Mount Rushmore National Memorial: A User's Guide

FACES OF A NATION: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt — the icons of Mount Rushmore. Jess Kraft/Shutterstock
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Mount Rushmore National Memorial is more than a park. It is an icon, its four granite faces serving as shorthand for a nation.

Turning a mountain into a series of 60-foot high sculptures looming 500 feet above the pine, spruce, birch, and aspen of the Black Hills of South Dakota started out as a notion to draw tourists to the state. Mission accomplished: more than 2 million people visited the outdoor art display last year.

Sculptor Gutzon Borglum chose four presidents to represent the first 150 years of American history. George Washington represents the birth of the United States. Thomas Jefferson, who engineered the Louisiana Purchase and sent Lewis and Clark to explore the West, represents the expansion of our nation. Abraham Lincoln symbolizes the preservation of the union and Theodore Roosevelt represents the development of the country.


South Dakota state historian Doane Robinson — originally imagining a carving of Indian leaders and Anglo explorers — recruited Borglum for the project to turn a large wall of exposed granite on 5,725-foot Mount Rushmore into the most public of art. Work started on Oct. 4, 1927.

Nearly 400 workers used pneumatic drills, pneumatic hammers and dynamite to shape the rock. Most of the “carving” was done with dynamite.

goat at Mount Rushmore

President Franklin D. Roosevelt put the memorial under the care of the National Park Service in June 1933.

Washington’s head was dedicated in 1930, Jefferson’s in 1936, Lincoln’s in 1937 and Roosevelt’s in 1939. Work was completed in October 1941. The total cost of memorial was $989,992.32.

Things to do

A short stroll along the Presidential Trail provides a closer look at the looming sculpture. You can take a virtual tour of Mount Rushmore with this YouTube video.

Why you’ll want to come back

A 9.8-mile backcountry trail system is proposed for Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

During the summer, stay until the end of the day and join a park ranger in the park’s outdoor amphitheater for a 45-minute program that culminates in the lighting of the memorial. The evening concludes with a flag ceremony honoring military personnel.

Flora and fauna

Visitors to Mount Rushmore National Memorial are likely to see least chipmunks scurrying about and mule deer stalking through the ponderosa pine. You may also spot a Rocky Mountain goat on the gray rock of the mountain. The shaggy white goats are descendants of six goats given as a gift to Custer State Park by Canada in 1924 that escaped from their pens.

By the numbers:

  • Website: Mount Rushmore National Memorial
  • Park size: 1,278 acres
  • 2010 visitation: 2,331,237
  • Funky fact: The final chase scene in the Alfred Hitchcock film “North by Northwest” takes place on Mount Rushmore. Hitchcock couldn’t get permission to shoot such a violent scene in the park, so the scene was shot in the studio on a replica of Mount Rushmore.

This is part of Explore America's Parks, a series of user's guides to national, state and local park systems across the United States. W e'll be adding new parks all summer, so check back for more.

Inset photo of mountain goat: jalexartis/Flickr