If you are contemplating the creation of a stepping stone path, you’re probably not concerned about constructing the quickest way from point A to point B. Nor should you be. A stepping stone path is whimsical; a visually pleasing passageway leading you on an unhurried journey to your destination. It’s going to be as much (maybe more) about style as it will be about utility. This type of path allows you to portray the lines around your hardscape and softscape in a charming and picturesque way. It will subtly suggest a trail you’d like to traverse. Often, a stepping stone path curves and meanders, and almost beckons you to follow it, to see where it leads. It’s about charm and imagination.
Well then, now that we’ve set the mood, let’s talk about a few practical matters. Consider the purpose of the path. Usually, aside from the aesthetic, you want your path to take you somewhere. I’m going to make a few assumptions here. You’re not gonna be hauling heavy loads or maneuvering your riding mower over it, right? (If so, you really ought to consider a different type of path). And although people may be compelled to stroll the path often, you’re probably not going to have lots of them walking over it at the same time. With this in mind . . .
If you’d like a path that’ll be used by one person at a time (or several people in single file), the width of your path should be about 30” to 36”. If you want to accommodate two people walking side by side, the width should be about 48” to 52”. And if you’d like a really subtle, rarely travelled little stepping stone path – maybe leading to a concealed utility spot behind a house or shed or perhaps into a wooded area, your path can be about 26” to 30” wide. And it doesn’t have to be the same width at every point. If your stepping stones stop at or lead you to some kind of entrance, like an arbor or a doorway, you’ll probably want to place more or larger stones in front of it, and more tightly positioned. And if your path leads you past a point of interest, think about creating a tiny stone patio there, even just a bulge in the path, and include a bench or seat that will invite you to rest for a moment, relax, contemplate.
Is your path going to border a side of your house, a fence or other structure whose lines are long and straight? This is not the place to plan a lot of twists and turns. Certainly you don’t have to create a strictly straight course here, but try to reflect the lines of the house, the fence, etc. Another consideration for these locations is proximity. You don’t want to be rubbing up against your structure, so plan to lay your stepping stone path several feet out.
Is there a bit of a slope where you want your path? Consider how a road going up the side of a mountain zig-zags in order to make the slope easier to navigate. Here is where a bit of meandering works nicely. A few gentle bends will keep your stepping stone path a relaxing walkway instead of forcing a cardio workout. I’m not necessarily advocating acute switchbacks here. In fact, guiding the path in a gentle arc around a tree, shrub or boulder as you create your turns will increase the visual appeal and add drama to your stepping stone path. This last bit works whether your path is set on a slope or a flat surface.
A few other considerations when deciding where to situate your stepping stone path. If you’d like to elongate the appearance of the area where your path runs, a straighter, thinner path can create this impression. This effect is increased if you curve the path or wind it round some form of hardscape or softscape at the very end, so that whatever lies at the end of the path is not visible from the beginning. If, on the other hand, you’d like to minimize or separate an elongated stretch of grass or yard, a stepping stone path meandering across it will accomplish this, especially if oriented diagonally.
Look around your yard. Do you already have any distinctive hardscape or softscape that is visually compelling? Something like a fire or water feature, a specimen tree, a flower bed? A stepping stone path will very naturally define these elements and will encourage people to visit them. It will also create a greater sense of flow from one part of your yard to another as it connects your outdoor rooms.
You can choose either natural or concrete stepping stones, depending upon the look and feel you want. If you’d like to use concrete, you’re not limited to a square or rectangle, you can find concrete stepping stones in many different shapes including the shape of, well, a stepping stone.
If you select natural stone, choose stepping stones that have at least one flat surface, but keep in mind that pieces with two flat surfaces will be easier to set if you’re going to be laying them yourself. And I don’t mean to say that one or both surfaces of your stepping stones need to be 100% flat and level. I’m referring to flat as opposed to rounded; which can be difficult to walk on. A textured or irregular surface actually looks quite natural and visually appealing. They’re less slippery, too. And while we’re on the subject of slippery, you definitely want to avoid using any concave stones, because water will pool in them, which is annoying at best, and can be hazardous in freezing temperatures.
Almost any stone of the right shape and size is fair game; you’ll probably end up selecting some type of fieldstone or flagstone simply because their size and shape are usually what we think about when picturing a stepping stone path. Avoid shale, however, as it will eventually crumble. As well, if your stepping stone path will be situated in a damp, shady area, you probably don’t want to use a porous stone such as travertine or sandstone, as moss will tend to grow on it, making your stepping stones rather slippery.
A stepping stone path is about the easiest outdoor flooring you can build. So if you’d like to do it yourself, why don’t you check out my DIY Guide to Laying a Stepping Stone Path.