See a Rock Cairn? Push It Over, Yosemite National Park Says

Rock Cairns

Photographers who spend time in state and national parks are probably familiar with rock cairns, or man-made piles of rocks stacked on top of each other. They can ruin landscape scenes, but luckily, everyone is encouraged to knock them over.

Landscape photographers or visitors to national parks might feel bad about knocking over rock cairns since it likely took someone a bit of time and effort to get them into place. But in a post on Facebook this week, Yosemite National Park officials are encouraging visitors to knock over rock cairns as part of the “Leave No Trace” ethics of visiting national parks.

“Why did Wilderness Restoration Rangers dismantle this rock cairn? According to Leave No Trace ethics when we recreate in wilderness spaces, our goal is to leave no signs of our impact on the land and respect other creatures living in it,” Yosemite explains.

“Unfortunately, this dramatically oversized cairn is a mark of human impact and is distracting in a wilderness setting. Building rock cairns also disturbs small insects, reptiles, and microorganisms that call the underside home!” the national park continues.

“When used appropriately, rock cairns are great for navigation, safety, and delineating a new or hard-to-follow trail. In general, rock cairns should only be constructed by rangers and trail workers. Please dismantle and refrain from building rock cairns when you visit Yosemite.”

Yosemite isn’t the only park that has brought up the issue of rock cairns. As noted by Adventure, Queensland National Parks shared a similar sentiment last summer and goes so far as to classify the construction of rock cairns as vandalism.

“Just because you cairn, doesn’t mean you should! Our parks and forests are wild areas that need to stay wild. Rock cairns have been used historically as navigational aids when there is no obvious track to follow—when used for this purpose the use is well respected. Rock stacks which are purely for somebody’s pleasure, are becoming a problem in many parks,” Queensland National Parks says.

“Rock stacks are vandalism — disturbing the natural environment that parks are there to protect. QPWS Rangers can issue a penalty infringement notice (PIN) to anyone constructing an unauthorized structure or works in parks, with fines of $689! So, remember, leave only footprints when visiting our parks and forests!”

So, photographers, have no qualms about toppling rock cairns that are interrupting a landscape scene. They don’t belong and are not only visually disruptive, but ecologically damaging.

Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.