Building Steps on a Slope

Building stairs on a hillside

We took it upon ourselves to build stairs into the hill in our back yard. We thought it would be a nice compliment and really polish off our backyard makeover, not to mention a great way to get to our new DIY patio from the deck. Since the slope wasn’t too bad, we thought we might be able to get away with just a gravel pathway, but we wanted a more grand look. We used ground contact pressure treated lumber for all the wood, since it’s sitting in the ground.

Materials we used:

Once you do all your measuring (do it before you buy the materials), and get your materials, you’re all set to begin! Start by staining the wood where it will meet the ground. We stained only the hidden parts of the wood first, allowing the wood to dry out more. We knew we would be able to start the project, but would have to wait a week to finish it. We stained the remainder before filling in the stairs.

The formula for measuring how many steps you need is really simple. It’s height of the hill from top to bottom in inches divided by anywhere between 6 and 8 for this type of stair. Ours was 28 inches from the top of the slope to the bottom, divided by 7 is…4!

To get the height of your slope, put a stake in the ground at the top, wrap a mason string around the bottom of the stake, run the string to the bottom of the slope where you’ll have another (maybe longer) stake that you will level and tie it to. Use a line level and pull the string tight, level it (making sure it’s stays tight) and measure from the line to the ground at the bottom of the hill. Take the measurement in inches and divide to get the number of steps you will need.

How to measure steps for a slope

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Prepare the ground by loosening the dirt and digging out extra deep along the sides like this… You’ll probably have to do more digging once you get the structures in place, moving them around and refitting them. Take your time, there’s no rush.

Building a stairway into a hillside

Create U shaped structures like those below using the 2×8’s as side rails and 6×6 posts (cut in half for our 4ft wide stairway). Use the 8 screw pattern – 6 screws to look like a 6 on a dice and 2 screws evenly spaced in the center.

Fit the first U structure up against the (stairs in our case)/building or where ever your first step will be. Fit the second U shape structure under the first one and move dirt around until you get the top step level both front to back and side to side… (remember you’ve already measured for your project, so you should know how long your step should be..I hope)

How to make stairs on a hill

Use reinforcement bar and/or wood cleats to connect the lower board to the upper board on the inside. Looking at the photo above, the cleat would go between the new top step and the deck stairs, just inside the step, connecting the two 2×8 boards together. Do this on both sides, making sure everything is even, square and level before attaching — you may have to dig out or shift some gravel around to get everything level at this step.

You can see the cleats on the inside, just behind each step, in the picture below (look closely!). Make sure your cleats don’t stick up too high or they’ll show after your get your stones in.

Continue these steps, adjusting them so everything stays level and square, until you’ve reached your destination, the bottom of the hill or slope.

How to build stairs on a slope

As I mentioned, at this point we took the planned week break and resumed the following weekend. When we came back, we stained the insides and top of the rails and back side of the posts before filling with dirt. Most people will tell you to use a hardpack material like you’d use for a patio installation <– we built our own patio too!, but if we ever want to convert back to grass, we didn’t want all the hardpack, instead we wanted soil that had the ability to grow grass. So, we chose to fill with top soil. Pack that top soil every couple of inches until you’ve filled your voids – leave room for stone!

Building stairs on a slope

We left a 2 inch void to be filled with 3/4 inch decorative pathway stone. First, you want to put down landscape fabric in all the steps. This will help prevent weeds and things from growing up through your stones (yes, you’ll still get some crud growing, because seeds will inevitably land  in your stones and sprout up.). Once the landscape fabric is in place, you can dump in your stones in. Rake down and pack your stones to a nice level area. They will move around, they’re loose stones.

Stain, landscape fabric, stones…

How to build gravel stairs on a hill

When I ordered stone, I knew I ordered too much. I was secretly planning another walkway :) . So, with the left over stone, we made a walkway from the new steps to the back door of the garage.

We used a bender board to create a curve. First, we dug a shallow ditch, put the board in it and made sure it was even and level all the way around. We used a scrap piece of 2×4 to measure a 2 inch rim above the ground all the way around. Backfilling and using the provided stakes secured the bender board to the ground well.

Making a stone walkway

After covering the walkway with landscape fabric, we added and packed the extra stone into the walkway. We also used some larger stones to boarder the inside of the walkway.

Stone Walkway Construction

Keep going to see the finish product!

How to make a stone walkway

Here is the finished project. Some solar lights and some flowers finish off the new gravel stone stairs on a hill and a gravel stone walkway! We did plant grass seed where all the exposed soil is, but that takes weeks to grow – so this is what you get for now :)

Building Steps on a Slope

See our → Completed Backyard Makeover

Look who decided to stop by for a visit!

Mama and baby deer in the backyard