In 1925, while searching for a suitable mountain for a massive project, sculptor Gutzon Borglum climbed to the top of Harney Peak, the tallest point in South Dakota. The surrounding mountainside reportedly inspired the sculptor to remark, "American history shall march along that skyline." Borglum would take the plans of his future masterpiece to nearby Mount Rushmore, where the granite faces of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt now attract more than 2.6 million annual visitors. Located in Black Hills National Forest, the monument also includes the artists studio and a museum that chronicles Mount Rushmore's development. Four miles up the road, the Best Western Plus Four Presidents Lodge welcomes visitors with clean, comfy rooms and daily hot breakfast in this distinctive corner of America.
The Lakota people are indigenous to the Black Hills region, and their influence is evident as soon as you enter the hotels lobby, whose walls are decorated with a spear, a pelt, and smoking pipes. A deer-antler chandelier hangs above the couches in front of a stone fireplace, and hand-carved statues of black bears flank the front desk. In the morning, the hotel serves omelets, bacon, biscuits and gravy, and other breakfast classics. After a day of sightseeing and hiking in the Black Hills, the hotel's hot tub and heated indoor pool are a welcome sight.
Mount Rushmore is situated near the eastern edge of Black Hills National Forest, which stretches from western South Dakota to northeast Wyoming. There, you'll find hundreds of miles of prairies, canyons, gulches, rivers, and lakes. The forest takes its name from the ponderosa pines, which can appear black when seen from a distance. Their appearance is so striking that the native Lakota considered the territory sacred. About 10 miles west of the hotel, the Mickelson Trail follows a 109-mile path laid by railroad tracks more than a century ago. Perfect for hiking, biking, and horseback riding, the trail heads through the gold-mining towns of Deadwood and Lead and past views of the under-construction Crazy Horse Memorial, slated to be the world's largest mountain carving.
Visitors also choose the Black Hills for the belowground attractions. Jewel Cave National Monument's 159 subterranean miles filled with glittering calcite-spar crystals make it the world's second-longest cave. Several types of cave tour are available, with varying degrees of difficulty. A guide in a 1930s ranger outfit leads the Historic Lantern Tour, which re-creates how tours were lead about 80 years agoeach participant carries their own lantern, and each stalactite comes with a Herbert Hoover campaign sign.
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