Volksmarching: Self-Paced Walking Near or Far

Written by Elizabeth Rose

February 10, 2022
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Volksmarching is a great way to explore on foot. The American Volkssport Association is a great intro to the self-paced walking sport.

One of the best ways to explore your own neighborhood or travel across the United States and beyond is on foot. But where to start? Let the non-profit American Volkssport Association or AVA: America’s Walking Club introduce you to volksmarching, or self-paced walking. The club is open to all and gives you a route, encourages you to step out and explore with incentive programs, and allows you to meet other walkers.

The self-paced, fun walking sport known as volksmarching began in Germany and caught on in the United States when American military service members and families returned from Germany home to the United States. Now AVA: America’s Walking Club has over 200 active clubs nationwide, hosting more than 2,500 walking events each year. It’s self-paced, so most anyone, any age, or ability can join. You don’t have to join a club to walk either, but it’s more fun if you do.

Volksmarching Started in Germany

The term “volkssport” is German for “sport of the people.” Many people were left out of traditional running races and couldn’t earn awards and medals. So volkssport events, many of them to raise money for non-profits like the local Red Cross, were started by towns who wanted to involve all of the townspeople. Everyone was a winner. And since this was a fun way to enhance camaraderie with the American military and their families from nearby bases, they were encouraged to join in the activities.

German Volksmarch near a dry riverbed

Walkers on the Karwendelmarsch in Germany head past a dry riverbed with the remains of glacier runoff. Photo by Chris Upeslacis

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I had the opportunity to live in Germany for three years quite a long while ago. I was used to learning new German customs and asked my neighbor all about volksmarching. They returned home from an event raving about spending a day with their children walking through a quaint German town, tromping through muddy pathways in the vineyards overlooking the Rhine River, and finishing their walk with hot bratwurst, hot chocolate for the kids, and, of course, bier for the adults. I learned it wasn’t about marching at all. I could take my camera and dawdle as much as I wished. Others, wearing two-piece Adidas tracksuits, would speed by me to the finish point—it was participants’ choice.

German Bratwurst

Bratwurst is a common reward after walks in Germany. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

Hooked on Volksmarching

Since this is a social sport, I was quickly invited to join the following weekend’s volksmarching adventure, which entailed hiking up to an old castle. Upon finishing the walk, I was given a medal showing an engraved image of the castle. I soon learned there were special books, sort of like a passport, where you received a stamp after finishing every walk. Those were called Internationaler Volksssport Verband or IVV record books—with the initials representing the umbrella organization sanctioning the walks in Europe. Fill out the book, turn it in, and receive a patch, pin, and certificate. I soon visited German towns, large and small, to go on walks, fill up my books with stamps, and, most importantly, make memories.

Walkers around a table with IVV Books

At the end of a walk, those who paid for credit, have their IVV books stamped. Photo courtesy of AVA

With enthusiasm building, I joined a local club and carpooled with others as far away as Luxembourg and France to go on sanctioned walks. I experienced Europe on foot—hearing church bells as I hiked through the woods, stopping to pet horses grazing in the fields, and smelling grilled pork and onions served up hot off the grill when I finished. Often, we sat at long wooden tables under a tent, chatting with the local villagers and listening to an oom-pah band.

Volksmarching in the United States

When I ended my time in Germany and moved to San Jose, CA, I thought volksmarching was just a fond memory. Then I opened the newspaper and spied a small article promoting a walk event in Clear Lake, CA. It was a volksmarch! We decided to head north for the weekend and do this walk. Enthusiastic club members explained that returning servicemembers established a branch of volksmarch walking in Texas and that there were now clubs in many states hosting events, both 10K and 20K in length. I could use my IVV books from Germany and continue to record my distance and the events I attended. I enjoyed the countryside around beautiful Clear Lake and chatted with walkers from all over northern California.

Volksmarch Registration Tents

The familiar IVV international flag often marks the volksmarch registration location. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

While living in California, I learned where the clubs were, joined one in the Silicon Valley area, and eventually established one in my hometown of San Jose, the South Bay Striders. This club, still active today, puts on walks through residential Victorian-era neighborhoods in nearby Los Gatos and hosts map-guided walks in scenic places like San Francisco, Monterey, and Capitola on the coast.

California Volksmarch boardwalk by the ocean

Walkers enjoy the Alameda Bay Farm event in California. Photo by Steve Dmytriw

Types of Walking Events in the U.S.

You might be surprised to find out there are huge events like the annual Crazy Horse Memorial walk in South Dakota, which draws over 15,000 walkers. In contrast, there are small group walks like the holiday lights stroll held in an active retirement community in the West Valley of Phoenix, where walkers (usually under 20 of them), often donning Santa Hats and wearing lights around their necks, stop mid-way in their walk for holiday refreshments.

Crazy Horse Volksmarch

Avid walkers Tim and Cecilia Miner hiked to the top of the Crazy Horse Memorial along with thousands of others during this annual event. Photo courtesy of Wood ‘n Dale Volksmarch Club, VA

There are regular volksmarching events, where you register and walk a marked route, and there are guided walks, where you meet with a walk leader before heading out as a group. Great for travelers, there are year-round walks where you register on your own, pick up instructions, and walk the route measured by the club. I always look for these when visiting a new town.

St. Augustine Volksmarch

There are AVA walks from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic Coast. This is an event held by the Happy Wanderers in St. Augustine, FL. Photo by Sheila Doonan McClellan

During a recent extended stay in Prescott, AZ, I checked the AVA website and learned about a walk taking me through historical sites in this northern Arizona town. The description told me where to find the file box in a local motel, where I could register, and where to pick up the map. And yes, the event stamp was there for me to stamp my books when I finished! After all these years, I still keep track.

But what these events have in common is that the national organization sanctions them, and those familiar incentive stamps are available to place in your walking record books.

Las Vegas Walkers inside a mall

The Las Vegas Rollers and Strollers volksmarch club includes indoor walking on their route allowing walkers to cool off. Photo by April Borbon

More than Walking

You can set your own pace at any of AVA’s events, whether walking, biking, swimming, canoeing, cross-country skiing, or snowshoeing. The most common events—second to walking—involve biking. The organization offers a special “bike book” where you can record your distance.

Sauvie Island Bikers

Some vary their volkssports by adding in biking. This event was on Sauvie Island near Portland, OR.  Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

Keeping Up with the Times

Volksmarching has changed over time as the needs of walkers changed. While clubs have been urged to drop the unfamiliar German term volksmarching, it still sticks. It’s a worldwide sport. You’ll hear that term along with volkssport, volkswalk, or self-paced walking.

Tacoma Volksmarch walkers by water

Walkers on the trail at Chambers Bay golf course enjoy the views of the Tacoma Narrows and the Olympics. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

Record Books or Not

Walk organizers soon discovered that people new to the sport might decide not to keep the incentive books. Folks were just out for a fun walk to explore what might lie along the walking route. So, the organization allowed “free walkers” who did not participate in the incentive books. While a stamp in your book only costs a few dollars per event, the free walkers opted to put a few bucks in the club’s donation jar instead.

Garden of the Gods Volksmarch

Walkers wind their way through the Garden of the Gods on a Colorado volksmarch. Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

But to ensure they had the chance to get involved in the incentive system, “New Walker Packets” were put together, including the familiar green and blue books.

Shorter Walk Routes

As the population aged, some were no longer up for a 10K or 20K walk, so the organization introduced the 5K route. Busy families with small children also love the shorter routes. If you complete any portion of a sanctioned walk, you are eligible for a stamp in your book.

Mt. Lemmon Volksmarch

The shorter 5K (3.1 miles) route is ideal for families with small children. This event was at Mt. Lemmon, Arizona.  Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

Volksmarching Information Online

Some clubs have devised a system to register and provide online walk event information. The AVA website lists both clubs and events with directions for finding the registration points.

Columbia Gorge Volksmarch

The Columbia River Walking Club hosted a multi-event weekend of walks in the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon; the event was advertised successfully online.  Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

A club in Oregon and SW Washington started holding group walks, advertised online with Meetup.com to draw in new walkers. I participated in the Wednesday Walkers in the Portland/Vancouver, WA area. The mid-week group attracted retirees and those with flexible schedules. I enjoyed knowing that every Wednesday morning, I’d be able to join walkers on various courses. They offered both a 5K and 10K route with two leaders. Sometimes we’d meet for lunch after the walk. Volksmarch walking is all about fun, fitness, and FOOD!

Wednesday Walkers group photo

The Wednesday Walkers gathered for a photo mid-way in the walk on Hayden Island in Portland, OR. Photo courtesy of the Wednesday Walkers

More Incentives to Walk

If you like the record books and stamps concept, you’ll love this. AVA: America’s Walking Club offers record books for all 50 States and all 50 Capitals. What a way to see America! And, of course, when you fill those books with walking stamps, you’ll be awarded a certificate of achievement, and don’t be surprised if your walking friends throw you a party!

Time-limited special incentives are dreamed up by clubs all across the US and listed as Special Programs. Right now, a group is encouraging walkers to honor veterans by recording the places they see on their walk route that mention veterans including statues, plaques, highways honoring veterans, etc. When you complete the challenge, you’ll receive a specially-designed coin very similar to a military challenge coin.

Veterans walks commemorative coins

Walk past sites commemorating veterans and earn a special event challenge coin. Photo courtesy of AVA’s Walk With America’s Veterans Special Program

Another special program titled “Rockin’ Around the Clock” challenges participants to find public clocks while out enjoying volkssporting events. The award for completing this challenge is an embroidered patch. In addition to national programs, state walking organizations develop ideas for challenges, such as walking all the counties in a state or recording walks that go by a cemetery. These programs are full of imagination and make your walking more fun.

Volksmarch Special Programs

One year in Oregon, so many special programs were going on that it was almost impossible to complete all of them. Although, some had fun trying! Photo by Elizabeth R Rose

How to Get Started Walking with AVA Volksmarching

If you love to walk and meet new friends, contact any AVA walking clubs nationwide or attend a walk event. Membership is not required, only the motivation to walk! Bring your family, friends, and pets on the beautiful, unique trails AVA: America’s Walking Club offers.

For more information on volksmarching all around the world check out these websites:

Walking Family

Bring your family on a volksmarch. Photo courtesy of AVA

Articles Related to Volksmarching

Make New Discoveries on Foot

You’ll still hear a little German volksmarching terminology from those who loved walking in Europe, but not to worry, it’s an easy sport to figure out. Just ask, and an enthusiastic volunteer will fill you in. Soon you will be on the trail, learning about new places and meeting new people. For more articles about walking and hiking, see these articles by Wander writers.

One of the best ways to explore your own neighborhood or travel across the United States and beyond is on foot. But where to start? Let the non-profit American Volkssport Association or AVA: America’s Walking Club introduce you to volksmarching, or self-paced walking.

Volksmarching: Self-Paced Walking Near or Far

Written by Elizabeth Rose

Elizabeth Rose is back again in the Phoenix area after more than a decade living in New Mexico and Washington state. She travels throughout the West and beyond writing about destinations, accommodations, festivals, and restaurants, especially farm to table cuisine. As an expert in cultural tourism, her writing reflects that passion. She has won awards for her photography and accompanies her articles with her own images. She also provides photos for magazine covers, web sites and magazine articles (both print and online).

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1 Comment

  1. John McClellan

    Great article – thanks!

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