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 Grand Dame (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!


East Queen Anne

Starting from Westlake, most of the climbing comes early on this stairway walk: more than 500 steps up the east side of Queen Anne Hill. Quick gratification is ahead, though: some of the finest views in Seattle are seen at little-known Bhy Kracke Park. That's followed by a stroll along graceful tree-lined streets, with extraordinary residential and public architecture - and a tour of some of the oldest and grandest Seattle stairs.

Note that the "www" icon above the slideshow indicates additional content referenced in the book. Scroll below that for even more scenes from this stairway walk.


Crossing the footbridge over busy Aurora Avenue

Almost there: topping the Galer stairs (they keep going, but you turn to the left)

Looking back: the stairway that leads down to graceful Bigelow Avenue

The base of the classic old 2nd Avenue stairs, heading up to Highland

Heading up the Galer Street stairway, to 1st Avenue

So who is John Hay?

There are three “John Hay” school buildings within 7 blocks of each other on East Queen Anne. The man began his career at age 22 as Abraham Lincoln’s personal secretary. He died in 1905 as Theodore Roosevelt’s Secretary of State. That was the same year “Old” John Hay School (above) opened. Inside this fine woodframe structure are wide wooden hallways, lined on either side by cream-colored arches that spring from delicate columns of beautifully-worked dark wood. 

By 1922 a growing school-age population had outstripped the original building, so a new brick structure was opened a half-block north. The expectation was that the original 1905 building would be demolished, but somehow that never happened. By the early 80s the younger building was judged to be seismically unsound, so a bond was approved to build a completely new elementary school across from Queen Anne High. That school was opened in 1989.

It’s been well over a century since the original John Hay building went up. Today it's a designated Seattle Landmark. The neighborhood’s needs have changed many times, but all three buildings are still in use. In 2010, after seismic retrofitting and other improvements, the historic 1905 and 1922 John Hay buildings were reopened as Queen Anne Elementary School, an “Option” school drawing kids from all over the city. The 1989 building carries on as John Hay Elementary, drawing local Queen Anne kids from the south and east sides of the hill, as far as downtown.