The Black Hills Travel Blog

The Lake Behind Rushmore in National Treasure: Book of Secrets

By • Dec 14th, 2007 • Category: Uncategorized

Sylvan Lake at sunrise with rocks and pines in the background at Custer State Park in the Black Hills

I’ve had a couple blog readers interested in knowing what lake keeps showing up in the trailers for National Treasure: Book of Secrets. From the scenes in the previews, its’ pretty clear that the distinctive rocky landscape puts the lake in the Black Hills. In fact, the granite formations around the water (in the previews, Nicolas Cage sticks his hand into a crevice in the rocks for a good gag) are so much like Mount Rushmore‘s rock that some people are under the impression that the lake is behind the memorial.

That’s not entirely true. There is a lake behind Mount Rushmore – about two miles away along Highway 244 – but it’s not the lake in the film.

Satellite map of Horsethief Lake and Mount RushmoreLet’s start with the lake nearest the sculpture. It’s called Horsethief Lake, and as you can see on the satellite map image to the right (thank you Google), it’s pretty small. It’s very scenic, of course, with the ponderosa forest coming down the the beach and nice rock formations around the lakefront. There’s a Black Hills National Forest campground there – the nearest public campground to Mount Rushmore. Since it’s just off the highway, many people like to stop and picnic there after visiting the memorial. When I was in high school, I remember everyone using some rocks along the edge for cliff jumping.

The lake you see in National Treasure: Book of Secrets is a bit further away, but still pretty close to Mount Rushmore. On the edge of Custer State Park, it’s called Sylvan Lake, and with an elevation of about 6,200 feet, it’s the highest lake in the Black Hills. It’s also at the trailhead Satellite map of Sylvan Lake and Mount Rushmoreof the hike up Harney Peak, which is the tallest mountain in North America east of the Rocky Mountains (at 7,242 feet above sea level). As you can see from the satellite map to the left, it’s in a really rocky area about eight miles from Mount Rushmore – you know, if you were a bird. The rest of us have to drive about 14 miles.

Sylvan Lake is probably the most beautiful lake in western South Dakota. In fact, it’s sometimes called the Jewel of the Black Hills, and more than a few people have gotten married on the stone patio of Sylvan Lake Lodge overlooking the water. The lake is protected by some very striking weathered rocks, which keeps the lake surface unusually placid and reflective. At sunrise and sunset it’s incredibly romantic.

I have a feeling the professional Hollywood cinematographers probably do a better job of capturing Sylvan Lake’s beauty than any pictures I could post here, so keep your eyes peeled for it when the movie comes out next Friday.

About the Author

is a fifth-generation South Dakotan, grew up exploring the forested gulches of the Black Hills. While studying at Oxford University, Dustin discovered the amazing combination of student discounts and the European rail system, and set off to see the continent. Eleven countries, five trains, a Greek fishing boat and several pubs later, Dustin realized a deep affinity for travel. Although he’s journeyed across three continents since then, the Black Hills remain one of his favorite places to explore. Now a member of the Western Writers of America, Dustin has penned several travel guides on the Black Hills, Badlands, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming for publishers including Fodor’s and Globe Pequot.
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