Retirement Traveling – Mt Rushmore and Custer State Park

We began our visit to the Mt Rushmore area by staying for a few days in Rapid City, SD which is centrally located to all the areas we visited. We stayed in the Quality Inn and Suites on N Lacrosse St. Within walking distance, there were several restaurants, miniature golf, and a Walmart Supercenter.

TIP: I highly recommend you pack a lunch and take plenty of water when visiting any of the national parks. There is limited food (if any) available and there are plenty of places to pull off and have a picnic lunch.

We started our journey to Mt Rushmore using our Gypsy Guide app on our iPhone. With this app you will not miss a thing – like having a tour guide in your car. The app suggested that instead of driving directly to Mt Rushmore first that we should head towards the Needles highway located in Custer State Park and visiting Mt Rushmore at the end of the drive. I am glad we listened; you will see why later in this article.

The Needles highway is 14 miles long and was completed in 1922. It gets its name from granite formations that are needle like. Here is an example.

Granite towers located in Custer National Park.

We passed through the Iron Creek Tunnel which is only 8’ 9” wide. It was narrow and only big enough for one car. Be careful someone is not coming the other way before you enter the tunnel. I recommend you do not take an RV on this road. Some of the tunnel heights are only 9’ 8” tall. Plan accordingly!

Next tunnel on the road is the famous Needles Eye Tunnel. It too is only 8’ 9” wide, but it sits at the base of several beautiful rock formations and a scenic overlook. It was a little crowded when we arrived, but we were lucky enough to get a parking spot so we could explore the area and get splendid views of the tunnel.


After exiting the tunnel, we continued to Sylvan Lake. It was time for us to stretch our legs and take some pictures of this impressive lake. There is a 1.1-mile trail that goes around the lake, and it is an easy hike. The views of the lake and rock formations are outstanding. This is a wonderful place to have a picnic lunch and really relax.


After our much-needed rest, we decided to visit the town of Custer, SD. It was a sweltering day, and we were parched from exploring the rugged landscape of Custer State Park. To quench our thirst, we went looking for a brew pub. We found exactly what we needed at the Mt Rushmore brewing company which had on premise the Pounding Fathers restaurant.



This brewpub had excellent beer and a fine selection of t-shirts. I opted for a blue t-shirt with the Mt Rushmore Brewing Company on the front and “The “Pounding Fathers” on the back. Lots of fun and a great conversation starter!

With our thirst quenched, we were ready for Mt Rushmore. We followed the Gypsy Guide to the Iron Mountain Road which has several tunnels. As I mentioned earlier the Gypsy Guide suggested we go to Mt Rushmore last and take this road north. The reason for this is there are tunnels that have Mt Rushmore perfectly framed as you drive through them. The engineers of this road did an excellent job providing these views!


Finally, we arrived at Mt Rushmore National Memorial, and it is well worth the trip. Truly magnificent sculptures in the side of a mountain are an engineering and artistic wonder. Each face is 60 feet high.


I was most impressed with the eyes. As you viewed the faces, the eyes had a reflective feature that looked like lenses. I used my DSLR with telephoto and I still could not figure out how sculptor Gutzon Borglum created this. I switched to a pair of Celestron – Nature DX 8×42 binoculars that have great optics. After viewing the presidents faces you could see the center of the eye was a cone and the surrounding area was hollowed out to form the pupil. Awesome detail that tricks the eyes.


If you magnify this picture, you may be able to see the effect in George Washington’s left eye.

One other piece of trivia. Only George Washington has any clothing as part of his sculpture. You can see his lapels clearly in this photo.

We decided to call it a day and head back to Rapid City. Mt Rushmore and the surrounding area was a terrific and if you get a chance to visit, I hope you enjoy your trip as much as we did.

For more information, check out the following links:


Badlands Info:

Gypsy Guide Info:

Mount Rushmore Brewing Company Info:


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