Outings + Activities | Family fun | Seattle

Climbing the Streets: Six Fantastic Stairway Walks for Seattle Families

From their landings, stairways psychologically intrigue — their rising steps beckon to the imagination, daring us to see where they lead. When we take stairs, we cut to the chase, and explore the mystery with the added bonus of exercise.

Stairways as urban adventure

Stairways by definition are flights of steps, often with multiple landings. Because of the rugged topography of the Puget Sound, you can find stairways zigzagging up and down hillsides all over the region.

Many stairways are secret shortcuts through quiet neighborhoods. Some stairways trail into hidden woods. Some lead to water. Some give rise to amazing views. Others are spectacular themselves, feats of design and engineering.

The best stairways are rich with atmosphere — climbing them feels more like an adventure than a workout. Indeed, many of the stairways in this article take you to hidden pockets of urban nature, delightful public gardens and fairy woods.

Climbing into history

In their excellent book Seattle Stairways Walks: An Up-and-Down Guide to City Neighborhoods, Jake and Cathy Jaramillo build urban hikes around some of our area’s most interesting stairways.

The Jaramillos explain how many of the older neighborhood stairways around Seattle were first built “as a way for developers to expand and extend the links between trolley stops and residential tracks.”

Certainly this is true of the Comstock Grand Dame, a romantic 85-step stairway that begins in a cul-de-sac on Comstock Street, just east of Queen Anne Avenue North. (Jake and Cathy recommend visiting this elegant 1905 stairway in mid-June when it is festooned in purple wisteria and nostalgic ambiance. Bring your parasols!)

Other stairways go beyond stylish functionality. For example, the 107 steps of the metal spiral staircase of Volunteer Park’s water tower in Seattle take you to the celebrated Olmstead vista of city, sound and mountains.

Although some urban stairways seem to lure you into a private world, rest assured we all share the stairs: they are yours to explore.

Indeed, street stairways are designed for public access and owned by their municipality. In Seattle, the more than 500 outdoor stairways linking city streets are maintained and managed by the Seattle Department of Transportation; while the 100-plus stairways of the city’s parks and natural areas are the responsibility of Seattle Parks.

Whether you find them at street’s end or on parkland, public stairways offer a way to exercise both your body and your mind. Here are six of our favorites.

Skip to the first stairway walk, or browse all the hikes:

Read Next