Getting from the Cabin to the Lake

Dear Jane, We have owned a cabin in northern Minnesota for several years. We have a steep hill down to […]

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Dear Jane,

We have owned a cabin in northern Minnesota for several years. We have a steep hill down to the lake. As we continue to age, the slope is becoming more and more difficult for us to navigate. It has always been our desire to sell our existing home in the Twin Cities after retirement and live at the cabin permanently. We are wondering what options are available to access the lake in the event we can no longer use the current pathway.

Tom and Judy, Stillwater, MN


Dear Tom and Judy,

How fortunate you are to have a place to enjoy! There are many reasons that walking steep slopes becomes very difficult as we age. Rest assured there are options available to you in making the lake accessible from your lake home.


Some individuals find it useful if a set of low-rise steps are constructed into the hill, where the maximum riser height is four inches. Lower risers are easier to climb and less fatiguing than typical steps. Adding a landing or rest area with a bench to break up a long stairway can be a nice feature for recouping exerted energy. Ideally, if positioned to capture a vista or lake view, this bench will create new ways for you to enjoy your property.

If you are ambulatory and need to use a walker for support, the tread width of each stair should be approximately 36” to 42” wide and the depth should be determined by the size of your mobility aid PLUS your body.

Stair treads can be constructed out of green treated wood, pavers/bricks, or out of a metal mesh material nailed onto a treated wood frame. The advantage of a mesh surface material is that is will allow water, small leaves, sand, etc. to fall through the mesh openings and provide additional texture without building up on the tread surface thus requiring continual maintenance. Note, however, that metal mesh is not so wonderful on bare feet…but effective.

Sturdy handrails should be provided on both sides of the stairway. Install guardrails, if needed, to avoid falling off the side of the stairs.


If using steps is not an option, a tram-type lift system can be installed. These units have a platform that is sized large enough to accommodate a wheelchair, cart or other mobility equipment. Trams are installed with a rail system firmly cemented into the ground. There are models that provide a choice of either forward or side entrance and exit. Trams are operated by electricity and offer controls at the top, bottom and on the platform itself.


Docks can be newly constructed or modified to allow easier access into a boat as well. Design guidelines are available through the Federal Access Board as part of the Recreation Facility Guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act

I hope this information is helpful and you are able to enjoy your cabin for many years beyond retirement. Good luck!

Do you have a question for Jane and Accessibility Design? We’ll cover all of your questions in future issues of Home Access Answers. Please contact us: 952-925-0301., [email protected]

Jane Hampton, CID, president of Accessibility Design, founded the company in 1992 to enhance lives through design and project management. The company provides design, consultation, project management, and product recommendation services specializing in home access for individuals with disabilities at all stages of life.

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