The City of Stairs

By: Grace Cooper

I never enjoyed hiking much as a child—it always involved bugs and sweating. Other than the ugly shoes and the wild animals it sort of reminded me of walking through a museum. There were a lot of similarities: it was uninteresting, my feet hurt, and my parents forced me to do it. But, as I grew older and more interested in finding a way to escape the stress of school, I began to appreciate hiking as the true sport it is. In high school I hiked a fair amount in the Shenandoah Valley and Washington National Forrest; in fact, for our senior trip my friend and I actually went backpacking instead of going to the beach. So, I guess you could say I learned to love hiking. Incidentally, I like museums now too.

Unfortunately, my love of hiking came just a little too late. Although Pennsylvania is full of wonderful parks and trails, these opportunities aren’t really available to a poor and carless college student. Or so I thought, until I discovered something called urban hiking.

The term urban hiking is pretty self-explanatory—it’s just hiking in an urban environment. This doesn’t necessarily just mean plowing down the sidewalk on Forbes Avenue or speed walking up and down Cardiac Hill; urban hikers often make their own trails using whatever the landscapes provides: local parks, quiet neighborhoods, stairs, etc. Luckily for me Pittsburgh is the city of stairs. With over 700 sets of stairs—the most steps of any one city in the country—the urban hiking opportunities are endless.

To start, I chose to do one of the one of the most commonly hiked stair trails, the South Side Slopes, which claims 68 sets or about 10% of Pittsburgh’s stairs (that’s 1,457 vertical feet or roughly the height of the Empire State Building). The portion of the stairs that I went on take you up the side of Mt. Washington through neighborhoods of houses leaning into the side of the mountain. The narrow stairways and lack of upkeep may be frightening to those lacking balance (we did have a run-in with a faulty railing), but the view from the top is definitely worth it. From the highest point you can experience a breathtaking view of downtown, South Side, and even Oakland.

If you’re looking to do the South Side Steps but can’t find yourself a hiking buddy, the South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association also holds an annual StepTrek event. It’s usually held on an autumn Saturday and participants have the opportunity to register and hike the stairs with other people who are interested in learning some Pittsburgh history as well.

If you don’t want to wait until next fall to enjoy the slopes you can go out by yourself (there are some trail signs on the stairs) or follow the Church Route courtesy of the South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association. The map and info sheet take you for a ride past a few of the slopes’ churches and even a monastery. With this handy guide hiking becomes a tour of the city and a history lesson all in one!

The nice thing about the South Side Slopes, and urban hiking in general, is you’re never very far away from anything you might need: food, water, bathrooms. There’s no heavy gear needed because the hike should only take you a couple hours at most and if you get lost all you have to do is walk up or down the stairs until you hit the road. Even if you get tired or have a craving to shop SouthSide Works is only a few staircases away (I may or may not have made an emergency trip to H&M after my hike).

So, the next time you’re looking to get some exercise and explore the city, consider hiking the South Side Slopes!

Yes, nature is beautiful, but nothing can beat a hidden hilltop view of Cathedral of Learning.

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OUTDOOR News

  • Why Venture Outdoors?

    August 15, 2017

    By: Jacob Tumminello

    For many of us, the most time we spend outdoors comes from transitioning between cars and buildings, if that even counts.  As we continue to develop new technological advancements to make our lives easier, we have slowly begun to remove ourselves from the outdoor environment to shift towards safer and less demanding settings. 

    We as a species are less challenged to obtain food which is now carried by large machines to our destinations, and we spend most of our time sitting or sedentary.  Millions of people are damaging their eyes and backs sitting in front of computer screens for hours each day,

     » Read more about: Why Venture Outdoors?  »

  • My First Backpacking Trip with Venture Outdoors

    August 8, 2017

    By: Joshua Tenenbaum

    My backpacking trip to Raccoon State Park was a remarkable experience that I won’t soon forget. Going to the outfitter to select backpacking and camping gear and having the opportunity to use it on the trail was very gratifying. I had a ton of fun packing my bag, trying to distribute weight evenly in my pack, and organizing all my gear and food in the pack (although, it took me multiple tries to get everything to fit).

    Early in the morning, we dusted off our gear and headed out to experience the beauty of Raccoon Creek State Park.

     » Read more about: My First Backpacking Trip with Venture Outdoors  »

  • Where is She Now

    August 1, 2017

    By: Grace Eggleston, Former Communications/ Photography Intern

    This past April, my fantastic internship with Venture Outdoors came to an end. After finishing up my junior year at Pitt, I packed the car and drove down to Washington DC to start my next adventure… as a Communications Intern at the World Wildlife Fund US Headquarters!

    I’m now halfway through my internship, and absolutely loving it! As a Communications Intern on the Science Team at WWF, I have a handful of different jobs. I help out with social media, create flyers for events, and contact WWF grantees for information on their conservation projects.

     » Read more about: Where is She Now  »

  • The Beauty of Hiking

    July 25, 2017

    By: Chloe Seletz, Communications Intern 

    When I am asked what my dream vacation would be, it is always a no brainer. Anywhere I can go hiking. I spent a portion of my childhood living in San Francisco which is where I discovered the beauty of hiking. Every Sunday, my family and I took advantage of the amazing trails California has to offer. Even at a young age, I remember the feeling of getting to the top of a mountain and seeing such mesmerizing views.

    Over the years, I have had the opportunity to travel and hike in many different places.

     » Read more about: The Beauty of Hiking  »

  • Art in the Outdoors

    July 18, 2017

    By: Joshua Tenebaum

    This past week I spent a bit of time developing and furthering my blog post project and compiling photographs and field recordings to showcase to the Venture Outdoors community. Liz Fager and Jessica Wiegand both approached me about writing a blog post to be featured on the Venture Outdoors website. I began reading the other posts to determine an appropriate topic and voice for my writing; I decided to write about art and the outdoors. A rather broad topic, I specifically chose to speak about why I make art, my process, and my impressions of nature whenever I venture outdoors.

     » Read more about: Art in the Outdoors  »

Featured Outing

Beginner Paddle – North Shore
Multiple Dates
6:00 – 8:30 PM

We’ll start with instruction and practice, and then head onto the Allegheny River to see just how easy it is to paddle. Bedazzled by the gorgeous Pittsburgh skyline, you won’t even realize that you’re suddenly paddling like a pro! Equipment, guides and instruction are provided. Solo kayaks are highly recommended for this outing.


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