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.

Posted in Uncategorized

OUTDOOR News

  • My Favorite Venture Outdoors Outings

    April 25, 2017

    By: Grace Eggleston, Communications Intern

    As an intern at Venture Outdoors I am able to participate in a lot of awesome outings. Over the past eight months I have tried just about everything from long distance hikes and wakeup paddles to geocaching and nature photography walks. (The cool thing, though, is that after all this time there are still programs I have yet to try!)

    I count myself lucky that I get to go on these outings and take pictures of all the awesome people I meet and the exciting things we see along the way.

     » Read more about: My Favorite Venture Outdoors Outings  »

  • Favorites from the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour

    April 18, 2017

    By: Grace Cooper

    Whether a comedy, a thriller, or a heartwarming film, there was something for everyone at this year’s Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour. 

     

    This year was my first festival — and definitely not my last. I’ve seen my share of outdoor adventure documentaries, but these films were different. They weren’t just educational; they told a story. As a volunteer at the event, I had the opportunity to talk with a lot of people at the festival about their favorite films of the weekend. So, although all the films were absolutely incredible,

     » Read more about: Favorites from the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour  »

  • The City of Stairs

    April 11, 2017

    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;

     » Read more about: The City of Stairs  »

  • Getting to Know our Staff… Fifteen Questions with Kathi Radock

    April 4, 2017

    By: Grace Eggleston, Communications Intern

    We are continuing our staff spotlight series. 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 Kathi Radock, our Membership and Volunteer Manager.

    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’m from Wexford, studied English & Film at the University of Pittsburgh,

     » Read more about: Getting to Know our Staff… Fifteen Questions with Kathi Radock  »

  • An Overview of Pittsburgh City Parks

    March 28, 2017

    By: Grace Cooper 

    Besides being a beautiful city, Pittsburgh has some lovely parks maintained for us by the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. So, as we make our way into spring, let’s take advantage of the beautiful recreation areas our city has to offer!  

    Emerald View Park 

    Emerald View Park is the place to get a good view of Pittsburgh. The 257-acre park is actually a combination of three older parks on Mount Washington, Grandview, and Olympia. The wooded hillsides are perfect for hiking, biking, walking—whatever suits your mood.

     » Read more about: An Overview of Pittsburgh City Parks  »

Kayak Pittsburgh

Get your 2017 Season Pass!

Kayak Pittsburgh North Shore and North Park open Saturday May 6!
Aspinwall Riverfront Park opens Saturday, May 27!

Featured Outing

 Spring Wildflower Walk
Sunday, April 30
10 AM – 1 PM

Join local ecologist Henry Schumacher for a tour of one of the most vibrant local spring wildflower patches here in Southwestern PA. We will take in the fleeting beauty of this annual natural wildflower display and discuss the ecology of wildflowers and their role in the ecosystem.

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