I went for a few hikes in Gran Canaria. The trails were perfectly signposted and everything. My beautiful experience was a little bit disturbed by the sheer amount of stone piles everywhere. You couldn't walk anywhere without seeing 5 - 15 of these piles! This made me angry (bad for the ecosystem and a violation of the leave-no-trace concept) and wonder why people do this? What is the purpose of them?

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Don't get me wrong, even if the answer is rather emotional it is a welcome response. So answers like "they do it just for fun" or "they do it for Cthulhu" are perfectly valid.

Edit for clarification:

I know that people often use stone-piles instead of wooden signposts etc. to mark the trail and that's not a problem at all. However, signpost-stone-piles are pretty rare. They appear here and there where you have to turn or take a specific direction. You barely see one per km. That's not what my question is about! Check out the picture. The sheer amount of them is ridiculous! In this mass they obviously don't serve the purpose to just mark the right way to go. You see at least 30 of them per km.

  • 3
    @jmn We are not talking about trail-signs here. Did you see the picture? That's not one or two stone-piles signposting the trail, that's just a ridiculous amount of man-made stone piles in nature.
    – OddDeer
    Oct 19, 2016 at 9:29
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    I strongly expect people build them just for fun. I believe most people will not see much harm in them. It's not a wilderness and strict leave-no-trace isn't very well known in Europe; of course one should not leave garbage or damage the environment, but most would not see this as damage. How is it bad for the ecosystem?
    – gerrit
    Oct 19, 2016 at 10:47
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    @gerrit Exactly what I asked our guide on the tour :) He explained to me that it destroys possible homes for various species (mostly reptiles which need large dense stonefields rather than a lot of stone-towers but also a lot of flora), it builds "walls" which are bad for several things but first of all the really sensitive weather on Gran Canaria (horizontal rain, winds etc.) and after all every man-made adjustment is generally bad. Gerrit, just check out the provided picture. Does this look like a naturally healthy habitat? Imho not.
    – OddDeer
    Oct 19, 2016 at 11:04
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    You've found where the Department of Public Works keeps their spare cairns. Oct 19, 2016 at 12:37
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    "People see one and copy it". The technical term for this is: "Monkey see, monkey do."
    – ab2
    Oct 19, 2016 at 13:29

3 Answers 3


I don't think that there is really a better answer to why than ab2's comment that people are copying the existing ones.

As for what to do about it, that looks like an awful lot of them, but if found in a small group in a wilderness area, well accidents do happen and gravity is a thing.


The stone piles shown in the photo are NOT rock cairns. Do not confuse them.

Many national parks in the US consider stone piles left behind by visitors to be graffiti and or vandalism. They disturb the natural experience. You are encouraged to take down these piles when you see them.

Rock Cairns are a navigational aid. These rocks are used to mark a trail, and should be left alone. They are there for the safety of hikers so you can find you way. If it marks a path do not take it down.


They are called rock cairns and are used to mark tracks. Various tracks around the world use them in place where the track might not be so clear or easy to follow.

In some other places, it's just tourists being tourists.

Ben Nevis in Scotland has a few cairns to mark the track close to the top where it might have snow some times of the year and the track is not so visible. Also in Scotland, there is a road with lots of cairns everywhere like the pic above.

  • 2
    This is a thing, but that doesn't describe the photo
    – user2766
    Oct 20, 2016 at 15:08
  • The bit about a road in Scotland does. I'm guessing Desorder means the A87 above Loch Loyne where there is a whole gang of these things just as on Gran Canaria.
    – Spagirl
    Oct 21, 2016 at 16:33
  • On Ben Nevis there are around 20 official cairns marking the descent route, because navigation mistakes can be lethal in winter. But the John Muir Trust removed around 120 random cairns that were disfiguring the summit plateau. This new fad for stone balancing is only making things worse. Personally I dismantle them whenever I see them... walkhighlands.co.uk/news/plea-for-no-new-cairns-on-ben-nevis/… Oct 26, 2016 at 22:10
  • I agree @Tullochgorum. Cairns should be used when required. There are already people behind the track on Ben Nevis looking after this. No need to add more. I've been to places where, for example, the track comes out of the river but the exit is very discreet and easy to miss so a cairn or maybe two are likely to help more than disfigure the landscape. After all the bottom line IS to make sure the pile of rocks to highlight the way.
    – Desorder
    Oct 26, 2016 at 22:26

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