You need to pay for a park pass upon entering—$10.00 per vehicle—and the pass is good for all South Dakota parks for seven days from the date of purchase.
Something that makes the Black Hills unique is that the landscape is distinctly different from the high-altitude flat grasslands surrounding it. In fact, it is dubbed “an island in the plains”. The area is geologically old and stable but pockets of upheaval and volcanic activity have given rise to the hills. While they’re not super high in elevation, the centrally located Black Elk Peak does get up to and impressive 7,242 feet. And there are hiking trails and activities galore.
The Needles Highway is a National Scenic Byway completed in 1922 that was considered to be an impossible road to construct due to the series of sharp turns and tunnels that needed to be cut through solid rock while maintaining the integrity of the area. The road’s name comes from the needlelike granite formations that seem to pierce the horizon along the highway.
Be sure to slow down to take it all in. Winding drives throughout the park are most enjoyable at a slower pace. Allow ample time to travel at a safe speed—generally 25 miles per hour or slower. Expect travel time of about 45 to 60 minutes to enjoy the Needles Highway.
The Needles Highway remains open from April through October. Due to the narrowness of the road, the byway is closed during winter months.
The Needles Highway is only 14 miles long but there are several great places to stay nearby. Custer State Park is packed with adventure but it’s also a great place to rest and recuperate. There are nine individual campgrounds for tent camping, RV camping, even camping for horses, so you’ll easily find a match for your camping needs. Several of Custer’s camping options come with electric and water hookups to meet all camping needs.
Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.
The Seven Natural Wonders of America are a list of the most astonishing natural attractions
Ever since the list of the Seven Wonders of the World was first inked by either Antipater of Sidon (second half of the 2nd century BC), Philo of Byzantium (c. 280–220 BC, Herodotus (c. 484–425 BC), or Callimachus of Cyrene (c. 305–240 BC)—depending upon which ancient historian you believe—all manner of “Seven Wonders” lists pop up from time to time including the New Seven Wonders of the World, of the Natural World, of the Modern World, of the Architectural World. Well, this could go on for a while.
But it is that original collection of wonders, now referred to as the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World—the Great Pyramids of Giza (the only one that still exists), the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Statue of Zeus, the Temple of Artemis (at Ephesus near the modern town of Selçuk in present-day Turkey), the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus (in present-day Turkey), the Colossus of Rhodes, and the Lighthouse of Alexandra—that sparks the imagination, stirs the soul, and stokes the curiosity. These are the finest creations of the ancient world and at the very least inspire wonder in their sheer archaeological greatness.
That much can be said of any wonder, whether natural or manmade, and then add into the mix the almost obsessive need for the world to categorize and break down everything into parts. That’s how these types of lists came to be in the first place. Often for reasons to promote tourism, numerous countries have tallied their own wonders as have almost all the United States.
One of the world’s great natural wonders, the Grand Canyon is a true marvel of nature. John Wesley Powell said it best, “The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself.” A powerful and inspiring landscape, Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size.
A deep gorge carved by the Colorado River about seventeen million years ago, the Grand Canyon stretches for more than 250 miles and is up to 18 miles in width and more than a mile deep in some areas. Just about everywhere you look the views are amazing and the sheer size of it can be overwhelming. One look over the edge and it’s easy to see why it’s considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World.
Great Smoky Mountains
Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the ridgeline of the Great Smoky Mountains, part of the Blue Ridge Mountains. World renowned for its diversity of plant and animal life, the beauty of its ancient mountains, and the quality of its remnants of Southern Appalachian mountain culture, this is America’s most visited national park.
This exceptionally beautiful park is home to more than 3,500 plant species, including almost as many trees (130 natural species) as in all of Europe. The park is of exceptional natural beauty with scenic vistas of characteristic mist-shrouded (“smoky”) mountains, vast stretches of virgin timber, and clear running streams.
Bryce Canyon National Park
The horseshoe-shaped, russet rock hoodoo formations of Bryce Canyon National Park are a true sight to behold. This is one of the world’s highest concentrations of hoodoos and their colors alternate between shades of purple, red, orange, and white.
The Sunset, Sunrise, Inspiration and Bryce viewpoints are the spots to hit for the best views in the shortest amount of time. There are several easy trails located near the rim of Bryce Canyon to hike as well as ranger programs that take you on guided hikes through the park.
The Okefenokee, whose name means “Land of the Trembling Earth” in the Creek language, is now part national wildlife refuge, part privately-owned park (Okefenokee Swamp Park) that is widely known for harboring an incredible cache of biological and ecological wonders. The swamp’s dark, coffee-colored tannic water is the base for a living jumble of pine, cypress, swamp, palmetto, peat bog, marsh, island, and sand ridge.
A hodgepodge of animal and bird life, among the hundreds of species are black bear, alligators galore, snakes galore, deer, anhinga, osprey, and sandhill crane call the swamp home.
Arches contains the world’s largest concentration of, yes, sandstone arches. There are more than 2,000, all of which took millions of years to form via erosion. And the arches are just one of an infinite number of absolutely jaw-dropping formations within the 120-square-mile park—Devil’s Garden, Balanced Rock, Fiery Furnace, Landscape Rock, The Windows, it goes on.
Arches is one of the most distinctive, alien-looking landscapes in America, and you should take advantage of the hiking trails like Devil’s Garden to really get the full experience.
Driving through the Black Hills takes you through some of the most rugged, distinctive, and beautiful land in America. It’s hard to stick to the main road in this rugged land of canyons, cliffs, and caves.
The Black Hills are home to some of the most majestic scenery you can imagine from the winding Spearfish Canyon to the mountain lakes that surround Mount Rushmore—rivers, mountains, caves, and more make it ideal for hikers and climbers and everybody in between.
The Chihuahuan Desert, studded with spiky plants and lizards, offers little hint that what Will Rogers called the “Grand Canyon with a roof on it” waits underground. Yet, at this desert’s northern reaches lies one of the deepest, largest, and most ornate caverns ever found.
Hidden beneath the surface are more than 119 limestone caves that are outstanding in the profusion, diversity, and beauty of their formations. Most of the formations—or speleothems—found inside Carlsbad Cavern today were active and growing during the last ice age when instead of a desert above the cave, there were pine forests.
We carry within us the wonders we seek without us.
Due to changing advisories, please check local travel guidelines before visiting.
An isolated mountain range located in the western edge of South Dakota, the Black Hills is full of scenery, rich history, and tons of family fun. Nestled among the prairies of the upper-Midwest, you’ll find majestic granite spires, pine covered peaks, and unique rock outcroppings.
While discovering off-the-beaten-path treasures, the inherent thread of Wild West history and American Indian culture piques one’s curiosity, fueling the desire to explore even more.
Visitors will find fascinating places to learn about American Indian culture, the Old West, pioneer history, and wildlife. The Crazy Horse Memorial, a mountain sculpture in progress as a tribute to all Native Americans, draws crowds, as does Custer State Park, where visitors often spot bison, pronghorn antelope, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, wild burros, coyotes, wild turkeys, and whole towns of adorable prairie dogs.
The Black Hills area is claimed as sacred ancestral land by nearly two-dozen Native American tribes. A variety of museums and historical sites provide insight into local Native American history and heritage.
The region’s name—the “Black” comes from the dark ponderosa-pine-covered slopes—was conferred by the Lakota (Sioux) who named it Paha Sapa, which means “hills that are black”.
Lewis and Clark heard tales about the Black Hills from other traders and trappers, but it wasn’t until 1823 that Jedediah Smith and a group of about 15 traders actually traveled through them. While other adventuresome trappers also explored the Hills, most avoided the area because it was considered sacred by the Lakota.
They never welcomed the white man to their hunting grounds and as immigration increased there was a marked decline in American Indian-white relations. The Army established outposts nearby, but they seldom entered the Black Hills. Trouble escalated when bands of Lakota began to raid nearby settlements, then retreating to the Hills. In the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, they were assured that the Hills would be theirs for eternity, but the discovery of gold changed that only six years later.
The discovery of gold in the Black Hills brought the first white settlers and miners to the Dakota Territory in 1874. The hunt for riches gave birth to many of the modern day towns located in the area, including the Wild West towns of Deadwood and Keystone.
When miners moved into the area in 1876, they came across a gulch full of dead trees and a creek full of gold—and Deadwood was born. Practically overnight, the tiny gold camp boomed into a town that played by its own rules that attracted outlaws, gamblers, and gunslingers along with the gold seekers.
The famous and the infamous have called Deadwood and the Black Hills home over the last several centuries. Lewis and Clark, Wild Bill Hickok, Wyatt Earp, George Armstrong Custer, Poker Alice, the Sundance Kid, Calamity Jane, and many others have all passed through here in search of fortune and adventure.
Deadwood survived three major fires and numerous economic hardships, pushing it to the verge of becoming another Old West ghost town. But in 1989 limited-wage gambling was legalized and Deadwood was reborn.
An Old West town just a few miles from Mount Rushmore, Keystone is a Black Hills experience like no other. Keystone is one of the few places where you can actually visit an underground gold mine. Originally named Gold Hill Lode when the mine was first tunneled in 1882, the Big Thunder Gold Mine is a very popular Keystone attraction. The mine offers tours and allows visitors to try their own hand at panning for gold.
Learn more about the history of this Gold Rush town with a free self-guided walking tour around Keystone. Or, climb on board the 1880s Train for a ride through the Black Hills; the rails take you on a two-hour tour through to Hill City and back.
Visit the Keystone Historical Museum to learn more about the past as well as about one of the town’s famous residents. Carrie Ingalls, sister of Laura Ingalls Wilder and featured in the Little House on the Prairie books, lived and died here.
My first years were spent living just as my forefathers had lived—roaming the green, rolling hills of what are now the states of South Dakota and Nebraska.