A summer road trip rite of passage, Mount Rushmore National Memorial is one of the most visited NPS sites in the system with more than 2 million visitors each year. Although most visitors stop in the South Dakota sunshine for a few photos and hop back in the car, one of Mount Rushmore’s best attractions can be found just as the sun begins to set behind George Washington and his fellow Presidential faces.
The Mount Rushmore Evening Lighting Ceremony is often recognized as one of the best ranger programs in the system and one you wont want to miss on your summer road trip.
Planning your Visit
The evening lighting ceremony is held in the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center amphitheater each night from late May through September. Check the park newspaper or at the Visitor’s Center help desk for the start time. Guests arrive early for the program and from all over the world. On a recent visit we sat between a father and daughter who lived 20 miles from our hometown and a couple visiting from Georgia. Introduce yourself to the other travelers around you before the program begins, it may be one of the best memories from your visit.
The Evening Lighting Program
A solitary park ranger comes out on the stage each night for the evening lighting ceremony. The ranger gives a brief history about the monument and then introduces a short film about the history of the United States and why the four presidents were chosen to be etched in stone forever. The film plays as the shadows fill in around the amphitheater and the sun sinks lower behind the stage.
After the film ends, the program continues with a moving tribute to the men and women who served our country in the armed forces. While that continues on stage, the 18,800 watts of Metal Halide and High Pressure Sodium lights begin to slowly rise on the faces. When the ranger concludes the program the crowd’s attention is directed up to the four Presidents, now golden-yellow in the South Dakota night sky. Seeing the faces up close at night is breathtaking and well worth braving chilly evenings in May and September.
- If you want to take a good night photo of the faces, bring a tripod or something to stabilize your camera for a longer exposure.
- Bring a blanket to sit on or cover your lap as the air in the amphitheater can be damp and chilly.
- The road out of Mount Rushmore National Monument is dimly lit and winding. Leave the evening program carefully and drive slow to avoid a ranger ticket or worse, a run in with the local wildlife.
- If you arrive at Rushmore mid-afternoon around 2 or 3 p.m., it is usually enough time to visit the exhibits and gift shop, hike the Presidential Trail, and find a seat for the evening program.
For More Information:
Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center