The Crazy Horse Memorial, located outside Custer, South Dakota, was designed to honor the memory of one of the greatest heroes of the Native American people who inhabit the Great Plains. Unlike its nearby (and better known) rival Mt. Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial is a privately-funded and owned site. If you’re in or near South Dakota, the Memorial is definitely worth a quick visit. In this post I’ll share a bit on the Memorial’s history and construction, inform you of some details on planning a visit, and (hopefully) inspire you with some of my favorite photos of the place.

History and Construction

My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know the red man has great heroes, too. – Chief Henry Standing Bear

Crazy Horse Memorial, from the foot of the mountain

With those emotional words, written in 1939, Chief Standing Bear invited sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski to design and begin work on a sculpture honoring the Oglala Lakota hero Crazy Horse. The Black Hills area of South Dakota was long considered sacred to the Lakota people, and the selection of the site for Mt. Rushmore was seen as a deep and stinging insult to the original inhabitants of the land. The native people of the area wanted to honor their own heroes in their own way, and eventually came to the idea of a monument for Crazy Horse.

Construction on the Monument began in 1948 and has been proceeding non-stop ever since. As of this writing, the head of the sculpture is nearly complete but everything else is still in the early stages. His arm, and the head and neck of the horse he is riding, have been roughed out, but no other work has been done on those sections.

It is estimated that work will continue on the Monument for more than 100 years, based on current technology. The majority of the work required is to just remove excess rock to completely rough out the sculpture. Rock removal is a painstaking and dangerous process. Sculptors dig long holes into sections of the rock and then place explosives into the holes. A timed detonation causes tons of rock at a time to break loose and fall away. Once the sculptors rough the mountain down to something approaching the final form and size, they will finish the memorial with increasingly fine tools.

Our party, standing on Crazy Horse’s arm

The size of the Memorial itself is staggering – it’s hard to take it all in. During our tour we were fortunate to get an escort to the top – this photo shows the rest of our group on Crazy Horse’s arm, near the head. When completed, the arm will be over 260 ft. long. The face alone is 87 1/2 feet high.

The sculpture’s final dimensions are planned to be 641 feet (195 m) wide and 563 feet (172 m) high. The head of Crazy Horse will be 87 feet (27 m) high; by comparison, the heads of the four U.S. Presidents at Mount Rushmore are each 60 feet (18 m) high. In fact, when the horse’s head is complete it will be larger than two of the Abraham Lincoln heads at Mt. Rushmore.

When the sculpture is completed, it is anticipated it will be the world’s largest sculpture. It will also be the first non-religious sculpture to hold the “world’s largest” title since 1967.

The Visitor’s Center has continually-running movies on the construction of the monument as well as the history of Crazy Horse and the Lakota people. It also contains many exhibits on Native American culture and art. Quite often, independent vendors set up shop in the Center. They are there to sell books, jewelry and artwork relating to Native American life.

Planning Your Visit

Getting there

  • The entrance along US Highway 16/385 (the Crazy Horse Memorial Highway) is 9 miles south of Hill City, SD and 4 miles north of Custer, SD.
  • Set Your GPS coordinates to our gates (+43.820279, -103.640092)
  • Crazy Horse Memorial is 17 miles southwest of Mount Rushmore National Memorial.


Hours of Operation

The hours of operation for the Memorial vary based on the season. However, the welcome center generally opens at 8AM every day, and the educational center opens between 9:00AM-9:30AM every day.

Admission and Optional Tours

Admission prices are free for children under 6. Pricing for older children and adults varies based on your mode of transport (car, motorcycle or bicycle) and the number of people in your party. An individual on a bicycle can enter for $7, and a car of more than two people can enter for $30. Native Americans, active duty US military, Custer County (S.D.) residents, and select other groups receive free admission. Optional bus rides to the bottom of the Memorial are available.

Twice a year, the Memorial Association also sponsors the Volksmarch. This is a 10km (6.2 mile) walk up the back side of the mountain. The march ends on the surface of Crazy Horse’s arm, where you get an excellent vista of the entire area.

Photo Gallery

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Final Thoughts

When visiting the Memorial, you will likely be awed by the size and scale of the project. You can also get deeply immersed in the culture and customs of Native American people in the Visitor’s Center. If you are planning a trip to the western US states, a detour through the Crazy Horse Memorial area will be well worth your time.

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  1. That memorial’s face seems like a cut and paste job from the mount Rushmore faces. Equally amazing and candid too:)

  2. A hundred year project… Wow. I always just assumed it was close to completion. Now I can see the man and the horse emerging from the mountain in my mind. I never realized the epic scope of this project.

    • travelstories

      Yeah – the amount of work still to be done is staggering. Sad that we’ll never see it completed in our lifetime, but happy that future generations will enjoy it.

  3. Wow, this is amazing. I’m glad there is finally something for the native Americans. I just saw a Ted Ed video on the mount Rushmore and it was such an eye-opener. I hope the memorial gets the respect and popularity it deserves.

    • travelstories

      I’m with you – I really hope that the Crazy Horse Memorial gets the respect and popularity it deserves as well!

  4. I still can’t believe how much of the US I haven’t explored, even though I grew up there. I haven’t even been to Mt Rushmore, and this one also looks great. It’s really interesting how they used explosives to carve the rock. Someday I’ll return to my home country to explore this place and others.

    • travelstories

      I grew up always wanting to see Rushmore, Yellowstone, etc., etc…finally got to do it last year! It was awesome. If you come and visit, you have to write about it on your blog! 🙂

  5. Next 100 years, well that itself is mindboggling. But I am glad that somebody thought of the idea and decided to build a memorial to the forgotten heroes of the native American people who till date are wrongly called Indians. I do hope to visit and see some of these monuments in USA.

    • travelstories

      The amount of work that has gone (and will go) into this monument is mindboggling indeed. I agree with your point – it is great that there’s a monument to the forgotten Native American heroes. Their stories aren’t really taught in grade school/high school history classes, and they should be.

  6. I can’t believe how big the face is! It’s huge! This looks like a very interesting trip to do to in South Dakota.

    • travelstories

      HA! Lucy you are right, I had the same reaction on seeing the face up close. It’s a great trip to do, I hope you get to experience it someday.

  7. I had no idea this monument existed, nor that Mount Rushmore was built on sacred lands – I am so glad the Native Americans are building their own monument to celebrate their history. It is such a shame how history is conveniently written by the conquerors and the original people who inhabited the land are conveniently forgotten, I have spent a lot of time in Latin America and it is a similar story there, although the ancient cities are now major tourist attractions. I suppose it is harder to show something tangible when the people of North America were nomadic!

    • travelstories

      Claire you’re absolutely right…it is a shame that Native American history has been forgotten. The stories are out there, if one digs for them…but by and large, they’re not being taught in the schools. Sad.

  8. What a grand and impressive project! The details of detonating the stone is informative and thus a bit scary too. Try to imagine how it will all be once the construction is complete in every respect.

    • travelstories

      I’ve never seen it when a rock blast happens, but I’ve heard it’s pretty cool. But when the large equipment gets up there (earth movers, etc.) they have to be at some pretty precarious angles! :-0

  9. I would like to see this in person. $30 for a car of 2 or more is a cool price. Long project they have undertaken.

    • travelstories

      You should totally go…it’s unbelievable! You are right about it being a “long project”…I can’t imagine what it was like for the sculptor who started it, knowing that his great-grandchildren might not even see it finished. Such dedication!

  10. I remember visiting the Crazy Horse Memorial when I was a kid–it’s definitely a wonderful site to see! We didn’t make it there on our last visit to the area though. Hopefully we can visit again sometime as it would be nice to see the site as an adult. That’s really neat that you got an escort to the top–would be really cool to see it up close like you did! I didn’t realize they were still continuing to work on the sculpture. Wonder when it will actually be completed–would be interesting to see if technology improves and they can complete it sooner than expected!

    • travelstories

      Part of the reason we got an escort to the top was because someone in our party was a Anishnaabe from Michigan who is a tribal historian and author. As you could imagine, the Memorial gives great deference to Native American tribespeople.

      You make a good point about advancements in technology – who knows how it’ll evolve?

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