Keystone, South Dakota is best known as the town closest to Mount Rushmore, but the town is a national treasure in and of itself. It was founded as a mining town, but unlike most mining settlements, which faded into ghost towns, Keystone lucked out when Mount Rushmore was built right nearby. Tucked away among the rolling, scenic, rocky Black Hills of South Dakota, the town has kept its Western vibe as it was built up with amenities to cater to tourists on their way to Mount Rushmore. Take your time to explore the town before you head to the iconic monument... who knows? Maybe Keystone might even become the highlight of your Mount Rushmore road trip!
If you're a daredevil and you're visiting Keystone, then you need to hit up Rushmore Tramway Adventures. It's got a scenic chairlift ride which takes you to a scenic mountaintop restaurant, an alpine slide to zoom down, dueling ziplines, a 60-foot jump tower that lets you experience the feeling of free-falling 20 feet, and an aerial adventure park that lets you conquer obstacles as you explore the treetop course. This spot has actually been around almost as long as Mount Rushmore, but they put a strong emphasis on making sure that they keep their attractions new and exciting!
Wild West towns usually have plenty of steak houses and saloons, but if you're looking for a relaxing, light places to grab a drink or bite to eat, stop by Grapes & Grinds. This coffee shop/gelato joint/wine bar is the perfect place to spend an afternoon or evening re-energizing after a long day or exploring. Snag an espresso (made with locally roasted beans), or sit down and enjoy a free wine tasting or a glass of vino. Add in a cup of gelato, housemade fudge, or a freshly baked bagel and you've got a perfect afternoon! Plus, the patio and occasional live music don't hurt, either.
Mount Rushmore is cool, but it's only got four Presidents on it. The National Presidential Wax Museum has a bunch of them... and they're all meticulously designed and placed in iconic moments from their presidencies. Check out FDR at the Yalta Conference, George Bush at Ground Zero, Lincoln debating Stephen Douglas, Lyndon B. Johnson being sworn in on Air Force One after Kennedy's assassination, Nixon welcoming back Apollo 11 astronauts, and more. Other historic figures and some pretty intriguing artifacts from American history are on display here as well, making this a mixed, but educational, bag of a stop.
Lean into the Western thing with a stay at the K Bar S Lodge. This boutique hotel is smack-dab in the middle of the Black Hills Nationa Forest, only 5 short minutes from Mount Rushmore. The lodge takes full advantage of the setting, with public decks, stone fireplaces, vaulted ceilings, and a continental breakfast inside a gorgeous glass gazebo. You can ask for a room with a view of Mount Rushmore (and a hot tub if you really feel like splurging.) Everything is well-appointed and it makes for an incredibly comfy stay while you explore Keystone.
If you're more of a happy camper, then reserve a site at Horse Thief Lake, which is home to the closest campground to Mount Rushmore, which is a mere two miles away. Hiking, biking, fishing, boating, horseback riding, and all of the other classic park activities are available here, and it boasts some pretty crazy wildlife. Meet bighorn sheep, white elk, pronghorn, and bald eagles as you explore the park's canyons, gulches, caves, grasslands, pine forests, lakes, and streams. A stellar day hike is up to the peak of Mount Harney, the highest natural point in the United States east of the Rockies, if you're up for the challenge.
Each year, somewhere in the ballpark of 2 million tourists come to Mount Rushmore each year. Conceived by South Dakota historian Doane Robinson and carved by sculptor Gutzon Borglum and his son Lincoln, the granite figures were created as a way to bring tourists to the Black Hills. The incredible feat, backed by federal funds, was originally supposed to be much larger (and include more people and more of their bodies) but when you consider that the heads alone are nearly 60 feet tall, it really is impressive enough as it is.
Grab a buffalo burger and ice cream at the cafe, snap photos at the Grand View Terrace, and stay to watch the sun set and nightly light show. It's only $11 to park, and the drive up provides incredible views of the Black Hills and its stunning granite rock formations. Oh, and if you really want to have your mind blown, check out this video all about the secret room hidden inside!
The rugged, forested landscape of the Black Hills makes for some pretty epic scenic drives. One of the best is Iron Mountain Road. It's 17 miles of switchbacks, pigtail bridges, tunnels and endless beauty connecting Mount Rushmore with Custer State Park. The speed limit is 35 MPH, forcing you to slow down and enjoy the 314 curves, 14 switchbacks, and 3 pigtail bridges. It's an unforgettable journey that is best done with the windows down and the radio up!
Named for Teddy Roosevelt, who fell in love with South Dakota's wild atmosphere, Teddy's Deli is the perfect pit stop. The menu is loaded with deli classics, like clubs, grilled cheeses, reubens, and melts, along with soups, salads, burgers, and hot dogs. If you call ahead, they can prep boxed lunches for you and your crew, which are perfect for picnicking at one of the parks nearby.
If you're looking for a classic Western dining experience, then check out the Ruby House Restaurant. The steakhouse has early 20th-century decor (think red velvet curtains, prints in fancy frames and lots of ornate glass) and serves up prime rib, buffalo steaks, and drinks. Pop into the Red Garter Saloon for a cold beer, and definitely check out the Buffalo Room, which pays tribute to South Dakota's Sioux heritage and is decked out in artwork done by Paha Ska, a local native artist. As for the food, the Indian tacos on the lunch menu are a favorite, as it the homemade huckleberry ice cream.
And you can't take a trip through this old mining town without diving into the history of mining! Big Thunder Gold Mine is the perfect spot. Their museum has the largest collection of antique mining equipment in the Black Hills, and they have gold panning for the kids; you can learn the basics onsite or take a half-day adventure to a real-life claim panning for gold in the field. It's all housed in a replica of the 1895-era Tykoon Gold Mill, which was on the same land as Big Thunder is today. Once you start exploring, you'll definitely experience the allure of wanting to strike it rich quick!