Gravel Pathway w/part slight slope - How to add steps??

juudyshouse2012May 10, 2007

I put in a 35' gravel pathway that's 3 feet wide as you can see in the pictures below. Most of it is pretty flat and compacted, except approximately the last 10 feet. Because it is sloped on that portion, the gravel is loose and it has become dangerous to walk on. I've tried a couple things (as you can see), to see if there is an easy fix. The concrete square gets gravel on it and becomes slippery. The bricks are too narrow and I don't like the look and it is still slanted and slippery.

What I want to do is put in maybe 3 or 4 wide steps, not too difficult an installation. Possibly some kind of wood strips (redwood) or stepping stones. The pathway would have to be leveled out for each step, maybe a square wood border with gravel filled in the middle for each step. Or, possibly a stone or brick outline. Or, maybe a somewhat large piece of flagstone for each step, but it would have to be light enough for DH & I to carry. Once the area is leveled, the gravel could be compacted and it would stay that way. I've looked online but have not seen anything that matches my problem.

Does anyone have any suggestions?

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saypoint(6b CT)

You could use pressure treated 6x6 posts to create shallow steps. Something like this:

Here is a link that might be useful: steps

    Bookmark   May 10, 2007 at 1:39PM
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ziggy___(z5/6 PA)

It is hard to tell from a 2D picture, but it looks more like you need about 3 or 4 separate level landings or teraces with a step of about 8 to 12" between them. You could rough them in with a shovel and reinforce the from edge with stone or brick and keep gravel on the level portion.


    Bookmark   May 10, 2007 at 2:17PM
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Yup! That's what I had in mind. The landings could be either framed with wood or bricks and then filled in with the gravel and compacted. I think I like the wood (railroad ties or landscape timbers)look more than the bricks because I have no bricks in my landscape. I live in a rural woodland area and I think wood or stone fits in better. It looks pretty easy from a few sites online that had instructions to build these wood framed landscape steps. I guess my only fear is calculating the slope drop to make each step level and the same size so it looks somewhat professional. :)

    Bookmark   May 10, 2007 at 3:00PM
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"... but it would have to be light enough for DH & I to carry."

I might have a suggestion or two, but first I need to know what limitations the above quote means. 20lb? 50? 80?

Can I assume you have a powered circular saw for cutting wood?

    Bookmark   May 10, 2007 at 3:40PM
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I would say 50-80 lbs. I know my DH can carry more, but I won't want him to hurt his back! :) Not at the beginning of the gardening season anyway! LOL

And we do have a circular saw.

What do you have in mind?

    Bookmark   May 10, 2007 at 3:54PM
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From where you are now with the path, to me, there are only 2 things that would work well and look right for the steps. And you do most certainly need steps.

1. Treads of exposed agregate using the same gravel on the path.

2. Treads of the same flagstone material you have at the top.

Both require working with concrete, which can be bought in 50lb bags.

For some reason concrete scares many homeowners. It shouldn't. While you can do something with wood, it won't last as long nor look as good as doing it right. More over, you appear to live on a hillside and I would almost bet that if you learn a little about concrete there will be other places to put your new found skills to work.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2007 at 4:46PM
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pls8xx - What about the idea of framing with landscape timber and filling in with the same gravel as the path? I really don't want to get more of the stone pieces. Are you saying that I should construct the step frames out of the concrete?

    Bookmark   May 10, 2007 at 5:27PM
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Build the steps entirely out of concrete. Use some of your path pebbles in the concrete mix of the treads. Before the concrete sets too hard it gets a gentle wash to expose the rock in the concrete.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2007 at 6:23PM
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I still am not sure how to construct the steps using this method. Don't you still have to build a frame to pour the concrete into? Even so, I still like the idea of continuing the steps using the compacted gravel on each step landing. I think it will continue the gravel pathway design.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2007 at 6:30PM
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Yes you have to have a form to hold the shape while the concrete sets.

Steps should have a uniform flat surface across the width of the tread. Having a front step edge that holds back gravel can result in a trip hazard while going down the steps if the gravel does not stay level with the front. This is true whether the front edge is concrete or wood.

X-ties are sometimes used as steps, but with ties the entire tread you step on is flat wood, so there is not near the trip hazard.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2007 at 6:56PM
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Piers may be needed if the underlying material is not stable (i.e. stairs sliding down the hill on the same gravel you are slipping on), or remove the unstable gravel layers.

In either case the look of stone will be more unifying than using a crazy quilt of so many types of path materials.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2007 at 8:59AM
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I was definitely planning to remove the gravel on the sloped area that I am going to be installing the steps. The gravel only goes down 4-5 inches, I put it in myself when I put in the pathway. I don't think the elevation is that steep that the steps couldn't be leveled out fairly easily on each platform. Maybe what I'll do is build a frame out of landscape timbers probably 3' squared. Then make sure it is level and flush with the back of each landing. Then, fill with the gravel and place small pieces (like the size of the stepping stones on the side pathway) in the gravel to add solid stability. That way, I'll have the gravel and the stones carried all the way down the pathway.

I guess the only material that will be new to the area is the wood. What other material could I use to make the frame other than pouring cement. I really don't want to do that because first you have to make a frame, then pour the cement, remove the frame... It seems like a lot of extra work for a few steps.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2007 at 11:51AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Before you use wood on the path, read the old thread below, taking particular note of the post by Mich in Zonal Denial.

Regarding steps with Landscape ties at the front, I have to agree with Pls that the trip hazard is considerable. Several park pathways around here are done like this, and I find them scary. I would consider a handrail if you do this.

I myself am a bit hesitant to use concrete because I reserve the right to change my mind about things, and I have been faced before with old concrete to dispose of and, well, it's not easy if you don't believe in burdening the landfill with it. Also, you need not only a circular saw to build forms, but also a cement mixer, n'est-ce pas? and then you have all those messy tools to clean up. I sympathize with not wanting to do this. (Of course there is always the option of just stacking bags of cement and letting them harden in place!!!)

BUT you have to build steps out of something! If you'll pardon a moment of analysis, I think you might be drawn to the landscape ties because you think they will be easier to build than stone or concrete. I don't agree. How do you plan to hold them into the hillside?

I suspect that this might be a case where determination to DIY might be limiting your design possibilities. You could reverse the process: decide what you WANT the steps to look like and how they have to be constructed to safely achieve that, and then decide whether to DIY or hire it out.

I would keep an open mind to concrete, though I'm wondering if those pebbles too might make things a little slippery, unless your stones are a little more angular.


Here is a link that might be useful: Walkway material

    Bookmark   May 11, 2007 at 11:58AM
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Since the elevation of the steps is not very steep, I thought I'd do it like the pictures show below. You nail the front of each frame to the next step down. Take a look at the pictures of a similar project that is on That is what I thought I'd do and then just put the gravel in and compact it with the stepping stone pieces. Don't you think that would work in my situation?

"The front timber of the next step sits on the back timber of the first one (figure 2). Excavate a flat bed for the step and check to verify the 1/8" tilt, back to front. Re-lay the timbers for the second step (figure 3). Then nail the second frame to the first step with three 12" spikes in the front timber (figure 4) and use a sledgehammer to drive two pipes through the timber and into the ground."

    Bookmark   May 11, 2007 at 1:24PM
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ziggy___(z5/6 PA)

My mental picture was stone framing. one or several uniform pieces of managable size fronting each step and cut into the soil for stability. By this I mean that the bottom of the stone at the front of the step should be burried below the dirt of the next lower step by several inches. The gravel would have to be level with the top of the stone. I think wood would clash as much as brick with the upper portion. I also recomend some of the little solar lights next to each step to call attention to it and illuminate it at night. Cement can be used as mortar to hold it together better.
Since you said it is only about 10' in length, get a level, a straight board longer than 10', and a tape measure. A partner would help too. place one end of the board at the point where you want the uphill end of the steps to begin. set the level on top of the board and lift the lower end until level. Measure the distance between the board and the ground at the low end. mark the board at this point where you measured. Then measure the length along the board to this mark. now you have the length and height of the entire set of steps and can divide it evenly, instead of "eyeballing it". Even height is safer, though eyeballing it may be more natural looking. The stone should be no more uneven than rough cut stone for the same reason. I also suggest keeping extra gravel to maintain the levelness of the steps to avoid that tripping lip effect as the gravel settles, compacts, and vanishes over time. You may also wish to get LOCAL advise on stability issues with the soil. You may need to place gravel under the stone framing, or use concrete to stabilize it due to climate and soil conditions.


    Bookmark   May 11, 2007 at 4:32PM
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Ziggy - I'm trying to get this right...the stone pieces would have to be about 18" W for 2 or 36" W for 1 piece, and about 9"-10" H so that 3" can be buried, 3" acts as the back of the step frame and 3-4" is the step rise). And that's buried several inches down at the back side of the next lower step and this same piece of stone is the upper stepÂs front frame and the next lower stepÂs back frame. And then you would need two side pieces that are not buried but are even with the back and front pieces to create a square made of stone to be filled with compacted gravel? ItÂs a little confusing, sorry. IÂm just trying to get the picture in mind so I can do it.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2007 at 5:20PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Judy, I hadn't seen your 11:51 post when I posted, and I see subsequently that you are working in fairly solid construction mode. The same level of care taken with any material will yield a decent result. The aesthetic that has to be met here is yours!

    Bookmark   May 11, 2007 at 6:47PM
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Thanks to ALL of you who has responded to my question! Your suggestions have really helped me decide on what to do. I know the wood frame may not be the most fitting material to use in framing my steps, but it really does seem like the easiest from a "construction" point of view. And, really, I'm not entering my landscape in any magazine :), it's just for my family and friends, so nobody really will care as much as me! I will, however, put some path lights on sides of the steps so the steps won't be dangerous at night.

Really, thank you so much!!

    Bookmark   May 11, 2007 at 7:25PM
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I have seen the type of steps you're describing--landscape ties filled with compacted sand and topped with gravel -- and they're great! Extremely secure, as each step is connected to the one beneath it. There's no real tripping hazard because the gravel surface is virtually level to the top of the railway tie. And there is scope to make them curve beautifully (although that may not be needed at your place).
It seemed to me that no one was encouraging about your idea.....but in my area, those are done all the time, to great effect.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2007 at 11:53PM
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Thanks collaway for the encouragement! I do think that is the way I'm going to go. Especially since the elevation is not steep, I just need a few steps on a slight sloped area and this way does seem to be the easiest and most economical for me to do myself. Take care, Judy

    Bookmark   May 15, 2007 at 11:34AM
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