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The Complete Guide To Visiting The Crazy Horse Memorial In South Dakota

Visiting the massive Crazy Horse Memorial

Mount Rushmore is impressive, but do you know what else is just as impressive and is 4 times as large?  The Crazy Horse Monument! 

Located in Custer, South Dakota, the Crazy Horse Memorial is the world’s largest mountain carving.  The elevation of the mountain is 6532 feet above sea level and is the 27th highest mountain in South Dakota. It’s just a quick 35-minute drive from Mount Rushmore.

Upon visiting I was pleasantly surprised at how much there was to do and see.  I knew that we would be spending some time there and I didn’t want to miss anything, including a meal with homemade Indian fry bread.

Keep reading and I’ll give you some useful information before you explore it on your own!

Background of the Memorial

Paintings of Korczak & Ruth Ziolkowski

The Crazy Horse Memorial was the vision of two men: Korczak Ziolkowski (pronounced kor-chuk zil-cuff-ski), and the Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear.

Korczak Ziolkowski was born in Boston of Polish descent and orphaned at age one.  He started learning woodworking and furniture making at a young age and went on to the art of sculpture.  He worked on many famous sculptures (including Mount Rushmore) and won first prize at the New York Worlds Fair.

Chief Henry Standing Bear wrote to Ziolkowski appealing to him to create a memorial for the American Indians of North America. He wrote, “My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know the red man has great heroes also.”  

After WWII, Ziolkowski accepted Chief Standing Bear’s invitation and dedicated the rest of his life to the Crazy Horse Memorial.

Upon Ziolkowski’s death, Ruth Ziolkowski took over the project and kept the dream alive by fund-raising and hiring workers. Without her perseverance, the project may have ended in failure.

Ruth died in 2014, and the family still owns and manages the memorial. They pay honor not only to Crazy Horse, but to the Ziolkowskis with their slogan “Never Forget Your Dreams.”

Who was Crazy Horse?

Crazy Horse was an Oglala Lakota warrior born in 1840. In 1876 he led a band of Lakota warriors against Custer’s Seventh U.S. Cavalry battalion.  This is known as the Battle of Little Bighorn or Custer’s Last Stand.  

Custer, 9 officers, 280 enlisted men, and 32 Indians perished that day.  Crazy Horse was attributed to stopping reinforcements from arriving.

In 1877, a translator incorrectly translated what Crazy Horse said in negotiations with U.S. military leaders.  As he was escorted to jail and realized he would be imprisoned he struggled to escape and drew a knife to free himself. An infantry guard struck him with a bayonet, mortally wounding him.

Something I found really interesting in my research of Crazy Horse is that he refused to have his picture taken or even a likeness.  He assumed that part of his soul would be taken and his life would be shortened.  

So because of this, the likeness of Crazy Horse used by Ziolkowski was from descriptions from survivors of the Battle of Little Bighorn. 

Getting to Crazy Horse Memorial

Crazy Horse is located in Crazy Horse, South Dakota at 12151 Avenue of the Chiefs.  The entrance is along US Highway 16/385 (the Crazy Horse Memorial Highway) and is just 4 miles north of Custer. It is 9 miles south of Hill City and 17 miles southwest of Mount Rushmore’s National Memorial.

You can see the monument from the road as well as the signs for Avenue of the Chiefs right off the highway.  You can’t miss it!

How long will you need to see everything?

We spent about two and a half hours but you can easily spend much longer if you have the time.  I would give yourself a 3-4 hour window to be on the safe side so you don’t feel rushed.

How much does it cost to visit?

The fee structure is a little weird.

The cost depends on how many people you have in your vehicle.  Fees are roughly $12 per person but decrease with more people in the car and level off at 3 people.  

There is no parking nor are there any fees to get into the museum and exhibits. 

Please check the Crazy Horse Memorial website for more accurate and up-to-date pricing as it’s subject to change each new season.

What to do at the Crazy Horse Memorial

inside of crazy horse museum

The welcome center and museum 

These two areas offer a vast display of art and exhibits featuring Native American history and culture from over 300 Native Nations.  You will also find two theaters and a wonderful gift shop to purchase souvenirs and handmade gifts from locals.

crazy horse museum entrance

The Indian Museum of North America is where we spent the bulk of our time wandering around. Make sure to take a look at “The Promise” painting above the information desk.  This painting features Korczak Ziolkowski and Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear.

The Original Lobby

tipi inside crazy horse memorial

The lobby was rebuilt in 2002-2003.  This is the oldest part of the Crazy Horse visitor complex.

Here you can pick up a rock from the Crazy Horse mountain as a souvenir and view the lighted exhibit showing the carving of the mountain and its progression in the 1990s. 

New exhibits are expected to be added later on as well. 

The Mountain Carving Gallery

crazy horse memorial map

The gallery has a lot of historical information and features the tools Korczak used in carving the mountain in earlier years.

You will also find models and interactive displays that I thought were really informative and give you a good sense of the size that the memorial will be when finished as well as comparisons to its size now.  

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.

The Native American Educational And Cultural Center

This center provides educational opportunities and hands-on activities for guests.  Native artists spend time in the summer peak season to share their creativity and interact with guests.  You can purchase some of their art on-site.

Both times I visited the Cultural center it was off-season so I have yet to see this firsthand.

Artwork inside the museum

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.

Legends in Light Laser Show

This multimedia laser-light show happens nightly from Memorial Day weekend through September 30th.

This spectacular show turns the mountain into a 500-foot screen for an display of storytelling about Crazy Horse, Korczak, and more. 

The show features animations and laser beams choreographed to music and sound effects.

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.

I ordered the Native American Taco and the portion was huge and it was delicious.  I also tried South Dakota’s official state dessert, “Kuchen,” which is a German dough pie made with custard and different fruits. I thought it was tasty but not my cup of tea.

Snack shack

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

Are tours of Crazy Horse available?

white bus with crazy horse in background

Yes! You have two options:

First, you can take a bus to the base of the mountain for a closer view. This is $4 per person and the driver will tell you stories while driving. You’ll get out at the base of the memorial for a closer look and more interpretation. I HIGHLY recommend this to get more out of your visit.

Second, you can take a guided van ride to the top of the mountain for $125 per person. This price seems extremely steep to me, no pun intended!

Are pets allowed at Crazy Horse?

Yes, you can bring your pets with some restrictions: 

  • Pets must be on a leash
  • They are not allowed to walk in the buildings but can be carried or in a stroller throughout the complex.  This is why I didn’t bring my Great Dane! 
  • They are not allowed in the restaurant or snack shop area.
  • They may not go on the bus to base or van trips to the top.
  • Service animals are exempt from these rules.

Can I go to the top of the Crazy Horse Memorial?

Yes! But there are some things you need to know.

You can hike up to the top of the mountain twice a year during the Volksmarch event. You can read my article hiking to the top of Crazy Horse for all of the information you would need to know.  It’s definitely an experience and if you are planning a visit in spring or fall then you should consider it!

Outside of the Volksmarch, your only option is to take a guided van ride for $125.  This is a non-refundable gift and I would recommend doing the Volksmarch instead.

When is Crazy Horse open?

The Crazy Horse Memorial is open every day except Christmas Day. 

Hours vary seasonally, so check for current hours prior to your visit.

When should I visit?

The view is great year-round but try to avoid a day when the mountain could be obstructed by fog or clouds.

If you would rather avoid crowds then I would suggest visiting between September and May but pay attention to the Volksmarch dates because it draws thousands of visitors.

Where can I eat near Crazy Horse?

There are many restaurants in nearby Custer, SD

If you don’t want to eat at the Laughing Water Restaurant inside Crazy Horse, there are plenty of options nearby.

Your best bet is to head to Custer, SD, only a few minutes south of Crazy Horse. It has many restaurants, such as Skogen Kitchen, Calamity Jane’s, and Dakota Broasted.

For a complete list of places to eat in the area, see our article about the best places to eat in each city of the Black Hills.

What else is there 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! 

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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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