It’s not unusual that a pathway is needed over ground that is sloped.

You might ask yourself just how steep of a pitch can I make the walk?  You might also be considering installing steps as part of your solution.

Let me first suggest tell you that you need to measure the elevations (vertical heights) in the area your designing your walk and/or steps.  Grades & pitch can be very deceptive.

Even after 30+ years experience I will not “go by eye” on this one.  It’s suggested that the maximum slope for walks be 10%.  Or, in other words, 12″ of rise over 10′ of walk.

In my opinion, walks should not exceed a 5% slope (or 12″ of rise over 20′ of walk).

Often it comes down to personal preference.  So if you’re having a walkway built, make sure you understand what’s being proposed.  More on how to actually visualize your idea(s) in a bit.

In the top picture the walkway seems to be pitched around 12″ over 10′ of walk (or 10%).

The entrance to this walkway (picture below) appears to be even steeper.

Now here I am telling you to always measure elevations and yet I can’t give you the specifics on this walk.  That’s because it’s not my project and I didn’t want to get arrested for trespassing. 🙂

With exact elevation measurements you can calculate your different design concepts and compare them to one another.

You can always first consider some “creative” re-grading, but often “steps” are the best way to mitigate a steep walkway.

Seeing Is Believing

Most people have a hard time visualizing things.  I use mock-ups of all kinds to help others and myself really see what’s planned and possible.

I’ll sometimes illustrate an idea for a walkway and/or steps using stakes and a string-line.

When set up exactly at the proposed heights, they show the profile of the walk’s surface (pitch) and the risers & treads of the steps.  This let’s the homeowner (and myself) see how it will potentially look.

I find that this simple mock-up always clears up any uncertainty and prevents any design regrets after construction.

Things To Consider When Building Landscape Steps

  • Do not compromise on the base for the steps.  If they are masonry steps you should have a concrete footing according to local code.  If they are dry-set steps (stone, cast concrete or timber) you should have a well-compacted aggregate base.  Nothing is worse than steps that “move” over time because of poor base and footing work.
  • For landscape steps the riser should be greater than 4″, but no more than 6 ½”.  There are always going to be exceptions, but try to stay within these parameters.
  • Here’s a simple formula for calculating the riser height and tread length:  2 (riser) + tread = 26″.   For example, if the riser is going to be 6″, then : 2 (6) + 14 = 26″.   So the tread should be 14″.  Again, use this as a “guideline”.
  • Where steps return into the surrounding sloped grade, make sure the step has “finished” sides that are nice to look at.  On the same note, make sure the sloped sides of earth are stabilized to support & conceal the base work for the steps.  Groundcover, grass and even decorative boulders can help with this.

Planning landscape steps and walks really supports the idea that form should follow function.  And yet personal preference always plays a part in the final solution.

  • Ruth
    1:18 PM, 26 June 2010

    I love the walk and steps in the last picture. Can you tell me what stone that is?

    • Roger
      9:11 PM, 26 June 2010

      I generally refer to this stone as flagstone, and more specifically bluestone. Although it is called bluestone, and quite often it is blue in color, it does come in other hues and colors. We call this a “variegated” type of bluestone. In our area of NJ, NY, CT and PA it is very common. Here’s a link on Wikipedia that describes it nicely:
      Take care,

  • Galen
    4:54 PM, 15 December 2014

    I am relandscaping my small front yard into a sustainable, drought tolerant garden. I will be planting California native plants. No lawn. I want to put flagstone stepping stones for the walkway. The walkway will be 10′ long and there is a slight slope. Should I prepare the ground for the plantings first and then put in the gravel and flagstone? The ground needs topsoil and to be leveled.

    When I was going to have concrete steps poured I was told to have the steps done before the ground work done.

    Thank you for your help. This is a wonderful website!

    • Roger
      9:57 PM, 28 February 2015

      It sounds like a nice project you’re undertaking.

      Typically we install all the hardscaping (i.e. walks, steps, walls, etc.) before the plantings. This is because the hardscaping usually involves more equipment — and the work, in general, is rough. Also, the hardscaping features are then there to grade and re-work the soil up to.

      Now, of course we’ve installed many hardscape features within existing plantings. It’s just a bit more challenging, and you need to be that much more careful working in and around the plants.

      You mentioned you’re adding soil to prepare the ground for planting. This could mean the grade and soil heights will change, and that could affect the finished height you set the flagstone path at. Your idea to prepare the ground first and then install the flagstone path makes perfect sense. This way your soil grades and flagstone path “work together,” then you can arrange and install your plants.

  • Mario Sanchez
    2:01 AM, 25 March 2018

    I am building a 30 feet long brick walkway from my door step to the driveway. And I have been imagining someone getting out of his/her car and stumbling over the bricks edge at the end of the walkway. So I have been considering making the last 2-3 feet into a slope so that the top of the last bricks is at the same level with the driveway’s concrete (instead of a step)

    Will people trip over the edge’s step, therefore the flush slope would be preferable, or I am just overthinking this thing?

    • Roger
      1:17 PM, 25 March 2018

      Ideally the walkway should be flush with the driveway.

      You mentioned sloping the last 2-3′ of the walkway. If that degree of slope appears drastic to you, see if you can initiate the slope further back into the walk so it’s more gradual. This may involve re-grading some of the surrounding area (of the walk) to coincide with the descending walkway.

      Alternatively, you could place a step further back into the walkway to accommodate the grade change — and where people would clearly see the step (from a safety standpoint).

      I do have projects out there where the walkway is a “step-up” from the driveway. And in this instance it’s typically where we keep the Belgian block (or similar) curb at that 4″ (or greater) reveal. What’s important is that you clearly identify that step – and make it significant, i.e. at least 4-6″. Using something like Belgian block does both those things.

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