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

  • Getting to Know Our Staff: 15 Questions with… Karen Wood

    October 10, 2017

    There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes brain power that goes into planning your favorite programs, be it public, family-friendly, or custom outings. Learn about those who work inside so you can get outside.

    This week we’ll be interviewing Karen Wood, our shared Chief Financial Officer.

    Karen Wood 1. Briefly tell us about your background: where did you grow up, where did you go to school, and what brought you to Venture Outdoors?

    I grew up in Norfolk and Virginia Beach, VA. After college (at William & Mary in Williamsburg), I moved to Eugene, Oregon in the mid 80s where I started my first accounting job and became active in various environmental causes.

     » Read more about: Getting to Know Our Staff: 15 Questions with… Karen Wood  »

  • Women On the Water: My first adventure with Venture Outdoors

    October 3, 2017

    By: Grace Groeger, Communications Intern

    Kayak

    I decided to hit the ground running and just dove into any program with an opening my first week with Venture Outdoors. I started scrolling through the activities calendar and saw an opening for Women on the Water (WOW), and I thought to myself, that’s the one I’m doing. I couldn’t be more excited about signing up for my first program; my friends were sick of me already for bragging about how awesome my internship is only a week in.

    There I was bright and early down in Pittsburgh on the home opener for the Steelers trying to find parking.

     » Read more about: Women On the Water: My first adventure with Venture Outdoors  »

  • Put-in-Bay, An Island Getaway in your Back Yard

    September 26, 2017

    By: Jacob Tumminello

    Put-in-Bay is a small village located on South Bass Island just north of Sandusky, Ohio. The town was constructed in 1830 and originally named for only the bay in Lake Erie. Although the name may imply a man-made creation, the islands were naturally created by the geographic evolution of the earth. I had the privilege of exploring this strange little island getaway on a trip with my family and was surprised by how much there is to do in such a condensed place.

    Sunset Put In Bay

    After stepping off the ferry that took us from Sandusky to the island,

     » Read more about: Put-in-Bay, An Island Getaway in your Back Yard  »

  • MY FIRST PROGRAM EXPERIENCE WITH VENTURE OUTDOORS

    September 19, 2017

    Summer Tree ID

    By: Samantha Sektnan, Communications Intern

    Attending the “Summer Tree ID” program was a great way to start off being a part of the Venture Outdoors community. Taking an easy stroll in Frick Park as we learned tips and tricks to identify the trees around us was something I never imagined myself doing before joining this organization, but I am definitely glad I did it. As someone with literally had zero knowledge on how to identify trees, local ecologist Henry Schumacher – who led the trip – had a lot of work on his hands in order to teach me the basics..

     » Read more about: MY FIRST PROGRAM EXPERIENCE WITH VENTURE OUTDOORS  »

  • Venturing Outdoors: How I Learned to Appreciate Nature by Working at Kayak Pittsburgh

    September 12, 2017

    By: Alexander Downing

    Since August 2014 I’ve worked as an attendant at Kayak Pittsburgh’s North Park location. This means I’m one of the smiling faces in the green shirts pushing boats into the water and handing out PFDs and paddles. It also means I get to look out on the beautiful North Park Lake for hours on end. As it turns out, that’s been the most memorable part of the job and the catalyst for a change in how I view nature.

    As a kid, the primary role nature played in my life was as the location for sports.

     » Read more about: Venturing Outdoors: How I Learned to Appreciate Nature by Working at Kayak Pittsburgh  »

Kayak Pittsburgh

 

#KeepPittsburghPaddling

Our North Shore and North Park locations are open weekends only in October.

Featured Outing

Romeo and Juliet Hike
Saturday, October 28
5:00 – 10:30 PM

Calling all theater lovers! Join us for an evening of two adventures! We’ll start with a hike through Oakland and a pizza dinner from 5pm -7pm followed by a production of Romeo and Juliet presented by Pittsburgh PICT Classic Theatre. Price includes the hike, dinner and show ticket.

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