Do You Make Cairns When Hiking?

Have you ever been hiking along a trail and see a pile of stones stacked on top of each other. Though they’re made of natural rocks, they stick out like a sore thumb because you can instantly tell it’s not a natural formation. These small stacks of rocks are known as cairns. Cairns along hiking trails are often maintained by groups of hikers adding a stone when they pass.

Cairns date back hundreds of years and can be traced back to the British Isles. They’ve been used to mark burial sites, mile markers, and even ancient light houses (build a cairn and stick a torch on top). But the ones we’re talking about are tiny, often consisting of only 5-10 stones.

Something like this:

cairn DuPont State Forest

Building cairns along trails is quite popular. It’s also common for hikers to add a stone to the top of the cairn as he/she passes by. I’ve never built one or added a stone to one, but I think I will next time I run across one.

Have you built a cairn before? Where is it?

Here are a few more pictures:

cairn stone formation

cairn rock formation

cairn stacked stone formation

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9 thoughts on “Do You Make Cairns When Hiking?

  1. Interesting, I’ve never really thought about cairns but I do find them kind of comforting when hiking somewhere. It’s nice to know other people have walked the same road and enjoyed the same experience. I shall also add my stones now!

  2. Great post David!
    I so enjoy discovering old cairns, the older the better.
    I recall reading that many cairns like some you mention are very ancient.
    The ones on summits have much character and history. This is most often where I place my small Summit Stones.
    Then I usually add a rock or two upon the cairn itself too. :)
    DSD

  3. I love to leave a stone on a summit of a climb. I do not really like to see many small ones on the trail. They are supposed to mark a trail when obviouse trails didn’t exist. Now they do…So at the top for purposfull meaning, yes. Along the visible trail, no!
    I do not tear them down because I understand they meant something to someone else but it is an eye sore to me. I do build my own when camping but scatter them before I leave. LNT style. It’s a challenge to leave nature as is and we should better ourselves to be a better part of it.

  4. Cool photo’s. I can’t say I’ve ever built one, but next time I’m out hiking, I will! Sounds weird, but seems like a fun thing to do….unless of course it falls over on me and I have to cut my leg off like in that movie :)

    Stick to small boulders :)

  5. In the Uk we prefer it if people do not build new cairns as they can confuse walkers….and definitely do not remove them. They are important way markers and are often referred to in books of walks.
    Andy Goldsworthy, UK artist has built some interesting artistic cairns if any one is interested.

  6. We were recently hiking in Hawaii and saw a sign that said, “Don’t stack stones.” I didn’t know what it meant until I looked around and saw several columns of stacked stones. They must be trying to stop it for the very reason Emily shared.

  7. I make cairns around my neighborhood. It’s so cool, since now every time I’m walking around my neighborhood, I either see a cairn I did or a cool place to set another one. Everyone who sees me do them always stops and asks me about them. It’s so nice knowing that I am contributing to my community. and that’s one of the main reasons I do them. It’s so calming, and I always feel so connected to nature as I’m stacking them. It’s a beautiful art form.

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