Length: To Harney Peak, 3.25 miles (one way) 6.5 miles (round trip).
Time: 4 - 5 hours (round trip)
Elevation gain: about 2,000 ft.
There are two trails which lead you to Harney Peak. Trail #4 leaves from near the Sylvan Lake day use area and also connects with Little Devil's Tower. Trail #9 is the easiest trail to Harney Peak and also leaves from the Sylvan Lake day use area. We decided to take Trail #4 in case we wanted to also climb to Little Devil's Tower.
The trail starts out on a flat forest bottom and begins to climb after about one mile. We encountered some fellow hikers who I think were from Spain, who said that they lost the trail and had to turn around. This made us a bit nervous, but we kept on hiking anyway. We never strayed off of the trail and found our way to the summit quite easily.
The hike splits to Little Devil's Tower just after the ascent begins. Trail #4 connects with Trail #9 for the last one mile of the hike to Harney Peak. Though this trail did not compare to the trails we took in the later part of our trip in the Rocky Mountains, I thought it was still quite strenuous. This was until I saw a woman who must have been around 80 years old with a cane at the top of the peak. If she can do it, anyone can!!
As you approach the summit, the climb gets more technical with many rocks and boulders. Just below the peak, the park service has built metal and stone steps to make the climb easier. At the top of the peak is an old stone ranger station which is now used as a lookout point. There were many many small bugs up on the peak, which I could not identify. They didn't bite, but they seemed to stick to everything and everyone. You can climb out a bit further on the peak's stones to see a 360 degree view of the Black Hills.
It took us about 5 hours to complete the trail from start to finish. Make sure you bring enough water, as there are no lakes or streams for water along the trail. Also bring along rain gear, as the weather can change unexpectedly.
Mount Rushmore is a great monument to four of America's greatest men. Most Americans learn about this monument in school, but it was tremendously exciting to see it in person. The monument takes a couple of hours to experience thoroughly but the main attraction can be enjoyed in half an hour.
Visitors arrive to a large parking lot leading to a series of sidewalks. The mountain and statues are clearly visible above the trees. Light poles line the sidewalks, and the fifty state flags fly from fifty of these poles. The walkway leads to the left towards the mountain. On the right is a museum and interpretive center. To the left is a gift shop. Directly ahead is a large patio that gives a clear view of the mountain.
I didn't see much of the museum area or the gift shop. I remember a little room in the museum where they showed a film about the monument. I've never taken the time to watch more than a few minutes of the film. I really remember nothing else about the museum. I went into the gift shop once and bought some things for family members. There may be a restaurant in that building with views of the mountain from many of the tables.
There are no trails that specifically approach the mountain. Some of the trails in the national forest lands come to Mount Rushmore, but I didn't take those trails. Once one has looked at the figures carved into the rock, there is nothing else that to do except tour the museum.
The road to the parking lot continues into the Black Hills, and from a few points on this road one can see President Washington's profile. I have a slide taken from one of these spots.