Cairns | Markers Through the Wilderness

by | Nature's Beauty

Cairns are traditionally used as markers for travelers to keep on route while crossing a rocky wilderness, or as a memorial.

Cairns on Mt. Washington, NH

Collections of stones – loosely termed cairns – have also evolved along other lines of “growth.” They can serve as official markers, personal markers, aesthetic statements and philosophical demonstrations. Cairns are endlessly entrancing statements of humanity’s varied interactions with nature. 

All these rock cairns are at their core representations of the solid guidance we can rely on when traversing the wilderness of spirit in all kinds of inner weather.

I like to stop a moment to ponder the mindset of the cairn’s creator when I come across such a rock statement. Sometimes found in a stream, sometimes on a mountaintop, sometimes in the desert.

Here are a few of the cairns I’ve photographed over the years. 

Garden of Gods Cairns

Mt. Washington Cairns

Above are very tall directional cairns that mark the above-treeline trails up Mt. Washington, NH. They serve as guides for hikers who can encounter all kinds of weather on their climb, from fog to snow storms.

Bryce Canyon Cairns

This cairn garden, left, exists at the lower point of The Queen’s Garden, Bryce Canyon. It has become a ritual for hikers to pause here, refresh themselves and create a small cairn marking their passage. The park rangers are not so keen about this ritual, which over time clogs the trails through the area, and they have to occasionally knock down and level all cairns. And a new round to hikers begin the building process again. Ah, the resilience of humanity!!!

There are a number of trees in The Queen’s Garden, and the more creative hikers fill these with a variety of artistic statement.

Queens Garden Tree Cairns








Yosemite, CA Cairns

These are functional cairns (below) near a long beach in Yosemite, that define where the forest path is located.

Yosemite Cairns

Skalitude Cairn





Skalitude, WA Cairns

This cairn, right, is a path marker at Skalitude, a large mountain estate that hosts a Fairies & Human Relations Congress each summer. There are multiple nature spirits visible in this cairn.



 The Clearing, WI Cairns

Artists on retreat enjoy creating these structures along the Lake Michigan beach cliffs.

The Clearing Cairns

This delightful structure, left, is part of the limestone escarpment bordering The Clearing’s wind-swept beach on Lake Michigan. The Clearing is an artists’ retreat. This very artistic rock being oversees a variety of interesting ledges that attracts the hiker to set up small artistic cairns.


Boulder, CO Cairns

Boulder, Colorado, is a refuge for artists and free spirits. In recent years, resident artists have taken to creating cairns in many of the city’s fast-flowing rivers. I discovered this duck-like cairn structure in the city park.



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