So, now you know when you should visit Mount Rushmore National Memorial! Really early in the morning, preferably at sunrise. More so, if you are a photographer and want to take really cool shots of the Memorial and the Black Hill in the golden hour.
Like the Statue of Liberty in New York, Mount Rushmore is one of the iconic symbol of heritage of United States. Located in Keystone, South Dakota, Mount Rushmore National Memorial celebrates American history with 60-foot sculpture of the heads of four USA Presidents – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. Among them, they span more than a century.
Now let us look at why you should visit Mount Rushmore at sunrise:
- Golden Sun Rays Fall Directly on the Faces – Most important reason. Sculpture of four Presidents face east. So, at sunrise, when the golden rays of the sun fall directly on the monument, granite rocks are bathed in the orange and yellow colors, creating a dramatic effect. Throughout the day, you will have various amount of shadow over the faces, which does not make a good shot from the photography perspective. At sunset however, sun will be behind the monument so there is shade over the face of the monument. Unless you want to capture the colorful sky at the golden hour or the twilight colors with a silhouette of the monument, you may not want to shoot at sunset. That leaves us with morning sunrise. Remember monument opens up at 5 in the morning itself. Though we were at the monument around the sunrise at 5:30 am, sun was playing hide and seek with the clouds. It rained as well for few minutes. Hence, the shots I took are not what I had expected for. Nonetheless, it was a wonderful experience to wake up at 3:30 in the morning, drive for almost 1.5 hours from Wall, city where we stayed and reach Mount Rushmore at 5:30 am.
2. Avoid the Heavy Crowd – We visited Mount Rushmore during the Memorial Day weekend of 2016, expecting heavy crowd. But we were in for a surprise and beat them all by reaching really early in the morning at sunrise. This also means that in your selfies or shots of the monument, there is least probability of anyone walking into, making it the perfect travel photo. I am pretty sure as the day would have advanced, there would have been more souls eventually. It is one of the most visited monuments in USA. No wonder Mount Rushmore is crowded throughout the year with visitors. Do you know how many tourists visit the Memorial each year? Nearly three million. But early in the morning, when we visited, there were probably not more than two dozen people till 7 am.
3. Extended Sightseeing Time in Your Travel Itinerary – This one is probably a no-brainer. Once you have checked off Mount Rushmore from your your list in the morning, you are still left with the entire day of sightseeing. Most of the people – tourists, and not travelers – wake up little late in the morning and by the time they have visited the first spot of the day, half day is over. Advantage of visiting Mount Rushmore at sunrise is that you have plenty of time to enjoy other nearby spots. Some of the nearby attractions definitely not to be missed and within the driving distance are:
- Wind Cave National Park (approx.. an hour)
- Jewel Cave National Monument (approx. 45 min),
- Badlands National Park (approx. 1.5 hrs),
- Custer State Park (approx. 35 min),
- Needles Highway (approx. 15 min),
- Crazy Horse (approx. 25 min)
- Beautiful landscape of South Dakota with pine trees and hills
4. Enjoy the Morning view of Black Hills in Mist and Fog – There could not be a better time for you to enjoy and photograph the Black Hills, grappling to wake up from its slumber and still shrouded in the fog and mist and soothing sun rays,. You should definitely walk down from the hill, approximately one and a half miles from the town below – Keystone – if you want to the soak in the morning view of the majestic landscape.
5. Unofficially Free Entrance – Purposefully I saved this travel hack for the last. On the official site of Mount Rushmore, it is mentioned that there is no entrance fees to visit the Memorial but there is a parking fee to park your vehicle. For cars, motorcycles and RVs, the parking fee comes to $11 per vehicle. However the ticket counter for the parking booth opens up only 7 am, which is mentioned at the counter. So, we drove in and parked our vehicle, without paying any fee. We were expecting that when we exit, we might have to pay at exit counter, if any, or someone might come to collect the fees. But guess what? There was none. And we literally visited Mount Rushmore for free. Enter anytime before 7 am and you will save the $11 parking fee. Interesting, isn’t it? This is really doable during summer when sunrise occurs very early. So, remember this when you visit Rushmore next time.
Only drawback of visiting the Monument early in the morning – may be insignificant to many but a critical one for some like me – could be that the restrooms open late in the day, probably at 7 am. So, if you need to use the restroom, you might be in for a trouble. Only option is to drive down the hill to Keystone and pray that atleast one of the touristy establishments is open. It was beyond my logic to understand why they keep the restrooms locked at Mount Rushmore when the Monument itself is open by 5 am. Keep a note of this and plan your date with four Presidents of United States accordingly.
Have you visited Mount Rushmore? How was your experience like? Do share your experiences so that readers have more information.