Trail Marking Cairns on the JMT

Nice Cairns!

In Defense of Cairns on the Trail

In a recent article in the Oneida, Tennessee Independent Herald titled Back Yard: Cairns are hikers’ calling card, writer Ben Garrett talks about the phenomenon of rock cairns—those little towers of rocks you see by the trail or by some landmark. Many hikers build them to mark where they’ve been. Other hikers build them because someone else built one on that spot.

Now I’ve never built a cairn myself (but my kids have at Angkor Archaeological Park in Cambodia), but I have seen plenty in my wanderings throughout the trails of Southern California.

Rock cairn in Southern California
A rock cairn in Southern California.

Garret writes that cairns “often serve no purpose” and comments on how  some hikers—even park rangers—relish knocking over these finely balanced towers of stone.

I agree that seeing hundreds of cairns piled atop one another isn’t really something that’s of interest to me as someone seeking a bit of solitude in the outdoors.

However, when I hiked the John Muir Trail, cairns often served to mark the trail when it wasn’t obvious, and, at those times, I was really glad to see them.

Traim Cairns on the JMT
Where’s the John Muir Trail? Just line up the cairns …


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