Garden stairs provide transitions between level in your yard. Here are some great ideas for different materials and designs you can try. 

As a landscaping feature, garden stairs can be functional or decorative—or, best of all, both. Most of the time, necessity is the leading consideration—you want to connect one area of the yard with another area at a different elevation. But stairs need not be strictly utilitarian. Because of the many possible styles and materials, they can also serve as a creative, aesthetic addition. 

Paths and stairs can lead the eye to a focal point within the garden, like a destination nook or water feature. Their materials can also convey a harmony with the plant life around them, or a contrast to it. 

Also Read: How to Build a Garden Path

When building stairs, choosing whether to replicate the look of your existing patio or porch offers another creative opportunity. While marrying pathway and stair materials with surrounding hardscaping can be a safe and traditional approach, considering a contrasting look can also yield interesting results.  

Garden Stairs Materials

Setting the mood of your garden will largely depend on what materials you choose for the job. 

For example, large stone slabs and poured concrete offer an authoritative and substantial feel, while wood or river stones lend a more organic and subtle appearance. Material options are vast, as shown in the images below. Some other classic possibilities include flagstone, bluestone, river stones, concrete, brick, and wooden beams with gravel.

When it comes to functionality, stairs can serve double-duty as a retaining wall, additional seating, or as a level space to organize a container garden or other garden accents. 

Size and Scale for Stairs

The dimensions of your selected materials should be appropriate for their location and use. Often, entry stairs should be wide enough to accommodate several people at once. On the other hand, a meandering backyard path can be a single track, toned down, as visitors will most likely trickle through. 

Slope and Grade

If you’re installing stairs yourself, be sure to cross-check your selected materials with the grade where your stairs will be installed. Due to erosion, avoid loose materials on steep grades. More substantial pieces of wood and stone can be embedded into hillsides without the worry of them slipping out from underfoot. 

Your yard’s terrain will have the strongest bearing on your staircase’s “rise” vs “run” (vertical vs. horizontal distance) Generally, each riser should be from 5 to 8 inches tall, and the tread depth should always be 11 inches or more for safely accommodating visitors’ feet. If your space has lots of curves or switchbacks, it might be wise to consult an expert who will help you navigate any design complexities. 

Garden Stairs Design Ideas

Depending on your space, budget, and level of experience, there are many options for materials and design. Here are some great garden stairs ideas to get you started. 

1. Rounded Retaining Stones with Mortar

Rose bushes and grass next to garden steps made of rounded retaining stones.
© achair | Pixabay

Garden riverbeds are frequently built with this combination, as it mimics natural patterns while offering good structural integrity. Rounded stones are inviting and can be arranged however the installer pleases.

2. Pea Gravel with Wood Retainers

A fern-lined pathway made of pea gravel and wood dividers.
Broad steps, defined by wooden beams, provide a long, gradual climb up this hillside. Steel pipe railing offers safety. © Jura Greling | Unsplash

A classic look which helps to prevent erosion with defined shelves, this material combination is versatile, stylish, and can be downscaled to any desired width. As with any wood garden stairs, be sure to buy treated lumber to stave off deterioration caused by water exposure or insect damage.

3. Inlaid River Rocks or Beach Stones

Outdoor steps made of inlaid river stones of various colors.
An artistic assortment of Mexican beach rocks, cemented together in a colorful mosaic, forms this spectacular stone staircase. © Wittybear | Dreamstime

This highly customizable option offers a natural feel, with a solid and colorful look. River stones are available in every size and color imaginable and offer a wide palette to designers. They can be purchased at many home improvement centers or local rock yards.

Also Read: Materials for Paths, Pavers & Steps

4. Landscape Timber

A gently rising pathway of gravel, with large wood beam steps.
Gravel and hefty cedar beams mimic a railroad track, and form a gently rising path through a natural, curving garden. © Jyothi | Dreamstime

Large wooden beams can add a rustic hint of Americana to any garden path. They are usually pressure-treated to stave off water damage, rot, and pests, and can sometimes be found in weathered condition.

Wooden garden stairs made of repurposed railroad ties and wood chips.
Be sure your railroad ties are not treated with creosote, as it is not intended for residential use. © Penywise | Dreamstime.com

Important Safety Alert: Railroad Ties

Even though they are available at some home improvement stores, “railroad ties” are treated with creosote and not approved for residential use. Creosote is a possible human carcinogen, and is not safe to use in gardens, as the chemical can leach into the surrounding soil.

5. Giant Stone Slabs

A house's front steps, made of massive, thick slabs of stone.
Massive, thick, slabs of stone stack one on top of the other to provide a solid stair that staggers up this sloping yard. © Elena Elisseeva | Shutterstock

Hefty, natural-edge stones can lend an authoritative spirit to a garden or home entrance. Achieving this option will most certainly demand professional help. But these stones excel in their low-maintenance, weather-resistant qualities once installed, and add an air of permanence to any space.

6. River Stones with Concrete Beams

An ascending stone pathway made of cobblestone and concrete beams.
Old-World ramped stair is created from smooth river stones and concrete beams. This forms a gently-curving climb up a hillside. © lauramusikanski | Morguefile

Sloped stair ramps with occasional concrete steps offer a unique alternative which tackles a grade with a gentle incline. This stone example is flanked by rock walls, which completes an old world aesthetic. 

Also Read: Planning Landscaping & Lawns

7. Formed Concrete Staircase

Poured concrete steps winding up a grassy hillside.
Poured concrete steps winding through a hilly backyard. © Gynane | Dreamstime

While formed concrete requires some expertise and equipment to install, it offers a tidy and long-lasting result once installed. 

8. Large, Colored Flagstone Slabs

Giant flagstone steps passing through ground cover and flowers.
Giant flagstones serve as both stepping stones and stairs in this beautifully intimate garden. © Skphoton | Dreamstime

Because of their weight, installing large flagstones may not be a DIY job. But using large flagstones can offer a natural and substantial solution for garden paths and stairs. Flagstone runs on the less-expensive side of large hardscaping stone types, especially when compared to marble or granite. In this case, warmer tones tie the surrounding flora to the walkway.

Also Read: How to Plan the Perfect Fence

9. Slices of Natural Stone in Soil

Mixed, broken stone pathway leading up a hillside.
Slices of natural stone climb this hillside very gradually, section by section. © Jakich | Dreamstime

Mixed, natural stone can be used on either a steep or shallow grade and lends a trail-like quality when accompanied by grasses, wildflowers, or other organically dispersed groundcover. Clay or denser types of soil can be used to discourage individual stones from loosening over time.

10. Square-cut Rough Flagstone

Stairs made of loosly-placed flagstone pieces.
© Gregory Henry | Dreamstime

When casually arranged, 12- to 16-inch pieces of flagstone create a composed yet organic feel to any garden staircase. Small flagstones are generally held together by a thin layer of mortar, which can loosen over time when stairs are used heavily. Whenever choosing this style of stair, always be sure to check and repair loose stones on a regular basis.

Also Read: How to Plan the Perfect Fence

11. Stamped Concrete

Natural stamped pattern in warm-colored concrete.
Natural stamped pattern in warm-colored concrete. © Mariamichelle | Pixabay

Concrete can be stamped in a wide variety of patterns and molds. Stamped concrete steps are highly customizable and allow for some artistic creativity.

12. Smoothed and Grouted Flagstone

Smooth-cut flagstone stairs leading through a lush garden.
Smooth-cut flagstone stairs leading through a lush garden. © Rvaltcheva | Dreamstime.com

Another option that likely requires help to install, these smooth, finished flagstone chunks offer a slightly more refined feel when filled with grout. Rounded edges are slightly more family-friendly, and impart a slightly more nuanced surface which highlights the stone’s natural undulations. 

Also Read: Curb Appeal: 10 Ways to Make Your Home Stunning

13. Uneven Natural Stones

Single file natural stone steps leading through a hillside garden.
Single file natural stone steps leading through a hillside garden. © Onepony | Dreamstime

Single-file stones can offer passage through narrow garden areas, and allow for variable grades without changing stone size.

14. Raised Wooden Stairs

Raised wooden walkway winding through a forest of ferns.
Raised wooden walkway winds through a forest of ferns. © Outer Digit | Unsplash

While this project will require some knowledge of carpentry and basics of foundations—in this case, simple concrete piers—wooden stairs are well within the reach of many amateur DIY’ers. These stairs create a feeling of separation from the garden and can be ideal if you aim to keep visitors off of delicate undergrowth or on a path to another destination in the yard.

15. Flagstone Stairs Mixed with Cobblestones

Cobblestones driveway and flagstone stairs surrounded by a vibrant garden.
Cobblestones set in sand and soil meet natural stone stairs. © Golubevkonstantin | Dreamstime.com

16. Classic Brick

Brick entrance stairs outside a home.
Vertical brick stairs near a home’s entrance. © KRiemer| Pixabay

Bricks are a classic look that add a punch of warm color to any garden. They can be laid by amateur DIY’ers, but professional installation is usually recommended unless you have previous experience.

A brick staircase in a forested area.
Mixed orientation bricks with wood railing in a forested yard. © indigoswan | Pixabay

Mixed orientation bricks follow a rustic wood railing in a forested yard. 

17. Round Retaining Bricks with Cobblestone

A stone staircase and lamp post on a hillside.
© Antranias | Pixabay

Great for steeper terrain, these filled, rounded retaining blocks are a great option for those wanting some visual contrast.

Also Read: How to Install a Water Feature

18. Natural Stone Chunks with Concrete Fill

An asian style rock stair case winding up a rocky hillside.
Zigzagging rock-and-concrete staircase winds up a steep, granite hillside. © Melodi2 | Morguefile

Lending an Asian flare, this design does well when surrounded by other rock features. While not the easiest weekend project, you’ll find it to be a durable and lasting solution for garden stairs.

19. Potted Garden

Small flower pots sitting on shallow stairs.
© photosforyou | Pixabay

Make the most of unused stairs by repurposing their space for an informal potted garden.

Flower pots with geraniums on white painted concrete stairs.
© vonpics | Pixabay

When stairs are wide enough, soften the edges with a collection of potted plants.

Also Read: 9 Ways to Boost Your Home’s Curb Appeal

 

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About Don Vandervort
Don Vandervort has developed his expertise for more than 30 years, as Building Editor for Sunset Books, Senior Editor at Home Magazine, author of more than 30 home improvement books, and writer of countless magazine articles. He appeared for 3 seasons on HGTV’s “The Fix,” and served as MSN’s home expert for several years. Don founded HomeTips in 1996. Read more about Don Vandervort