TIL: About Rock cairns and why the National park service recommends that you do not use them as a guide for hikes

Read more: https://www.nps.gov/articles/rockcairns.htm

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  1. It makes it clear in the article that cairns are used in national parks. It even lists the three general rules for cairns… 1. NEVER remove a cairn, even if you believe it’s not a trail marker. 2. Never make your own cairns. 3. Never add to an existing cairn.

    A good example of why this is important is the Delicate Arch hike in Utah. Delicate Arch is the one you see on a lot of Utah license plates, and it gets a lot of for traffic. However, the hike is over something like 1.5 miles of slickrock (3 miles round trip). Cairns are the ONLY trail markers for most of the hike. Getting lost puts you are in an unforgiving desert with no points of reference.

    A Ranger I talked to says that the most difficult thing they deal with is well-meaning people removing cairns because they believe they’re supposed to. They’re told by environmental groups or misinformed websites that cairns are unnatural and should always be destroyed. Since national parks are federal land, messing with the cairns is a federal offense. And because of the very real danger removing cairns poses, the rangers will take action against anyone caught.

    That being said, this is an example from one park, and the article makes it clear rules can change park to park. Always do your research or ask a Ranger at the park you visit. They are there to educate and keep you safe wherever you visit.

  2. I’ve hiked several National Parks, sections of the Appalchian Trail, and many other places were cairns are the norm for marking the trail. NPS absolutely uses them.

    When you don’t have trees for blazes and the weather is too extreme for paint, they’re the best option.

    That said, lots of silly people build their own pile of rocks, confusing the trail and disturbing nature.

    So if you are in the wild, leave the cairn building to the trail keepers.

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