Seattle Stairway Walks: An Up-and-Down Guide to City Neighborhoods 

by Jake & Cathy Jaramillo

* The only guidebook to stairway walks in Seattle
* Explore Seattle neighborhoods in a new way with these interesting walks in Seattle
* Written for people of all ages who want to get outside, exercise, and explore
*Learn more --> 


Links & Media

* Seattle Channel's City Stream: Seattle Stairways (2016) 

* KPLU 88.1 "Tourist in Your Own Town" - Mount Baker Stairway Walk (2013)

* KING 5 Evening Magazine - Discover the Secret Stairways of Seattle (2013)

* KUOW News - The Hidden Legacy of Seattle Stairways (2013)

* AAA Journey - Last Stop: Stair Attraction (2012)

* Seattle Times - Guidebook Authors Show Ups and Downs. . . (2012)

Feet First - Seattle Walkability Advocates

* Sound Steps - Great Walking Groups for Over-50s!

* WalkOn inBellWa! - Walking Routes in Bellevue's Parks and Neighborhoods

Inventory of Seattle Stairs of 100 Steps or More website by Doug Beyerlein

* All Stairs Seattle Guide website by Susan Ott & Dave Ralph

* Year of Walking Seattle's Parks blog by Linnea Westerlind

*KOMO News - Year of Mapping Seattle's Stairs (2011)

*Seattle Times -  Queen Anne Stairways Map (2009)

* Washington Trails Association Magazine -  Urban Hiking (2007)

* Seattle Times - Seattle Stairways: Taking Time to Learn More About the City (2003)

* Seattle Weekly - Stairway Weekend (1999)

The Mountaineers as well as our publisher, Mountaineers Books

Entries in Cedar Park (2)


Stairways to the Past

A discrete palette of stairway styles and materials tells something about life during various periods of Seattle stairway construction. For example, a lot of stairways in Queen Anne have an unusually classic look: they're much wider than elsewhere, with thick, low-slung concrete sides. These are deeply scored with decorative lines and topped with a broad, rounded cap that extends a couple of inches to either side, like cake icing or a muffin-top. These stairs reflect a "golden age" of stairway construction in the first decade of the 1900s in Queen Anne. This was one of Seattle's great boom periods - the Klondike Gold Rush era - when newly prosperous businessmen and civic leaders built grand homes on this hilltop suburb. With a little searching you can find one of the best examples, the "Grand Dame" stairs along Comstock Street, between 1st Avenue N and Queen Anne Avenue N.

"Classic Era" stairway at Galer Street, between Queen Anne Avenue N and 1st Avenue N

Another kind of stairway construction became dominant in the early 1940s, when the last of the electric railcars in Seattle were replaced in favor of wheeled buses. The City Engineering Department pulled up the old streetcar rails, along with the concrete panels that sat between them. These surplus rails and concrete slabs were gradually recycled back into the city's infrastructure, in the form of new and refurbished stairways and retaining walls:

For stairways, the concrete slabs were stacked and staggered; small concrete bricks were placed under each slab to raise each step to a normal height (SDOT Photo)

The upright posts shown here on the SW Thistle stairs are recycled streetcar rails, most likely put in place in the 1940s

For retaining walls, streetcar slabs were held in place with recycled steel rails driven into the ground (SDOT Photo)

Nowadays not every new or refurbished stairway looks alike, though there is a standard plan intended to make stairways a bit more walkable for a wider range of people. Stair replacements, like the new stairs in Cedar Park, are significantly wider, with double handrails that add a relatively small, 1 1/2 inch "gripping pipe". Some stairways include runnels that allow riders to roll their bikes alongside.

Old-school railing and joining

New stairway construction (SW Genesee Street)

Bicycle runnel leads up to the I-90 trail near the East Portal Viewpoint in Mount Baker  

Thanks to John Buswell and Ainalem Molla of SDOT's Roadway Structures Division for answering our questions and sending us helpful info!


Cedar Park and the Burke-Gilman Trail

NOTE: A major stairway on this route was replaced in early 2013. This posting shows the old stairway; for pictures of the new stairway plus several additional pictures along this route, click here.

This is another tour of Seattle stairs that is hugely influenced by the relationship of Lake Washington and the bluffs above it. Here, up in the northwest corner of the lake, the neighborhood of Cedar Park spills over the bluff down to the water. While Lake City Way is an important auto route up and over Lake Washington, there's not a lot of reason for your average car-driving Seattleite to venture here, between Lake City Way and Lake Washington. The streets aren't as dense or numerous as elsewhere, and further progress is blocked by the lake. But, for us adventurous urban hikers, this provides  the perfect opportunity to explore a completely charming spot we probably wouldn't see otherwise.
The walk starts out with vistas of northern Lake Washington from a long, steep stairway. Then there's a set of half-hidden stairs meandering toward the lake, interrupted in the middle by a pathway running down a quiet, shallow ravine. You'll spend some time lakeside, walking along the incomparable Burke-Gilman Trail - one of the finest rail-trails in the nation. You'll leave the trail to head back up the bluff and check out the rest of the scenic neighborhood. If time is a limiting factor, the book details an optional route that keeps the stairs, but shortens the neighborhood exploration.

The "www" icon marks additional pictoral content referenced in the book.

A view of Lake Washington as you descend the first stairway's 196 steps

A hanging moss garden flourishes on a salvaged concrete retaining wall


The top of the NE 130th Street stairs is not easy to spot on its way toward the lake; watch for an opening in the traffic barrier

The final flight of the NE 130th Street stairs ends at the Burke-Gilman Trail

Along some parts of the Burke-Gilman trail you can see signs of slope movement (note leaning trees); wildlife abounds right next to lakeside houses

Residents use landscaping in a variety of ways to capture views and reflect their surroundings

The walk begins and ends at Cedar Park - the park, that is

Cedar Park has a nice play area and portable restrooms