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When to Cairn?

I got a lot of feedback from my post about trailwork to Lake Margaret. Lots of people wondering why we are taking down cairns. It's pretty simple: they're unnecessary. And part of Leave No Trace is to ...you know...Leave No Trace.


A completely unnecessary cairn on North Dome, in Yosemite. What? You can't tell where to go from here?


Should you ever put up a cairn? Before you do, ask yourself this question: Am I lost? If you are lost, don't put up a cairn. It will just confuse anyone who follows you. If you are not lost, then you don't need to put up a cairn. You found your way just fine. Please allow other hikers to do the same.


If you can see where the trail goes, don't put up a cairn.

If you can see the trail behind you, don't put up a cairn.

If you can see a log cut for the trail, don't put up a cairn.

If you can see a blaze on a tree, don't put up a cairn.

If you can see footprints in the dirt or sand, don't put up a cairn.

If you can see a path through the grass, don't put up a cairn.

If you can see branches outlining the trail, Don't put up a cairn.

If you can a cairn ahead or behind you, don't put up a cairn.

If you are moved to create artwork with natural materials, do it at home. Don't put up a cairn.

And if you do put up a cairn to help you find you way back....take it down on your way back.

When in doubt, don't put up a cairn.




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1 Comment


Bill Dyer
Bill Dyer
Oct 09, 2022

I experienced the problem with the proliferation of cairns. Setting out from the trailhead between the Blue Lakes, intending to hike to Grouse Lake, I followed what appeared to be a well-traveled trail leading from the crossing over the dam. This trail turned out to not be the trail to Granite and Grouse Lakes, which actually was a hard left, following the stream before turning up hill. The trail I took soon headed across granite, with cairns marking what I took to be the trail. But the “trail” looped around in a big circle, leaving me at the dam once more after hiking a couple of hours. By the time I got started on the correct trail, my stamina and…

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