Experiencing Mount Rushmore from Iron Mountain Road (Route 16a) in South Dakota | Kids Out and About St. Louis

Experiencing Mount Rushmore from Iron Mountain Road (Route 16a) in South Dakota

By Meg Brunson

Typically, we’re the family that won’t miss a National Park… but with Mount Rushmore we opted to skip the formalities and experience the monument without actually visiting the park. 

Our reason was partially rooted in principle and respect for the Lakota people (strike 1), and partially a financial/personal one. Mount Rushmore’s parking fees are not covered by the America The Beautiful National Park Pass which we love and rely in frequently throughout our trip (strike 2), and they are not a dog-friendly park (strike 3). So we were out (or rather, chose not to go in). Luckily, it’s not the only way to experience the monument, and I have no regrets because our experience was incredible!

We choose to experience the beauty of the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore from the Iron Mountain Road, route 16a. It’s a 17 mile stretch of road that goes from Custer State Park up to Mt. Rushmore – but don’t let the distance fool you. There is no way that you’re getting through this road in under an hour. You’re going to have to stop to let the herds of Buffalo cross the road, and you’re going to want to take photos of Rushmore through the tunnels as you make the drive north along the road (if you’re heading south, Rushmore would be behind you – definitely not as cool. 

When you come to the scenic overlook – make sure you stop. There are large rock formations you can carefully climb on for amazing vantage points of Mt. Rushmore and the rolling Black Hills. And if that’s not close enough for you – no worries – when you get to the end of the road, turn left and head towards the National Park. There is a traffic light in the perfect place to see a close-up version of the monument. And stay on that road a little longer to park and take a pic with Washington’s profile.

Despite the 3 strikes that kept us from visiting the National Park formally, we loved that we were able to see the monument while we experienced the natural beauty of the Black Hills – and HIGHLY recommend the drive north on 16a whether you plan to visit the National Park or not.  

Tips for a terrific visit

  • Plan for limited reception - we had limited cell service in the area - luckily it's a one-way shot, so once you're on 16a you're good to go. You'll be able to pick up signal again closer to Rushmore.
  • RVs - Route 16a is NOT RV friendly. There are low-clearance tunnels and lots of twists and turns. Unhook your trailors and/or take the TOAD on this drive.
  • Potty Breaks - There are not restrooms on this section of the route so ensure little ones potty before you embark on the drive north on 16a - especially if you don't plan on going to Rushmore at the other end. 
  • Car Entertainment - we loved watching the Buffalo and seeing the sights, but you may want to plan snacks and activities for the kids. Prepare for about an hour on this 17-mile stretch, though it can be done quicker, you may be at the mercy of the Buffalo (which is pretty incredible!).

If you are interested in visiting the national park you can start planning your visit at: https://www.nps.gov/moru/index.htm or check out https://www.ironmountainroad.com/ to learn more about the way WE experienced the monument – from Iron Mountain Road (16a). And either way, you'll also want to check out the nearby Crazy Horse Memorial

Read about some of the other adventures we're having on our  Indefinite Road Trip!

© 2020 Meg Brunson

All opinions expressed are my own. See more on Instagram!

Meg is a mommy blogger, Facebook marketer, and much more. She is a mom to four kids who live full-time in an RV exploring the US! As a former Facebook employee, Meg remains a Facebook addict and handles KidsOutAndAbout.com's Social Media Marketing in addition to providing freelance services for other small businesses on how to best leverage Facebook as a part of their marketing strategy. Meg also hosts the FamilyPreneur Podcast, a podcast for parent entrepreneurs raising entrepreneurial children. Learn more about Meg at MegBrunson.com!