Rock stacking - is it OK?

“I see a lot more rock habitat destruction from people who like to stack towers and make patterns with them.”

That’s a huge problem here. Whether it’s done for “fun”, or to post that selfie on social media to show the world one’s ego-monument, or to unearth organisms, none of these is okay.

I hope iNat could be used as a forum to explain that we need to tread lightly in natural areas… ?


Those rock formations are called “Cairns” … and they do serve a purpose. I won’t tell you what that purpose is. You will have to find out for yourselves.

Actual cairns may have a purpose but most are simply piles of rocks. I deconstruct them when I find them.


Same here


Yes, I’m very familiar with the intended, valid purpose of cairns. However, trails that are entrenched a foot deep and can be seen on satellite maps really don’t need cairns. Neither does every single ridge, no matter how minor, or every single spot where people stop to rest where there happens to be an outcrop that they can destroy. It’s a mindless, unthinking activity done by unthinking people who don’t understand the damage they’re causing and why we should leave no trace… or they do know and don’t care. These are not navigational aids. And anyone who could actually need such aids should really not venture out unsupervised by people who can actually at least recognize an obvious trail and follow it.


there are many examples and articles detailing how these cairns can be very damaging from an ecological perspective, e.g. see and
as just two examples among many


It’s pretty clear moving many rocks (and making them impossible for usage of animals who did before) deals much more damage than just walking.


Simple cairns?.. it is not clear to me?.. Please explain how they are MORE damaging… than your feet stomping the Earth… to get to… said cairns?

What exactly is not clear to you though? These are lasting effects of stones that no more lay on the ground/close to the ground with microhabitat underneath/near them. You can read articles above.


Rocks along the trail are the source of microhabitat, they have to be on the ground, not in it completely.
What’s the point of comparing two things? It makes no sense, like saying air is polluted, so smoking is ok, no, it’s summarizing, not eliminating another problem. If people are destructing habitats they’re doing it and blaming other people for what they do will not make first actions disappear.


…It is a petty gripe. Your argument on microhabitat doesn’t stand up… because you are the catalyst to that problem in this scenario… ( a hiker who is seeing the cairns) There are others in the environment who like the Cairns. I think of early Man… how we evolved… when I see a Cairn. I think of a long hikers efforts and catharsis and all the trouble they went through in building a Cairn… And it sort of pisses me off… that you have such low value for Man. And high regard for something you have been stepping on anyway…

It clearly does nothing but spits on what early humans and real travelers did and still do, it’s just an instagram trend, nothing more, you can read multiple article how photo rends on insta lead to destroying of places. My argument is valuable, you didn’t say a single thing that’d show otherwise, I don’t know what you’re trying to achieve in this tread, you want us humans levitate or what? Want us not care about nature because we have to walk? Maybe we should just die because we have to eat other organisms? I can’t be a catalyst to anything, I never set up a whole trail in my life. And again, one thing doesn’t eliminate another.


Building the cairns is more damaging than just “stomping the earth” because they are in addition to the stomping. And if you are saying people do the stomping just to get to the cairns, that is multiplying the damage again.


Now you’re arguing against the original and valid, intended purpose of cairns - as useful navigational aids - and seem to be defending that they’re just something fun to do to leave your mark on nature? Should people not be capable of passing through a natural area and leaving it natural and unmarred, rather than defacing it with piles of rocks? Hundreds or thousands of people use these trails every season. Why is it so important that others know you were there?

I’m curious what your qualifications are in opining that the scientists and natural area stewards who document the environmental (and aesthetic) damage caused by rock-stackers (and have to try to repair and restore the areas) are the ones in the wrong? Have you actually read any of the myriad articles and warning advice from various parks about the damages done by the subject activity, or even the previous comments here relating to areas where this is a significant problem?


Not sure if this line of argument is being helpful. It’s skating close to ad hominum.

@typoclerk, To clarify my position, and perhaps several others, I’m not opposed to actual cairns. And I understand that not all cairns are old and culturally significant but can still have a valid purpose. It’s the rock piles that pollute busier natural areas more and more, especially stream habitats. They are also called cairns by some. I looked at your profile and saw AMC and White Mts. Maybe your experience is mostly real cairns, treeline comes pretty quick around there. Where I am, we use paint, metal, and plastic for trail blazes but mostly can just follow the worn path. Cairns are not tradition here.

The one I took apart Sunday was was started on a lichen covered boulder probably within the last 2 weeks. It was on an obvious footpath. I released the lichens from their roof and placed the larger rocks back into the leaf litter holes they came out of. I’m not really angry when I do this, mostly disappointed.


@typoclerk iNat profile deleted?
Sorry now at Matt Lawton.

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Moved this discussion from another topic.

I’m also closing the topic for 24 hours and may close it indefinitely due to the ad hominem turn it’s taking.

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This topic was automatically opened after 24 hours.

To answer the question: Around here (Southern Appalachians), it is emphatically NOT ok to even move rocks in natural areas, much less stack them. We have several endangered salamander species that depend on their home rocks for survival. You can find signage about this along many local river trails. Here’s an article about the hellbender, as an example. Rules in other locations may vary, but around here rocks should be left where they are, especially in salamander habitat.