Mount Rushmore is one of the most incredible attractions in the world and at the same time it doesn’t attract as many people as one would expect from such a famous and iconic place. Why, you ask? Well, it has everything to do with the place.

It will take 14 hours to travel from Chicago to Mount Rushmore in Black Hills, South Dakota, before time is added for refueling, meals and stops. It will take 3 to 4 days to explore the best places in Iowa and South Dakota.

The long journey can scare a lot of people away, but for real travellers like us it’s a chance to travel and discover some of the lesser known gems of this part of the country.

How far is Mount Rushmore from Chicago and how long can I reach it?

Well, this trip isn’t for nonsense or those who don’t like being in the car. The distance between Chicago and Mount Rushmore is almost exactly 1,000 miles, so it’s a journey you probably want to divide into stages.

The quickest route can be covered in about 14 hours. But it is almost exclusively on the highway, so there are few sights to see along the way.

In this context, we will choose a slightly different route, which increases the travel time to 16 hours, but which is generally much cheaper.

Best Road Trip from Chicago to Mount Rushmore

The beginning of the journey is very simple. Take I-88 where it starts and follow it to the end, just before the state border of Iowa.

From there, take the I-80 west to Omaha. Don’t worry, even if the road seems long – there are many attractions to see and stop along the way, including the famous cornfields of Iowa, which we will reach in the next section.

A row of windmills in the blue sky with uniform blue-grey fluffy clouds in Iowa
Driving on the Chicago to Mount Rushmore highway through the quiet cornfield of Iowa

Wischy/Shutterstock.com

From Omaha, take I-29 north to Junction City. Here we see even more of the rural beauty of the area as we leave the highway and join the United States 50, still heading west.

Follow this road to the I-90 at Pukwan, which will almost take you to Rapid City.

From Rapid City it is only a short drive via US-16 and 16A to Mount Rushmore.

Best ports of call between Chicago and Mount Rushmore

Technically you can travel in one day, but I think it’s clearly more fun to interrupt the trip and enjoy the time you spend in an area where you might not be able to come back.

Looking at the length of our journey, I divide it into three equal parts.

Overnight stay in Des Moines, Iowa

The first stop on our list means we stay in Iowa’s capital, Des Moines.

There’s nothing to see from here to Chicago, so a one way trip gives us enough time to explore the city.

The amazing Des Moines Botanical Garden Eco-Center in Iowa with its glass dome and a row of beautiful flowers around it in summer
A visit to the Des Moines Botanical Garden Eco-Center is a must for nature lovers.

The Do/Shutterstock.com

Des Moines is a beautiful city that is often neglected because of its location. Des Moines has a lot to offer to keep you entertained during the day. Visit the Iowa Capitol, Botanical Gardens and Cruzier Trail, and then relax in one of the city’s many great bars and restaurants.

A few kilometres to the southwest is the town of Winterset, where the legendary film star John Wayne was born. In the house where he was born is a museum about his life.

Since this is definitely a trip to remember, why not do it in style and treat yourself to a stay in the historic house of Oscar Lofkvist.

In the heart of Des Moines you can sit in a large apartment with luxurious furnishings, beautiful scenery and breathtaking views and feel like the king of Des Moines. Relax well to prepare for the long road ahead.

Indian Reserve Life Experience

For many of us, living on an Indian reserve is something we won’t really understand.

We see them in movies and hear about them in the media, but until you visit one of them, you don’t get a real sense of who they really are.

As our route passes through the Yankton Nature Reserve, where legendary characters such as the leader of the running bulls live, there will never be a better time to experience it.

Discover the breathtaking flora and fauna and the beauty of the landscape, learn about the rich history and culture of this region and talk to the people for whom this is life.

The experience I carefully offer each person, at least once in my life, can take place without even making a detour. It’s a victory if I ever see one.

You can even stay at the Lewis & Clark Resort, located on the historic Louis & Clark Trail in Yankton.

Beautiful and spacious rooms, decorated in the traditional style and culture of the region, are the ideal way to guarantee a total immersion in your experience.

A Do not stay in a fast city

Three North American black bears, one of which climbs fallen trees, and the other two in summer nest with green and golden-brown grass in between in Rapid City Bear Country Park.
The sight of these cute creatures will make your stay in Bear Country Park, Rapid City interesting.

StelsONe

The last leg of our trip, Rapid City, is beautiful in itself, but often serves as a stopover for other sites and destinations.

There are an incredible number of sights and attractions within 50 minutes of the city.

They have national parks, historic towns, tourist attractions, festivals and even Mount Rushmore itself is less than 30 minutes away. If you want to go a little further, less than 90 minutes from the city is the site of the famous massacre of injured knees.

With such an environment and all the time you’ve spent so far, I strongly advise you to stay at least 4-5 nights to make sure you don’t feel like you missed it.

For longer stays, you must also ensure that your accommodation is in order. If you have come all the way to visit Mount Rushmore, it is perfectly appropriate to stay at the Rushmore Hotel & Suites.

Situated in the heart of Rapid City, this beautiful hotel is ideal for those who want to return after a long day of research and relax with a drink or a snack in luxurious surroundings.

It is also ideal for those who prefer to leave the city and discover what it has to offer in the evening.

Places of Interest on the Chicago to Mount Rushmore Highway

So we said we’d make three stops on the journey, but that doesn’t mean there are only three things to see. That doesn’t even mean we only stop for three nights.

There are many things to do and see on the route: some are short stops, others are places where you might want to spend more time. Your personal preferences depend on the length of your stay in each of our accommodations.

In this sense, here are some of the sights you can admire along the way:

  1. Iowa Corn Fields – Known for its vast cornfield, the experience of driving through the countryside and extending it until the eye sees it in all directions.
  2. Des Moines – The capital and most populous city in the state of Iowa.
  3. John Wayne Birthplace Museum – Near the road from Des Moines to Winterset is the birthplace of legend. Visit the Duke’s parental home, restored as it would have been if he had been born in 1907, and learn more about its history, as it is now a museum dedicated to his life and work.
  4. Omaha – Omaha is the capital of Nebraska and is home to dozens of historical sites and areas. On the way, take the opportunity to explore some of the region’s cultural attractions and visit sites such as the Henry Door Zoo and the Old Market Square.
  5. Yankton Reserve – Discover the landscape, history and culture of the modern Indian Reserve.
  6. Wall Drug – A famous landmark next to Wasteland National Park, Wall Drug is a large complex of western themed shops, including souvenir shops, restaurants and, as you’d expect, a pharmacy. There is also a large art gallery and a sculpture by the Brontozaur to show the culture and history of the area, which can be seen at ………
  7. Badlands National Park – A beautiful national park covered with meadows and scattered ravines. Take advantage of your return to nature to see if you can see some of the famous bison or greyhounds. There is also one of the richest fossil collections in the world, and palaeontologists are here to teach you.
  8. Aeolian Caves National Park – One of the world’s longest and most complex cave systems is located beneath large pine forests and grasslands. Whether you want to be above or below ground, you won’t miss this adventure.
  9. Bear Country USA – Wildlife Travel Park, where you can see black bears, mountain lions, moose and many other animals in their natural habitat, just a short drive from Rapid City.
  10. Dead Tree – The second largest city in the Wild West that still exists (after Tombstone, AZ), walk the same streets as legendary lawman Wyatt Earp, see where Wild Bill Hickok was killed, and feel what made the U.S. border famous.
  11. Sturgis Festival – If you’re lucky enough to be in the region on the first weekend of August, you’ll experience the biggest motorcycle rally in the world. With live groups, organised attractions and stands selling all kinds of goods, it is certainly a unique event.
  12. Crazy Horse Monument – Upon completion it will be one of the largest in the world, see the monument to the legendary national warlord. Visitors even get a free piece of the mountain that has been taken away to take home as a souvenir.

An empty winding road leading to the Mount Rushmore National Monument in South Dakota and a view of the sculpted faces of the four American presidents on the mountain and the green trees
Even on this winding road you have a breathtaking view of the beautiful Mount Rushmore National Monument.

Jess Kraft/Shutterstock.com

Best time to travel from Chicago to Mount Rushmore

Although it is possible to travel at any time of the year because it is not dependent on the weather, it should be noted that the region is focused on a traditional tourist season.

Although it is certainly nice to see the mountain without a swarm of tourists, many attractions near Mount Rushmore will be closed. For example, during my visit in February, only one shop was opened in Keystone, at the foot of the mountain.

If you want to discover all that this region has to offer, I suggest you visit it at the beginning of August. Not only will the tourists lose a bit of weight compared to last month, but they will also give you the opportunity to experience the Sturgis Festival during your stay.

Ideal to get everything in a region that many will only visit once in their lives.

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