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    Walking to the top of Crazy Horse: my experience and tips for the Volksmarch

    Crazy Horse Monument
    Crazy Horse Memorial

    If you’re visiting Mount Rushmore you’ve probably heard about the other huge carving in the Black Hills: Crazy Horse. Did you know that you can walk to the top of the Crazy Horse Memorial?

    The Crazy Horse Memorial’s Volksmarch is a bi-annual event in which anyone can walk to the face of the Crazy Horse carving. The hike is 6 miles round-trip. It is the only time the public can walk to the top of the memorial. This is an amazing way to get a feel for the massive size of Crazy Horse, which is 4 times as large as Mount Rushmore.

    Living an hour away I finally got the chance to participate in and experience this wonderful tradition that brings thousands of travelers and locals to the popular monument each year.

    If you’re thinking about visiting, keep on reading for all you need to know!

    What is Crazy Horse?

    The Crazy Horse Memorial is the world’s largest mountain carving. It depicts the Oglala Lakota warrior, Crazy Horse, riding his horse and pointing to his tribal land. It’s located in Custer, South Dakota.

    What is the Volksmarch? 

    The Volksmarch is a non-competitive 6.2-mile round trip hike that rises 500 feet in elevation up to the memorial. Volksmarch is a German word meaning the people’s march.

    When is the Volksmarch? 

    The Volksmarch happens only TWO DAYS a year, at the beginning of June and the end of September. Check the Volksmarch official page for exact dates.

    The weekend of the Volksmarch in September is the same weekend as the Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup. This roundup is held only once per year. Consider planning your trip around these two activities for a memorable Black Hills experience.

    Hikers participating in the Volksmarch can begin their journey anytime between 8 am and 1 pm, with registration starting at 7 am.  All hikers must return and be off the trail by 4 pm.

    I did this hike in the fall and enjoyed the cooler weather. I recommend starting it first thing in the morning so you can take your time and enjoy the museum and restaurant afterward.

    hikers walking up a path through trees

    How much does it cost?

    The hike costs $3 per person (cash or check only). Hikers will also have to pay admittance to get into the Memorial. See the official Crazy Horse Memorial page for current prices. Note: hikers get a discounted admission to the Memorial, and non-hikers pay the full admission price. This is a great opportunity to see Crazy Horse and all of its exhibits for a reduced rate.

    Another thing of note, there is no advance registration for the hike. Registration for the Volksmarch occurs on the day of the event. Registration tables are located in the parking lot near the starting line.

    Parking

    Parking is FREE. There will be several designated parking lots to park in on the day of the event. A bus will shuttle participants to and from the main parking lot.

    I liked being there early. I didn’t have to park far away or wait for a shuttle.

    How long does it take?

    The average time is 2-4 hours for the entire hike.  It took us just under two hours and that is counting the 30 minutes we spent at the top of the monument taking pictures and enjoying the views.

    Another view of Crazy Horse

    Are there restrooms along the way?

    Yes! There are 4 pit stop stations that not only have restrooms but water stations and snacks for sale.

    Drinks and snacks

    Along the route, you will find four free water stations as well as inexpensive, packaged snacks like beef sticks and granola bars for sale.

    They also have some bake sale goodies. This year they were sold by a local Boy Scout troop.  Bring cash and grab a quick snack to give you the energy to complete your hike!

    Boy Scout troop 25 trailer

    Weather

    The Volksmarch can be canceled due to extreme weather, so watch for that if you plan on attending. Another reason to check the weather is to ensure you are appropriately dressed.

    What should I wear?

    Comfortable hiking/walking clothing and shoes that are weather appropriate.  I wore comfortable sneakers and ended up taking off my hoodie, halfway through the hike, as it warmed up.

    Who can do this?

    Anyone can participate in the hike.  We saw tons of families and people of all ages.  I was actually quite impressed with how many people I saw in their 70s and above on this hike.  Many had canes and/or hiking poles and were taking it very slowly but they were doing it!

    How strenuous is it?

    Most of the hike is moderate but the last sections get your blood pumping.  I will admit I stopped a couple of times to catch my breath and “take pictures.”

    All of that said, it wasn’t terribly difficult and there wasn’t anything technical.  Most of the trail was wide enough for many people to walk side by side. Only a few portions were single-file.

    Small section of the trail
    A small section of the trail narrowed

    Is it worth hiking?

    Yes! Definitely worth it!  It was a great experience and something I will definitely do again. I might even make it an annual tradition.  You can’t get that close to Crazy Horse any other time and you can’t grasp the magnificence of it until you get to the top and stand right next to his head and look up.

    Alternate experience

    If you don’t think you can make the 6.2-mile round-trip hike, you can still participate and do a shorter portion of the hike.  About halfway up the trail, there is a place to turn and head back down. You will still get plenty of great views of Crazy Horse and come across plenty of spots to take pictures.

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    Other things to do and see

    Crazy Horse replica
    Replica on the deck of the visitor’s center

    The welcome center and museum 

    These two areas offer a vast display of art and exhibits featuring Native American history and culture.  You will also find a theater and a wonderful gift shop to purchase souvenirs and handmade gifts. 

    Indian tipi

    The Mountain Carving Gallery

    The gallery has a lot of historical information as well as stories about the memorial. You will also find models and interactive displays that are really cool to see.

    Sculptor Home & Studio

    This is the original home of sculptor Korczak and his wife Ruth. It was built in 1962. This was a really cool exhibit to walk around, seeing all the unique antiques Korczak collected as well as the original pieces he created himself.

    Cultural performances

    Many performers and storytellers perform on the veranda or covered porch if the weather permits.  They perform daily at 11:30 am, 1:30 pm, and 4:30 pm.

    Laughing Water Restaurant

    Reservations are not needed at the Laughing Water Restaurant. The restaurant is large and can seat many people.  You can try a Native American Taco or some Tatanka stew while enjoying the view of the Crazy Horse Monument.

    Snack shack

    If you want a quick snack instead of a full sit-down meal you can grab that here.

    My experience

    Knowing that the Volksmarch draws nearly 10,000 people annually, we made sure to get there first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds. We also wanted to start hiking before it got too warm. This worked out just how we imagined.

    The hike was exciting and beautiful. The fall colors had already begun emerging and the energy of the hikers was infectious.  

    There were so many picture opportunities along the way. Every now and then, we would see Crazy Horse peeking out from behind the trees.

    Crazy Horse through the trees

    The four stations along the route made the hike go by faster because they broke it up. We appreciated the workers offering us ice-cold water and stamping our “volkssport” card.

    stamped volkssport card
    Volkssport card

    Getting to the top was the most difficult part of the hike.  It was a gradual incline that went on for seemingly forever but was well worth it.  I didn’t realize how amazed I would be standing next to and touching the face of Crazy Horse. 

    Face of Crazy Horse up close

    Walking around the top was surreal. Everyone had their cameras out taking selfies and videos. You could walk all the way down the arm, stand at the hand of Crazy Horse, and take in a 365-degree view of the valley.

    If you wanted a bit more adventure you could wait in line and walk down some scaffolding. This provided hikers an opportunity to look at what the sculptures are currently working on as well as see some of the tools they use to chisel away at the rock.

    The return trip was much faster and easier. The hike up to Crazy Horse is longer and the hike back is shorter and more straightforward.  It really didn’t feel like 6 miles to us. I heard others saying the same thing.

    Upon finishing the hike we walked to the museum and gift shop before heading into the adorable town of Custer. Custer is one of my favorite places in The Black Hills. We went to grab a coffee at Calamity Jane’s Coffee Shop before calling it a day!

    Calamity Jane's Coffee shop
    Calamity Janes’s Coffee Shop

    Other things to do in the area

    There are so many great things to do near the Crazy Horse Memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

    Mount Rushmore

    Close up view of Mount Rushmore

    Of course, you can not come to the Black Hills without seeing our national treasure, Mount Rushmore. Do not miss this extraordinary memorial of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln!

    Custer State Park

    Bison in Custer State Park
    View of bison in Custer State Park in the Black Hills in South Dakota

    One of my favorite things to do in the Black Hills is to drive through the park. Custer State Park has over 71,000 acres featuring lakes, glorious views, wildlife and so much more.

    1880 Train

    1880 Train station and train

    Take a ride on an original steam engine train from Hill City to Keystone and back. You can spend some time shopping, you can even grab a bite to eat while you are at it.

    Scenic Drives

    Rock formations along the Needles Highway

    There is no shortage of scenic drives in the Black Hills and The Crazy Horse Memorial is just 8.4 miles away from Needles Highway where the views are unmatched. This road can also take you right into Custer State Park and to Sylvan lake.

    Is there anything else I should know?

    Crazy Horse is just one of the many amazing things to do in the Black Hills. The Black Hills can be confusing because it’s a huge area and there are so many things to do! 

    Most travelers want to visit the most popular sites and still avoid crowds. We have a detailed itinerary that gives you a step-by-step game plan so you can get to all the best places at the right times!

    But that’s not all! Our itinerary includes a free audio guide to listen to while driving, with over 2 hours of stories about the park!

    Additional Resources

    ABOUT US

    We’re Matt and Cheryl, and we’re in the Rockies. :) We are both teachers. Cheryl teaches special ed, and Matt teaches American history. We love the American West and the national parks. We want to help you have a great vacation on your next trip to the Rockies.

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