The Crazy Horse Memorial Volksmarch, which takes place in late September, draws thousands of participants every year. In fact, the annual event is one of the most popular organized hikes in the United States.
Most visitors to the Black Hills have never heard of a volksmarch — in fact, many locals haven’t either. What is a volksmarch, and how is it different than any other hike? We’ll give you the basics and where to find them here in the Black Hills so you can go explore our beautiful region.
What is volksmarching?
The volksmarch, originating in Europe in the 1960s, is a non-competitive form of fitness walking. Derived from the German word “volksmarsch,” meaning “people’s march,” the modern-day volksmarch falls under the broad category of volkssporting. In addition to leisurely walks and hikes, the volkssporting movement includes biking, canoeing, swimming, skiing, snowshoeing, and even roller skating.
The Black Hills have a significant German population, and German-related clubs and gatherings are common. We love a good Oktoberfest celebration, so it’s no wonder we also have a fascination with volkssports and marches of all kinds.
How can I get started volksmarching?
The American Volkssport Association, also known as the AVA, includes over 200 clubs nationwide and sponsors nearly 2,500 events every year. Although membership is not required, most volkssporting events charge a small fee for participation. Dues for the local chapter, the Black Hills Volkssport Association, cost $5 for an individual and $10 for a family. Formed in 1976, the BHVA aims to organize fun, community-oriented activities that promote physical fitness and health.
Members of the AVA can participate in volkssporting activities and social events, sponsor a club event, and run for office. Before hitting the trails, new members often purchase an event book used to record the number of volkssport events participated in, and a distance book, to record the number of miles completed. For completing 20 different events a year, members can receive a hoodie, jacket, or club vest. Volkssporting chapters often offer small prizes, such as patches or pins, for participating in certain events. Many chapters even offer scholarship opportunities, including the Black Hills Volkssport Association.
Year-Round Volksmarch Events in the Black Hills
Trail listings on the AVA website usually indicate two distances (for example, 5km/10km), meaning that participants can choose between a shorter and longer route. Walks usually range between 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) and 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) and follow scenic trails, wind along rivers and historic sites, or pass through downtown areas. Designated bike trails are often 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) or longer. Year-round events can be completed at any time.
Start boxes are found near a trail’s starting point and contain directions, maps, and stamps for log books. They are available at both year-round and seasonal trail locations.
The Cowboy Hill Trail starts at the lower trail of Cowboy Hill and continues through downtown Rapid City. Participants can register at the front desk of the Rushmore Plaza Holiday Inn, located on 505 N 5th Street.
The Rushmore Plaza Bike Trail follows the city bike path along Rapid Creek and through several parks. Participants can register at the front desk of the Rushmore Plaza Holiday Inn, located on 505 N 5th Street.
Starting at the Deadwood Gulch Resort, the Deadwood Gambol Trail begins on the Mickelson Trail, heading towards the historic gaming area and rodeo grounds. On the return trip, walkers will take the Whitewood Creek Trail. Participants can find the start box at the Deadwood Gulch Resort.
Starting in downtown Sturgis, the walk leads to Fort Meade and follows the Alkali Creek bike path on the return trip. The 5km route begins at the city park. The start box can be found at the Sturgis Community Center on Lazelle Street.
The Mickelson Trail is a 108.8-mile trail on crushed limestone and gravel. Participants can walk any section of the trail and can register at the Heart of the West Conoco in Hill City, as well as in Deadwood and Custer. Trail passes are required and can be found at the trail heads.
Following Freedom Trail along Fall River, the trail passes through historic Hot Springs. The 10km route starts at the Super 8, where the start box is located. For the 5km route, participants must drive to the starting point.
To find more information or to reach the point of contact, visit the event listing for each trail at my.ava.org.
Annual Black Hills Volksmarch Events
You can participate in volksmarches all year, but there are a few in the Black Hills you should add to your calendar. These marches happen only once or twice a year, and they attract a lot more people. You can enjoy a walk in some of the most picturesque parts of the hills and meet new friends along the way!
Attracting up to 15,000 participants every year, the Crazy Horse Memorial Volksmarch trails up the mountain to the nine-story-high face of the Native American chief Ta-sunko-witko.
Parking is free, with shuttle buses operating between parking lots and the starting point. Hikers are required to register and pay the $3 fee at the Memorial’s upper parking area. Registration begins at 7 am, and hikers are welcome to begin the trail at 8am. However, all hikers must check in before 1 pm and finish by 4pm.
Participants are welcome to enjoy free coffee at the Memorial before the hike, or they can purchase refreshments along the trail’s stopping points.
The location of the Sturgis Volksmarch varies from year to year. Past volksmarches have taken place at Deadman Canyon, the historic Davenport Dams, Alkali Creek, Bear Butte State Park, and downtown Sturgis.
Before starting, hikers are asked to register and pay the $3 fee at the registration booth. Participants may begin hiking between 8am and 11am but must return by 2pm.
The Lead City Walk, open from April 1 to September 30, winds through historic Lead. During the walk, participants are encouraged to stop by the Black Hills Mining Museum, Homestake Opera House, and the Home Stake Gold Mine Visitor Center. Keep a lookout for plaques and historic signs about Lead’s mining heritage and the Gold Rush era.
For a complete list of events, visit the Black Hills Volkssport Association at www.bhva.org.