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My lot is carved out of a steep hillside. Behind the house there is a very steep slope (30-45 degrees). The soil (at least for a large part of it) was entirely removed and replaced during the construction of my foundation. The topmost layer is several inches of loose topsoil covered with chipped wood.

I would like to set stones of some kind in the hillside to make it easier to navigate. What's the easiest way to do this? I'd like to avoid having to dig out several feet with a post hole digger and pour concrete for each one (although it's the Pacific Northwest, so I wouldn't have to go that deep). Ideally there would be some product I could drive into the ground like a T post and then top with a step.

  • You might want to contact local parksand outdoors organizations and as how they would build a trail on this kind of slope... – keshlam Aug 17 '15 at 4:04
  • Before you invest in putting in steps, try to get native ground cover to grow over the entire area. The roots will help keep the soil firm, and it will also help prevent soil erosion. Once vegetation has established itself, it should be much easier to climb up and down. You could just mow a path instead of investing in steps which don't typically last very long and are expensive. – Jason Hutchinson Aug 17 '15 at 16:38
  • @JasonHutchinson One reason to add steps is to have access to maintain plants. – Ben Jackson Aug 17 '15 at 17:13
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    If you do not want to use concrete, 2 metal stakes and a board per tread sounds about right You would not need stones either, you could continue using mulch... – Jack Aug 18 '15 at 6:37
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    It might be worth some PT 4x4s or similar, and anchor those with a 14" piece of rebar, diven through. Then you can pile mulch or dirt behind to level those spaces to step. – BrownRedHawk Aug 26 '15 at 18:05
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+100

For my money, relative ease of installation, and the ability to remove and reinstall, I suggest using pressure treated or landscape timber, approximately 4"x"4" (smaller or larger to preference, budget and aesthetics).

Place these on the soil (not on top of the mulch), and secure them by driving a 12-16" piece of rebar through the timber and into the soil. Don't forget to pre drill the holes for the rebar.

Then some combination of soil and/or mulch can be piled/gathered on the hill side of the timber, to level the area to walk. It acts somewhere between stepping stones and a path depending on how much incline, and what the spacing is.

They can be serviced, removed or relocated as needed or wanted. The nice part is, if you decide to move the path, or plant different flowers, this is quite flexible.

  • You get the bounty because this solution is the most applicable to my problem. – Ben Jackson Sep 1 '15 at 0:44
  • I just moved into a home with these steps. They are all rotted, with just rebar sticking out out the ground. I could install new wood and replace the rusty rebar, but I would think that laying on the ground the wood would just rot out again soon. Rotten wood near your home is a bad idea, it can be an avenue for bugs to multiply nearby and eventually enter the home. So I think I'm going to replace with a stone solution outlined below, but am not excited by the additional expenses. Hopefully it will be minimal. – James L. Mar 7 '18 at 3:11
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As long as the steps are well drained, you need no foundation.

Dig deep enough that you can lay down at least 4 inches of coarse stone (1/2" to 1" in diameter) below and 4 inches of regular gravel (1/4" in diameter) on top of that (round is better than angular, if you can find it). On top of the gravel use an inch of sand. Place the stone slabs overlapping each other about 50%. So, for example, if each step is 20" deep then shoot for a 10" overlap. The exact dimensions of the steps and overlap will depend on the steepness of the hill. At the bottom of the steps make sure there is some kind of good drainage so that water will not pool there.

Steps of this design will be very solid and last for hundreds of years.

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We live in the PNW and as Tyler Durden said before, think stone. Buy big stepping stones and supplement with the cheapest one man boulders you can find at a local stone / landscape store. While our hill isn't a steep as yours, I'm sure that they would work on your slope.

No concrete required, just a bit of preparation. Tyler's preparation sounds good, except that we used "base rock" over sand. It's finely crushed stone and a little heavier then sand, so washes away less easily. Use a tamper to tamp down the base before placing the stones.

Our stairs will definitely last longer then our house.

stone stairsstone stairs - closer

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I would start by forming a series of steps of appropriate size. Each step should be fairly level and compacted. There can be as many as you feel will look balanced. For an relatively easy and quick job I would drive a couple of 3/4 inch galvanizes pipe approx. 16-24 inches (more if needed) into the ground. Spacing depends on the width of you step. Behind each pair of pipes install 2 sections of railroad ties one on top of the other and secure them to the pipe. now you can add fill and/ or aggregate tamped level. Now install your stone. Continue as needed. If you want a lower profile install 1 rail tie. If the grade is so steep you may need to add a side rail tie at a right angle to the others so as to stabilize fill sand and stone. If the steps need to descend a long distance a gradual serpentine design may be appropriate (Switchback). This is a very general suggestion and I'm only offering basic ideas. But either way, I would compact any loose soil so as to stabilize for the stone. And I noticed an answer suggesting planting to limit erosion. I concur, but for a faster solution purchase some landscape netting and install that first than plant. How about some photos? It sounds like an interesting project.

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My wife built raised beds using pressure treated 4x4s and rebar, as BrownRedHawk describes. She found it quite straightforward, even without much experience or special tools. This also seems to be a common way for trail crews to shore up steep hiking trails with erosion issues. Tamping the steps' platforms first with a cheap hand tamper would give you a more solid surface to work with. A small 2 or 3 lb sledgehammer would be plenty to drive the rebar; you might have to experiment a bit to figure out how long/deep the rebar needs to be. Lots of rain plus steep trails on soft surfaces in the NW, so you might go on a few hikes to do some "research"...

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