Don't Be A Cairn!
"What's your problem with rock stacking and Cairns?" You say... well...
*Note - this information is readily available from the NPS. We are using their info as the standard for reference and to report accurately on the situation.*
What is a Cairn? A rock cairn is a man-made structure typically used to mark something. In many National Parks and trails etc, official cairns are used for trail markers.
Do all parks use this system? Nope! Some parks, however, like Capitol Reef have a "No Cairn" rule so best to visit the specific park's site for their marking info.
So what exactly is the problem with rock staking? While rock stacking can be a fun, meditative activity and seem harmless, it can cause issues for the park, especially when the activity is compounded via social media. Take a look at this example from Zion National Park:
Image courtesy of Zion NPS
Recently, Zion NPS have posted multiple times pleading with visitors to not build rock piles.
All parks do have the following rules, however:
1) Do not tamper with intentional cairns: this can cause issues for hikers and disturbs park resources
2) Do not build unauthorized cairns - this is becoming a huge issue in the parks, particularly in the Southwest. It causes confusion, disrupts the natural landscape and can cause more erosion
3) Do not add to intentional cairns. See point number 1
One rock pile might not be an issue, 100s and possibly 1000s, however can be an issue. This trend has compounded significantly due to social media replication which can cause issues and is of concern for the parks and overall be a difficult experience for everyone.
Another great article for more info and alternatives: LNT Rock Stacking