Campfires, hiking, and plush tents set the stage at Under Canvas Mount Rushmore, a new property close to the iconic monument.

By Joelle Quinn
Updated: December 14, 2018
Dave and Les Jacobs/Getty Images

Summer calls for a road trip, and I was excited for a long weekend exploring the great outdoors of South Dakota’s Black Hills, a small mountain range in the state’s scenic western corner — and the home of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

Some 2.5 million visitors come to Mount Rushmore every year, and many of them stay in the bustling town of Keystone. It offers plenty of hotels and motels (with giant buses parked right out front) and tourist shops hawking Mount Rushmore T-shirts and hand-carved totem poles. I, however, was looking for a property that would provide an experience more in keeping with the area’s wild open spaces.

I’ve never been one for roughing it, so I was excited to learn that Under Canvas — a company that operates high-end “glamping” tents at popular National Parks including Moab, Grand Canyon, and Great Smoky Mountains — had just opened its Mount Rushmore location. I could enjoy starry nights, pine-scented air and around the campfire, but still have the luxury of a plush bed, high thread-count sheets, and a hot shower.

Dreamtown Co.

Inspired by luxurious African safari camps, the Under Canvas founders, Sarah and Jacob Dusek, believe that ethically experiencing the outdoors doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice the creature comforts. The Mount Rushmore camp is Wi-Fi-free and, embracing the brand’s leave-no-trace commitment, the property utilizes solar energy. Amenities include an in-room wood-burning stove, daily housekeeping, and — for our tent — an en-suite bathroom. We enjoyed the high backed wood chairs on the private deck overlooking the dark, dense national forest as well as the natural butterfly chairs near the wood-burning stove inside when the night grew chillier.

Dreamtown Co.

In the main tent, which houses the restaurant, Embers, the staff offered everything from hot cocoa to a full breakfast menu, picnic lunches as well as smoked, grilled and roasted entrees for dinner. Guests could participate in sunset yoga, if they wished, on the adjoining deck. One night, while enjoying Mount Rushmore’s evening lighting ceremony from the property’s main tent, we sampled the house-smoked chicken and grilled vegetables, followed by s’mores on the open fire. We took in the massive sculpture of the four presidents from the Under Canvas grounds and closer up, after a short 10-minute drive along the twisty and scenic Iron Mountain Road.

Dreamtown Co.

Under Canvas is also environmentally conscious. All of their camps use low-flow toilets, faucets that automatically turn off and, showers that run only when guests pull a chain. (This keeps the water flowing but the shower itself quick.) Solar power is used as much as possible in the 80-tent property. And, to minimize waste, Under Canvas uses no plastics and recycles and repurposes wherever possible. Their plan: by 2020, to produce zero waste.

Dreamtown Co.

The Under Canvas staff is enthusiastic, and wonderful brand ambassadors. After I had asked Alex, the assistant manager and a nature-loving Chicago native, a couple of questions, he invited me to hop into a golf cart to give me a tour, including his favorite tents and vistas along with plans for development next year. This is his fifth Under Canvas; he helped open this property at the start of the summer, after working at those in Moab, Zion, Glacier, and Yellowstone National Parks.

The final verdict? For those looking for a unique way to see one of America’s most famous attractions, Under Canvas Mount Rushmore is a game-changer. It has a remarkable, ends-of-the-earth setting in the lush Black Hills, and all the conveniences you could imagine.

Rates start at $199. Under Canvas Mount Rushmore will open in 2019 from May 9 to September 29.

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