How to build foot path / deck over rough terrain (roots and rocks)

Started by UncleLongHair, August 07, 2020, 09:31:28 AM

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I was searching around for some ideas and found this forum, maybe you all can help me.


This is a rural cabin, a 1/2 mile walk from the road, cabins have been here for 70+ years. This is a high traffic area and I'd really like to build a wooden foot path or ground level deck here so we can stop tripping on roots and rocks. I'd like it to be as low as possible, ideally at the level of the bottom step of the stairs, and so I could avoid building more stairs.  But I can't quite work out how to support it.

As you can see there are a lot of roots and rocks, some of the rocks could be moved with some effort but the tree obviously isn't going anywhere. Also the ground is NY shale and is kind of impossible to dig into, going down more than an inch or two is sometimes an all day proposition.

Lengthwise (top to bottom in the photos) joists are not going to work because of the obstructions so my thought is to lay horizontal (left to right in the photo) supports.  The entire span is about 11-12' long and about 30" wide so I could cover it with four or five 2"x6"12' cut to size.

The supports could be 4x4's or 6x6's, either pressure treated or they now have "ground contact" timber which is even higher grade.  I could probably set a few 1-2" deep and get them level. But not in the middle section which has too many roots.

The max span for 1x6's in a deck is usually 16".  There are docks (not decks :)) here built with 2x6 decking that have spans of up to 36". Not sure if this is according to code or whatever but that is how they are built and are safe and stable and have been standing for decades. So I am wondering if a span of up to 36" is ok when using 2x6's at the decking. If so maybe I could hodge-podge a few supports in the middle?

I also thought of some other more rigid material for the long spans such as aluminum or steel, would potentially only need a few pieces.

Anyway thanks for any thoughts or ideas!



Have you considered just filling the area with stone and laying pavers or natural flat stone?


Thank you for both of the suggestions, and now that you mention it that might just be a lot easier. I could set the edge with 6x6's and 2x6's and hopefully get rebar far enough into the ground to secure them.

The tree is 70+ years old and I would want to be sure I don't impact its health.  Is it ok to lay gravel or stone over tree roots?  It would actually not be completely covering the roots since they protrude up 5-7", the top of the roots would be flush with the gravel. I would imagine that stone or gravel would be porous enough so that it would not absorb moisture. The area is fully shaded and partially protected by the cabin and tree so never gets any sun.

Thanks for the ideas... let me look more into that.


If it were mine I would probably first start with soil then graduate to sand for the top 2" well above the tree root.  That would allow drainage as well as buffer to protect the root.  It would allow the root to absorb the water from the drainage.  In close contact to the root from gravel or stone could damage it thus the sand.

Dave Sparks

 I think I would leave it alone. The tree might not like anything more done to it.
"we go where the power lines don't"