It took workers over 14 years to construct Mount Rushmore, which was the brainchild of local resident Doan Robinson who thought of the idea to promote South Dakota tourism. He was right about the attraction. About 3 million people visit the national monument every year. If you go on a road trip from Omaha to Mount Rushmore, you'll have the opportunity to see many unique state parks with ties to the Wild West and other attractions along the way. You'll also find many outdoor recreational opportunities as you travel to Mount Rushmore.
While many people consider Mount Rushmore a national park, it's actually a national monument. Use our guide to find national parks to visit on your route. While you will have to go about 75 miles farther to experience Badlands National Park, the experience is worth the effort.
Wind Cave National Park
There's a lot to do at Wind Cave National Park, located near Hot Springs, South Dakota. If you love hiking, consider traveling along the 8.6-mile Highland Creek Trail, where you can often see buffalo, elk, pronghorns and mountain lions. There are also many shorter trails, including one leading past a prairie dog town. This 29,000-acre park is located where the eastern tallgrass prairie meets the western shortgrass prairie. The unique region is ideal for bird-watching. This park, which first opened in 1903, also contains one of the world's longest known caves. It's known for its boxwood formations that are not found in most caves.
Badlands National Park
When you leave Mount Rushmore, consider traveling about 75 miles farther to reach Badlands National Park in South Dakota. This park covers more than 244,000 acres, and it is home to many types of wildlife, including bison, ferrets, prairie dogs and bighorn sheep. The sun bouncing off the landscape, especially at sunrise and sunset, makes this park a favorite with photographers. Highway 240 and Sage Creek Rim Run running through the park offer amazing scenic views. This park is also home to some of the world’s richest fossil beds, and you can stop at the fossil preparation lab to learn more about how the fossils are collected and preserved. The dark skies at this park are stunning, so be sure to bring your telescope.
Before you leave the Cornhusker State on your Omaha to Mount Rushmore RV road trip, you'll pass some excellent state parks. Here are some of the best options on your route.
Eugene T. Mahoney State Park
At Eugene T. Mahoney State Park, you'll find a pavilion that hosts family art activities, a climbing wall and a pool that is popular during summer. Want to test your physical skills? Try the high-ropes and the obstacle course, which takes between two and three hours to complete. Find out if you can become the champion miniature or disc golf player in your group or work on your regular golf game at the driving range. Once the snow starts falling, this park near Ashland, Nebraska, becomes a favorite with ice skaters and sledders.
Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park
You can take a tour of Buffalo Bill’s home and barn at Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park, near North Platte, Nebraska. Both are filled with all types of personal belongings of this early cowboy, buffalo hunter and showman. Go on a self-guided tour of his home that workers constructed in 1886. The park lies adjacent to the Buffalo Bill State Recreation Area, where you can go on guided trail rides, rent canoes and kayaks and go fishing.
Fort Robinson State Park
Fort Robinson State Park near Crawford, Nebraska, served an important role as an early pioneer fort. Many of the buildings have been restored or rebuilt so that visitors can see what the original fort looked like when Crazy Horse was killed here and the Cheyenne Outbreak occurred. Several different ways to explore the area are offered, including a stagecoach, jeep and horse-drawn wagon rides. You'll also find many recreational opportunities at this park, including hiking, biking and tubing. You can go swimming in the indoor pool, watch production in the indoor playhouse, play golf on the nine-hole course and root for your favorites at the nightly rodeo. Note that many activities only happen during the summer.
Chadron State Park
If you love outdoor recreational pursuits, you need to visit Chadron State Park near Chadron, Nebraska. Here, you can enjoy swimming, biking, hiking, horseback riding and archery shooting. This park, created in 1921, also offers fishing in the Chadron River and the park’s lagoon. Space for many of your favorite outdoor games, like horseshoes, softball and volleyball, is available. In the evening, join park rangers around the campfire for presentations, which often focus on historical topics.
Custer State Park
Custer State Park near Custer, South Dakota, offers many activities spread across its 71,000 acres in the Black Hills. Consider starting your visit with a guided jeep tour where you will probably see pronghorns, elk and buffalo. Participate in the nightly chuckwagon dinner after going on a hayride. There are also plenty of opportunities to go on guided horseback trail rides. Water enthusiasts will want to rent a canoe, kayak or stand-up paddleboard to explore the lake.
Strategic Air and Space Museum
The Strategic Air and Space Museum in Ashland, Nebraska, is a great place to see historic aircraft, missiles and space vehicles. Be amazed at the 525-panel glass atrium completely enclosing a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird. Thirty-seven historical aircraft, seven rockets and missiles and four spacecraft are on display.
Scotts Bluff National Monument
Rising 800 feet above the plains, Scotts Bluff has served as a landmark for early Native Americans and settlers who found their way through the area before modern highways existed. There are five different trails at this park, with each one offering unique scenic overviews. The Oregon Trail Museum and Visitors Center offers historical displays. You will also want to climb on board the Summit Shuttle to be driven through three underground tunnels and along a winding road while hearing stories of the importance this site played in history.
Knights Museum and Sandhill Center
The Knights Museum and Sandhill Center in Alliance, NE, is a local history museum featuring displays related to Native American culture, early town settlers, first farmers and the railroad. A vast research library is available for those who would like to trace their roots through this area.
Bear Country USA
Drive through Bear Country USA in Rapid City, SD, to see bears, mountain lions, elk, reindeer and more. Then, get out and walk through the small-animal area to get up close to many smaller creatures. Numerous photo ops are available, including ones with the park’s bear mascot.
If you're an outdoor enthusiast, add North Platte, Nebraska, to your Omaha to Mount Rushmore road trip. This city is a popular stop for those who enjoy bicycling, hunting, golf and paintball. Consider staying at a North Platte campground, like Holiday RV Park & Campground and I-80 Lakeside Campground. North Platte RV dump stations are available at Cody City Park and Holiday Trav-L-Park. There are also many other Nebraska dump stations in the area.
When you get to Alliance, Nebraska, consider visiting Carhenge. At this unique attraction, you can autograph one of the cars carefully positioned to look like Stonehenge. Alliance campground options include J&C RV Park and Jessie’s Over The Hill Campground. You'll find these to be some of the best campgrounds in Nebraska. Consider using Alliance RV dump stations at Brower Park or Terry’s Corner.
Hot Springs, South Dakota, is the home to awesome fishing and water activities on the Angostura Reservoir. The oldest attraction in South Dakota is Evans Plunge, where you can play in the natural hot springs bubbling up from the ground. Kemp Sabay Campgrounds & Storage and Allen Ranch Campground are just a couple of campground options in the area. RV dump stations in Hot Springs are available next to the chamber office and Angostura State Recreation Area.
Your road trip itinerary from Omaha to Mount Rushmore may include going up the state line between Iowa and Nebraska and heading west to the national monument. Still, you can have many adventures if you head west and then north through Nebraska’s Sandhills and South Dakota's Black Hills to reach Mount Rushmore. If you have an RV, then you are ready to start today. Otherwise, consider renting one in Omaha or near Mount Rushmore.