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What's a Cairn Guide?

To begin, it might be helpful to point out that the word cairn [ˈkern] is pronounced like "Kar'n" It is likely that you’ve seen a cairn before and may not have realized what it was or may have thought it was some type of artwork. Cairns, or stacks of rocks, can often be found along trails and especially in higher alpine routes to help with route finding and prevent people from losing the trail. Cairn Guides act in a similar way, but are actual people and not stacks of rocks. Cairns have been used by many different cultures throughout history such as Norwegian Fjords, the Mongolian Steppe, and the Inca Road system of the Andes and have served many different purposes like serving as a landmark or relaying messages.

To be clear, Cairn Guides are not people who hang out in the woods waiting for you to walk by to ask for directions like some kind of forest kiosk. Cairn Guides have a multitude of functions, but they are primarily meant to be knowledgeable and caring individuals that lead outdoor activities like hiking, trail running, and outdoor yoga. Read more below about what makes a Cairn Guide so unique!

1. Get a Local’s Perspective

It’s easy to get bogged down with all the literature that the internet provides. Why not just connect with a local to get the lay of the land, plus you get to enjoy an awesome outdoor experience with a cool guide! This makes for less screen time and more outdoor time.

By connecting with a local, you’re able to easily get a unique perspective of the area's outdoor opportunities. Additionally, we like to support local businesses so guides can give you insight around places in the area that locals prefer. Whether you’re just visiting or have lived in the area for years, you can learn about the the places that you're exploring and might even make some friends along the way.

2. Explore More, Stress Less

There is not a shortage of options for finding trails in a given area, such as AllTrails, The Outbound Collective, or COTrex. This however can be very time consuming, confusing, and stressful. There are also factors like duration, difficulty, and trail conditions that can be subjective based on the author’s experience. The outdoors are not a “one size fits all” and so a trail that one person found to be an easy 2-hour walk another person could find to be a grueling 5-hour death march.

We’ve all experienced or heard someone talk about an experience they had in the outdoors that did not pan out like they had expected. Rarely are these experiences described with joy and nostalgia. Cairn Guides streamline and improve the planning process by providing an actual person you can talk to and receive accurate information about trail conditions, duration, what to bring, and any other type of question you might consider when planning an adventure.

Our app is set up to help people get outdoors more and spend less time on the screen. Connecting with a Cairn Guide you will get to talk with an actual person and have a personalized adventure crafted just for you.

3. Personalized Adventures

One of the things that sets us apart from the rest of the companies out there is that Cairn Guides craft adventures based on what clients want to see and experience, as well as their ability level. Everyone has a different idea of why they want to go outdoors. It could be to get away from the office and be surrounded by nature, try something new, see the sites, feel a sense of accomplishment, or push their physical limits. There are just as many reasons to get outdoors as there are opportunities for adventure. However each come with their own unique obstacles and features that could be misunderstood, underestimated,or completely overlooked. These unanticipated surprises are often what lead people to not wanting to get back outdoors. However, these experiences can easily be prevented by utilizing a Cairn Guide.

Cairn guides help you find the perfect adventure based on your needs, whether you’re new to the activity or an expert. Having local experts craft adventures just for you ensures you create positive memories outdoors and you get what you want out of an experience. This makes it much more likely that people will continue going back to nature, which is one of our biggest goals.

4. Conservationism

We being an outdoor company obviously want to do our part to take care of the environment and this is achieved a few different ways. For example, we visit a wide variety of trails so we can routinely help with waste management by removing any waste that we come across during our adventures. Additionally, we help teach best practices such as the Leave No Trace principles to our clients. We want to instill a solid foundation of outdoor ethics in our clients so that they are aware of how to prevent and minimize impacts on nature.

We are also there to correct any behaviors that would otherwise be harmful to the environment.

"I recall a time I was driving to Aspen and stopped at Independence Pass to stretch my legs and check out the view. There was a sign at the entrance and a few that followed that said in large, bold print “Please stay on trail”. Less than 20 feet from one of these signs is a group of about 15 people walking off trail all over the vegetation. They probably didn’t even realize that they were destroying vegetation that takes decades to grow, all in a matter of seconds. This was all done just to get a different angle for a photo."

- Jordan L., Founder

Signs are helpful but having experts there to educate people and correct these harmful behaviors is better. After all, these are guide’s backyards, so by instilling respect for the environment in our clients we help cultivate a community of informed and responsible outdoor enthusiasts.

5. Helping Guide Mental Health Outdoors

The Cairn Guides app was created to address the two primary obstacles that are experienced by those seeking to learn more about outdoor recreation activities or mental health services, access and cost. We want to get those who are underrepresented in the outdoor community outside more because those same populations have the highest prevalence rates of any mental illness (1-3).

By taking a preventative approach towards our health we hope to change some of the ideas and discussions around health by utilizing lifestyle factors to take care of both our body and minds. There is now an enormous amount of research that shows how outdoor recreation is beneficial to our physical and mental health. By utilizing knowledgeable guides clients receive the optimal amounts of these effects.


We try to take make approaching outdoor activities as comfortable as possible and we expect after a guided experience with us, you will feel more confident in your own abilities and driven to pursue adventures for years to come.

Guided experiences are also meant to build lasting impressions and relationships between the clients, outdoors, and those of us at Cairn Outdoor Guides. So if you enjoyed your experience with us, we always welcome you and your friends back, with hopes that you have a few stories to tell about adventures you've been on since your last experience.

You can easily connect with guides by downloading the Cairn Guides app who love sharing their passion for the outdoors through guided outdoor activities.

If you are interested in becoming a guide or learning more, you can download the Cairn Guides app, which is available for both iOS and Android. Register as a guide and you will be contacted by us on how to move forward.

Thanks for taking the time to learn more about us! Let us know what you think and if you'd like to read more articles like this. We love hearing from our audience, so drop us a line or come chat with us during a hike to let us know what you'd like to read more about!



1 Burns, Robert C.; Covelli, Elizabeth; Graefe, Alan. 2008. Outdoor recreation and nontraditional users: results of focus group interviews with racial and ethnic minorities. In: Chavez, Deborah J.; Winter, Patricia L.; Absher, James D., eds. Recreation visitor research: studies of diversity. Gen. Tech. Rep. PSW-GTR-210. Albany, CA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station. 123-137. Chapter 11.

2. The Outdoor Industry Association. (2018). 2018 Outdoor Recreation Participation Report. Referenced from

3. Mental Health America. (2019). The State of Mental Health in America 2019. Referenced from

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