Trail Talk Thursdays: Trail Signs and Cairns

Conservation / Ideas & Advice

Each Thursday I feature a person, organization, or resource that benefits or impacts our hiking community. This week I want to shed light on what many hikers may take for granted: trail signs and cairns. While we know these two man made objects help us navigate the trails, but many don’t know how they are made.

We see signs on nearly every hike, but what happens when New England weather takes its toll or trekking poles scratch their surface? Each year the Appalachian Mountain Club decides which signs need to be replaced. The process is very interesting and the features of each sign are purposefully done or left out. Many of the AMC signs are white with green lettering. In the wilderness areas, signs are left unpainted and do not include mileage.

To see how the Appalachian Mountain Club makes their signs, check out the video below!


Take a look at some more of my favorite trail signs here!

When a section of a hike is above treeline, cairns are used to mark a trail. Cairns can be particularly useful during the winter or when there is low visibility.

cairns in spring

As a reminder, please do not remove or add stones to cairns. They are built based on an ancient technique and can be lifesaving to hikers in a variety of situations.

To read more of the history of this ancient technique, check out the article by the Appalachian Mountain Club!

Happy hiking and remember, leave no trace!

cairn in winter lafayette

Allison Nadler

Allison is a passionate (or mildly obsessive) hiker who enjoys spending her free time in the White Mountains. In 2012 she hiked New Hampshire's 48 4000-foot peaks and isn't stopping there. Allison's biggest accomplishment so far has been a one day solo presidential traverse. You can see all her adventures at