Unintended Consequences: Five Activities to Avoid on the Appalachian Trail

August 10, 2023

The Appalachian Trail offers hikers an unforgettable journey through diverse landscapes and breathtaking vistas. While most people are well aware of the harm caused by blatant littering, graffiti, and vandalism, there are subtle activities that may seem harmless but collectively impact the visitor experience and the delicate ecosystems found along many parts of the A.T. Vandalism doesn’t just refer to writing on or painting the walls of structures like shelters. Explore some of these lesser-known activities that can leave a lasting mark on the Trail. 


Rock Stacking

The act of balancing rocks, also known as cairn” building, is often seen as an artistic expression or a way to mark trails. On some sections of the A.T., cairns are placed intentionally to mark the Trail. However, excessive rock stacking can disturb the natural habitats of small organisms and interfere with the Trail’s natural aesthetics. These seemingly innocuous structures may lead hikers off the designated path, resulting in soil erosion and loss of vegetation.


Painting Rocks

While vibrant painted rocks might seem like an innocent way to leave one’s mark, they can have detrimental effects on the environment. The paint used can contain harmful chemicals that leach into the soil and water, affecting both plant and animal life. Additionally, the presence of painted rocks can detract from the natural beauty of the Trail, impacting the visual experience for other hikers.


Carving Initials

Etching initials or messages into tree bark or wooden structures along the Trail is a practice that may go unnoticed by many. However, this activity can damage trees and disrupt the delicate balance of the ecosystem. Trees play a vital role in supporting the diverse wildlife of the Appalachian Trail, and any harm to them can have far-reaching consequences.


Unauthorized Trail Marking

Some hikers may believe they are helping by adding their own trail markers or signs. Unfortunately, this can lead to confusion and misdirection for others, potentially putting them at risk. Maintaining the integrity of the official Trail markings is crucial for ensuring a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone.


Loud Noise and Music

While enjoying music or engaging in loud conversations may seem harmless, excessive noise can disrupt the tranquility of the Trail and disturb both wildlife and other hikers seeking a peaceful experience.

As stewards of this irreplaceable resource, it’s essential for all Trail visitors and outdoor enthusiasts to be aware of their actions and their potential consequences. It takes everyone who loves the Appalachian Trail to help protect it. If you see large amounts or offensive graffiti, please submit an incident report. By practicing Leave No Trace principles and recreating responsibly, we can ensure that future generations can continue to enjoy the beauty of the Trail for years to come.