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  • Writer's picturePublic Lands Hate You

The Environmental Cost of Stone Stacking / Cairns

Updated: Jun 18, 2019

***Originally posted to @publiclandshateyou on 6/21/2019***

Most hikers have probably encountered rock cairns (Gaelic for heap of stones, pronounced similar to “karen”). Typically used as route markers through areas that are difficult to navigate, cairns have been used for 1000’s of years from the Norwegian Fjords, to the Tibetan Plateau, to the Andes to mark travel routes. Today the practice of stone stacking has become a social media phenomenon.

These piles of rocks are harmless, right? Wrong. Removing rocks from the ground, riverbeds, and lakeshores increases erosion, does not adhere to the Leave No Trace principles, is illegal on many public lands, and removes habitat for sensitive wildlife.

Many saxicolous species (species which live on, underneath, or around rocks) have "rock removal" listed as a major threat to their survival. In the Appalachian Mtns, the Eastern Hellbender (large salamander) and endangered Smoky madtom (small catfish) are two of many species who’s survival is threatened by a loss of habitat. Moving rocks disturbs silt/sediment, dislodges eggs, accelerates the natural erosion process, and removes livable habitat for these animals.

One person stacking 10 rocks doesn’t have a huge impact. The problem is after the first stack is created others tend to follow. Before long one cairn has turned into five, which quickly turns to 50. Now we have 500 rocks that have been displaced in a small area, and that DOES have an impact. Post pictures of your cairns to social media? Now the whole world thinks it a good idea and millions of rocks are being moved every single day, often in extremely sensitive riparian (river/stream bank) areas.

See cairns that aren’t trail markers? Gently dismantle them to discourage further stacking or let a park ranger or official know so they can do so. Although tempting, violently kicking them over risks further harm to the critters that use them as home.

Leave No Trace is about leaving places in the same condition they were found in. Leaving a pile of rocks to mark your visit does the opposite of that. So please, when visiting our public lands leave the egotistic behavior at home, tame your inner rock moving caveman/cavewoman, and leave the rocks where they belong.

I can already hear it. “@publiclandshateyou you’ve really gone off the deep end lately. Hating on dogs, and now telling people they shouldn’t stack rocks.” People, I went off the deep end a long, long time ago. When I was 5. At the swimming pool. And I survived. This is nothing new. The “little things” like rock stacking do have an impact, especially when extrapolated out over millions of collective actions. Moving six rocks might not have a huge impact but moving 60,000,000 does.

Also, HUGE shout

out to @tnt_reptiles for helping me get this post together!

4,892 views3 comments


Kyra Treece
Kyra Treece
Apr 04, 2021

Don't stack rocks and post about it on social media but I'm going to post all kinds of pics of it. Kind of redundant don't ya think?


Glen Hunter
Glen Hunter
Apr 03, 2021

This was the dumbest shit I've read yet. Kick rocks bro


Jun 30, 2019

Is that a, it's another fire pit. 3 at a single campsite. Many camp sites that took years to ferret out that were quiet, well taken care of turn into small villages overnight thanks to a social media site called ''. Their good intentions are causing lot's of damage.

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