If you come to the Black Hills of South Dakota, we’re pretty sure you’re not allowed to leave without saying “Hello & Goodbye!” to those famous faces on Mount Rushmore. We’re also confident your visit won’t be complete without staying at least four or five nights in the “key” to your “monumental playground”—Keystone! Here, you will find a great variety of lodging choices—everything from tent and RV camping, hotels and motels, unique bed and breakfasts, quaint lodges, vacation homes and more. The Keystone Chamber of Commerce has many on their website. Regardless of the type of accommodation you select, when you stay in Keystone, you are centrally located to all there is to see and do in the Mount Rushmore area!
To help you maximize your time in this charming mountain town, we’ve put together the following four-day itinerary…
Explore the monumental history of Keystone. Pick up a walking tour brochure from the friendly folks at the visitor center—located at the one (and only) stoplight in town. Make sure to visit the Keystone Historical Society Museum located in the old school house. Did you know that Carrie Ingalls (younger sister to Laura Ingalls Wilder), moved to Keystone in 1911? She lived, worked and raised her step-children here. You will discover a lot of her story at the museum.
Of course, the area has a rich mining history as well. Celebrating their 60th Anniversary, Big Thunder Gold Mine allows you to stretch your imagination and take a step back in time. The route is completely handicapped accessible. Knowledgeable guides will entertain you with stories about that mine as well as others nearby. If you want to experience the full impact of mining or panning for yourself, reserve a full- or half-day “claim tour”! You’ll be taken through the Black Hills where you’re sure to see a lot of wildlife along the way to your “claim.”
Once done with your touring, plan to have lunch at the Big Thunder Family Bar & Grille. Enjoy a quick bite on the deck or relax in the dining area inside. Make sure to try a specialty wild game item—anything from elk to rattlesnake! The wild game brats also come highly recommended!
Your day isn’t complete without a meal at the Ruby House. Fashioned after an old-time house of ill repute, they serve delicious lunches and dinners. Plan to catch one of the “shoot-outs” in the Red Garter Saloon right next door. On down the road a bit and around the corner, another must-see is the Keystone Cemetery. Rated as one of the top 100 most haunted cemeteries in the U.S., it’s “laid-out” in the shape of a coffin! Another unique feature, it’s the only cemetery where its “residents” rest with a view of Mount Rushmore!
Return to stroll along the boardwalk, shop in the many gift stores or have an old-time photo taken. Then just sit back and enjoy a glass of wine or hot coffee at Grapes & Grinds as the first day of your adventure winds down.
You’re in for a “monumental” adventure today! Begin at Rushmore Tramway Adventures where you can ride, slide, jump, climb, and zip through the trees! New in 2017, their Pinnacle Zip Tour will provide a two-hour zipline tour through Ponderosa Pines and granite rocks. This is the only zipline tour in the world that includes spectacular views of Mount Rushmore and it is fun for ALL ages!
After being thrilled in this unique Black Hills playground, kick back at the peak and enjoy a tasty lunch and the simple pleasure of a walk through the beautiful gardens at Mountain Top Grille. This adventure can last just a couple of hours or almost a full day!
If you’re still in the thrill-seeking mode, travel a few miles out of town towards Rushmore Cave and the attractions at Rush Mountain Adventure Park. The cave celebrates its 90th anniversary in 2017. The newest attraction is their mountain coaster. A two-seater “sled” is pulled to the top of the mountain. When you reach the summit, release the brake and you’ll go flying down, twisting and turning, pulled only by gravity. It is a thrill!
For a little more laid-back thrill, climb aboard the 1880 Train at the Keystone depot. Experience a steam engine powered, two-hour round trip that follows the original route of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad between Keystone and Hill City. In the late 1800s, trains brought miners and supplies to both towns. Watch out for train robbers along the way!
After the excitement of the day, return to Keystone and delight in a great dinner at the Powder House Restaurant. Known for their excellent Prime Rib, we guarantee you’ll enjoy a delicious meal in a cozy setting.
Mother Nature provides a beautiful “wildlife playground” here in the Black Hills and only minutes from Keystone. Travel up the hill, past Mount Rushmore (we’re saving that for tomorrow), and head south onto Iron Mountain Road. This one-of-a-kind drive was fashioned so Mount Rushmore is framed in the tunnels you’ll drive through. Unique “pigtail bridges” twist down the mountains toward Custer State Park.
A must-stop is their new Visitor Center, featuring a beautiful short film about the Black Hills and the wildlife found here, narrated by Kevin Costner. Continue to the Wildlife Loop where you most likely see buffalo. Sometimes just one or two, sometimes hundreds! Please view them from the safety of your vehicle—they may look tame, but they are not. You are also likely to see prairie dogs and the friendly “begging” burros! You may want to stop for lunch at the State Game Lodge before completing the Loop, but if not, there is also dining at Blue Bell Lodge, near Blue Bell Stables. If you like, take a trail ride at the stables and get up close to nature’s playground via horseback! Once you’ve finished your time in the Park, travel on up the Wildlife Loop toward the National Scenic Byway that is Needles Highway.
Head back to Keystone via Hwy 244, making a stop for a tasty dinner at Ponderosa Restaurant located near Mount Rushmore Lodge at Palmer Gulch.
Today, it’s all about “The Faces” – A “monumental” day, indeed! Start off learning all about past presidents at the National Presidential Wax Museum in Keystone. See life-like, life-size figures of all U.S. Presidents in authentic period costumes and accurately detailed surroundings. It’s sure to put you in a patriotic mood!
Stroll across the street to the Rushmore Borglum Story for a step inside the mind of the carver of Mount Rushmore. This unique stop features many works of art from Gutzon Borglum and his son Lincoln Borglum. Learn the story behind the man and how he came to be the “chosen one” for this monumental undertaking.
Settle in for a delicious lunch at Teddy’s Deli – located just down the street. Named for President Teddy Roosevelt, you’ll be sure to enjoy any fresh made item from their menu. A little FYI – the owner, Gideon Oakes, is the nephew to C.C. Gideon, the chief designer of the pigtail bridges on Iron Mountain Road. He assisted on the design of the State Game Lodge in Custer State Park as well!
After a long, relaxing lunch, take the 2-mile drive up the hill to Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Plan to arrive no later than 6 p.m. and take the Mount Rushmore Audio Tour: Living Memorial. This award-winning audio tour incorporates narration, music, interviews, sound effects and historic recordings of Gutzon Borglum, Lincoln Borglum, American Indians and workers. It truly is a step back in time.
The gift shop, as well as the bookstores at Mount Rushmore, are filled with perfect take-home items. Of course, you’ll find t-shirts, magnets and keychains, but you’ll also discover beautiful works of art, unique books of the area, and a wide selection of Black Hills Gold!
A great meal can be found at the newly remodeled Carver’s Café at Mount Rushmore. From locally sourced buffalo burgers and brats to a plated dinner, wonderful desserts, fudge and Thomas Jefferson’s own recipe for vanilla ice cream (it’s the best!), you are sure to have the best of company while dining there.
After dinner, find a spot in the amphitheater and settle in for the moving and patriotic lighting ceremony. This 45-minute presentation takes you through the “why” for each president on the mountain and celebrates all that America is. It truly is a monumental experience.
There is so much to explore and encounter here in the beautiful Black Hills and all roads lead back to the monumental playground – Keystone – the hometown of Mount Rushmore National Memorial!