Every year more than 2 million visitors journey to Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Nestled in the famous Black Hills of South Dakota, it is one of the most famous landmarks in the world. Despite the popularity, most visitors stop in the sunshine for a few photos and hop back in the car. Yet one of Mount Rushmore’s best sights happens as the sun begins to set behind George Washington and his fellow Presidents. The night program at Mount Rushmore is one of our top national park recommendations.
Often recognized as one of the best ranger programs in the NPS, you won’t want to miss it your summer road trip.
About Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Mount Rushmore National Memorial is located near the gateway towns of Keystone and Rapid City, South Dakota. It’s one of 6 National Park Service units in South Dakota.
The night program at Mount Rushmore is also known as the Evening Lighting Ceremony, as it’s when the massive lights are turned on each day to illuminate the monument at night.
The night program at Mount Rushmore 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. Typically it’s about 30 minutes before sunset.
Guests arrive early for the program for the best seats 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. For us, it was one of the best memories from our visit.
The Night Program at Mount Rushmore
When the program begins, one of Mount Rushmore’s rangers comes on stage for the evening lighting ceremony. The ranger gives a brief history of the monument and then introduces a short film. It covers the history of the United States and why the sculptor chose each of the four presidents. The film plays as the shadows fill in around the amphitheater and the sun sinks lower.
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 President’s faces.
When the ranger concludes the program, the crowd’s attention is directed up to the four faces, now golden-yellow in the South Dakota night sky. Seeing the monument up close at night is breathtaking and 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 Memorial is dimly lit and winding. Leave the evening program carefully to avoid a ranger ticket or worse, a run-in with the local wildlife.
- Plan to arrive at Rushmore mid-afternoon around 2 or 3 p.m. Visit the exhibits and gift shop and hike the Presidential Trail. This allows just enough time before you need to find a seat for the evening program.