Mount Rushmore and Pactola Lake

Uncover the history and beauty of South Dakota’s most awe-inspiring destinations: Mount Rushmore and Pactola Lake.

From the iconic presidential faces carved into the Black Hills to the crystal clear waters of Pactola Lake and the rugged landscapes of The Badlands, these destinations offer endless opportunities for adventure and exploration. Discover the rich history of the Lakota people and the early settlers of the area, hike to stunning vistas, swim in pristine waters, and marvel at the natural wonders that have drawn visitors to these sites for generations. Join us on a journey through the heart of South Dakota and experience the beauty and excitement of Mount Rushmore, Pactola Lake, and The Badlands.

Scroll to the bottom of this page or CLICK HERE to watch our travel video “MOUNT RUSHMORE: 2023 GUIDE – Uncovering the History and Beauty of Mount Rushmore”

Today we’re chatting about Mount Rushmore, a massive sculpture representing some of the most admired and respected figures in American history, as well as our country’s values and achievements. It’s a symbol of American pride and patriotism, and a reminder of the country’s rich history and enduring ideals.

Mount Rushmore is seen as a symbol of American ingenuity and determination. The monument’s prominence and grandeur are seen as reflecting a belief in American exceptionalism, or the idea that the United States is a unique and exceptional nation with a special role to play in the world. The monument is a testament to the skill and dedication of the workers who created it, using hand tools and dynamite to carve the massive faces into the granite mountainside. For all that’s good about Mount Rushmore, its not without it’s controversies.

Mount Rushmore and Pactola Lake
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A Symbol of American Pride and Patriotism

Mount Rushmore is a massive sculpture carved into the granite face of a mountain in the Black Hills region of South Dakota. The sculpture features the faces of four famous American presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. It was created by sculptor Gutzon Borglum and his son, Lincoln Borglum, and took nearly 14 years to complete, from 1927 to 1941.

The faces on Mount Rushmore are each roughly 60 feet (18 meters) tall and were carved using dynamite and then finished using hand tools. The sculpture was originally conceived as a way to promote tourism in South Dakota, and it has since become one of the most famous landmarks in the United States.

Each of the four presidents depicted on Mount Rushmore is considered to be a significant figure in American history. George Washington was the first president of the United States and played a key role in the country’s founding. Thomas Jefferson is known for writing the Declaration of Independence and for his advocacy of individual liberty and democracy. Theodore Roosevelt was a conservationist and progressive leader who helped establish the national park system. Abraham Lincoln is known for his leadership during the American Civil War and for his role in ending slavery.

During your visit, it’s very important to remember that the mountain and the surrounding area are considered sacred to many Native American tribes, including the Lakota Sioux, and there has been ongoing debate over the appropriateness of the monument’s presence on their land. The U.S. government took the land from these tribes in the 19th century and Mount Rushmore is considered controversial for this reason. As I said, be mindful of the land you are on. It is sacred to Native people while being inspiring to American citizens. 

Today, Mount Rushmore is a major tourist attraction, drawing millions of visitors each year. The site includes a museum, a gift shop, and a restaurant, as well as hiking trails and other outdoor activities.

If you’re planning a trip to the Midwest, don’t miss “Summer Fun in the Land of 10,000 Lakes: A Guide to Minnesota’s Best Activities – Minnesota Summer Fun Guide 2023”. In this guide, we’ll take you through the best of what Minnesota has to offer during the summer months, so you can plan your perfect summer adventure in this beautiful state.

Mount Rushmore and Pactola Lake
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So What Should You Do At Mount Rushmore?

You could easily plan an entire day here. Tourists visiting Mount Rushmore can do a variety of activities. Some of the most popular include:

1. View the Sculpture

The main attraction at Mount Rushmore is the massive sculpture of four American presidents. Visitors can view the sculpture from several different angles, including from the base of the mountain and from a viewing platform located a short walk from the main parking lot.

2. Attend the Evening Lighting Ceremony

Each evening from late May through September, there is a special lighting ceremony at Mount Rushmore. The ceremony includes patriotic music, a narration about the presidents depicted on the sculpture, and the lighting of the monument.

3. Explore the Museum

The Mount Rushmore National Memorial Museum is located at the base of the mountain and features exhibits on the history and construction of the monument, as well as the lives of the four presidents depicted on the sculpture.

4. Hike the Trails

There are several hiking trails in the Mount Rushmore area, ranging from short walks to longer hikes. The Presidential Trail is a popular 0.6-mile (1 km) loop that provides up-close views of the sculpture and the surrounding landscape.

5. Visit the Sculptor’s Studio

The Sculptor’s Studio is located near the museum and provides a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the monument. Visitors can see original plaster models used by the sculptor and learn about the tools and techniques used to carve the faces.

6. Shop and Dine

The Mount Rushmore area features a variety of restaurants, gift shops, and other amenities for tourists. Visitors can purchase souvenirs, grab a bite to eat, or simply relax and take in the views of the Black Hills.

Another great activity that you could do on the same day as a visit to Mount Rushmore, is a hike or a picnic at beautiful Pactola Lake.

Mount Rushmore and Pactola Lake
Pactola Lake offers a peaceful getaway from the crowds at Mount Rushmore. Pack a picnic and enjoy the stunning views!

The Charms of Pactola Lake

West Pennington’s Pactola Lake is a reservoir located in the Black Hills region of South Dakota. The lake is situated along Rapid Creek, about 15 miles west of Rapid City. It’s about a 35 minute drive from Mount Rushmore. Pactola Lake is named after a nearby town that was flooded during the lake’s creation. 

Yes, a town was flooded to create Lake Pactola. The town was named Pactola, and it was located in the valley where the lake is now situated. Pactola was a small mining town that was founded in the late 19th century and had a population of about 200 people at its peak.

When the construction of the Pactola Dam began in 1952, Pactola’s residents were given notice that their town would be flooded to create a reservoir for the city of Rapid City. Many of the town’s buildings were moved or dismantled before the flooding, but some were left behind and are now submerged in the lake.

Imagine going fishing there…and catching someone’s house!

The creation of Lake Pactola was controversial at the time, as it required the relocation of several families and the destruction of a historic town. However, it was seen as a necessary step to provide a reliable source of water for the growing population of Rapid City and the surrounding area.

Today, Lake Pactola is a popular recreational destination and a source of drinking water for the region, but the history of the town of Pactola remains an important reminder of the sacrifices and impacts that large infrastructure projects can have on local communities.

Lake Pactola was fully formed in 1956 by the construction of a dam on Rapid Creek. The lake has a surface area of about 800 acres (3.2 km²) and a maximum depth of 150 feet (45 m). It is a popular destination for hiking, boating, and other outdoor activities, and is surrounded by scenic forests and hills.

The lake is home to a variety of fish species, including rainbow and brown trout, largemouth and smallmouth bass, northern pike, and catfish. There are several boat launches and marinas on the lake, as well as picnic areas, hiking trails, and campgrounds.

In addition to recreational activities, Lake Pactola serves as a source of drinking water for the Rapid City area. The lake is part of the Rapid Creek Watershed, which provides water to more than 70,000 people in the region.

Overall, Lake Pactola is a beautiful and popular destination in the Black Hills, offering a wide range of outdoor activities and scenic views.

When we visited Lake Pactola it was a nice retreat from all of the tourists at Mount Rushmore. Most folks won’t stop here, so it’s a fun getaway if you want to break free from the hustle and bustle.

Two Bad Dad Jokes to Use During Your Visit…

What rock group has four men that can’t sing?
Mount Rushmore!

You know, I actually used a time machine to travel back in time to Mount Rushmore before it was carved.
Its natural beauty was unpresidented.

Love South Dakota? You’ll Love These Cute Gifts…

Treat yourself or a friend to these charming (and helpful) gifts. Make the most of your visit to South Dakota…


In conclusion, Mount Rushmore, Pactola Lake, and The Badlands are three of the most incredible destinations in South Dakota, each offering their own unique blend of history, beauty, and outdoor adventure. Whether you’re a history buff, an avid hiker, or just looking for a scenic drive, these destinations have something to offer everyone. From the majestic faces of past presidents carved into the granite mountainside, to the tranquil waters of Pactola Lake, and the striking landscapes of The Badlands, you’ll find no shortage of incredible sights and experiences to discover. So why not plan a visit to these incredible destinations and experience the best of what South Dakota has to offer?

Want a short video to see more of Mount Rushmore? Just watch this!

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About the Authors
Jack and Kitty Norton are Emmy Award winning travel experts. They have spent a lifetime on the road: as traveling musicians, documentary filmmakers and television producers. They now focus on writing for their travel blog ( and making fun videos for their YouTube channel. Jack and Kitty offer travelers fun and quirky things to do in Minnesota, the Midwest and beyond. High school sweethearts turned married soulmates, the couple lives in the small college town of Winona, Minnesota and would love to have you over for some hotdish.

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