Building Retaining Walls and a Concrete Path

In this post, we share the steps for creating retaining walls, a 7-foot wide concrete path, and steps to our dock. This is a major project and beyond our skill level and capacity (we also don’t own a bobcat) so we hired an experienced contractor. However, Neal did all the electrical. He and I also built the steps, ramp, and railing, and all the finishing work.

I am not going to advise on engineering. The purpose of this post is to show you the basic steps of how a path and retaining walls can dramatically change your yard. We started on March 23 and are still working on this. The rain slowed us down because the dirt must dry enough for the bobcat to go up and down the hill.

A large section of our yard was torn up and muddy for over two months, but the final result will be worth it.

I hope this is helpful if you are considering such a project.


We live on a hill on a lake. The view is amazing but don’t like the steps to the lake. We have been talking about creating a concrete path to the lake for an ATV (and walking trail too) and retaining walls. The bottom of the concrete path is a little steep. We can walk it but older people can ride in our ATV.

Cutting Trees and Removing Roots:

Tree roots can cause damage to your concrete path or sidewalk. Hence, we cut down a few trees that were within 6 feet of the path.

There were a few trees within 6 feet of the path we wanted to leave (we love the shade), so in these areas of the concrete path, our contractor added additional rebar to reinforce the concrete (i.e. keep the tree roots from damaging the concrete over time).

Laying Out the Wall:

We used a long garden hose (you can also use a long rope) to lay out to front shape and length of the wall. This enabled us to “see” the future wall and adjust as needed. Our contractor spray-painted along the hose to use as his guide when digging footings.

Excavating Work:

We hired a contractor to use a bobcat to excavate the area. We had three main areas:

1.) Cutting out a section of a hill (a space for our future greenhouse and raised garden beds) next to our house;

2.) Moving dirt and clearing the future path;

3.) Moving dirt, leveling, and digging footings for the retaining walls next to the lake.

Things to think about:

  • You will need an area to put the dirt (or carry off the dirt) that is removed as a result of excavation.
  • You will also need an area for piles of gravel and stacking stones to be delivered.
  • A way to keep mud and dirt from being tracked into your house. We used extra doormats and also removed our shoes as needed before entering the house. Even with this, we (including our two dogs Daisy and Lucy and our cat Buddy) tracked in dirt and I ended up vacuuming almost every day.

Digging Footings:

Our contractor used an excavator to dig the footings 12-18 inches.

Adding Aggregate (gravel) as a Bedding in the Footings:

Our contractor used his bobcat to move the gravel and create a base in the footings.

Compacting the Aggregate (Gravel) in the Footings:

Our contractor rented a gas-powered vibratory plate compactor from Home Depot and used it to pack down the gravel. This creates a solid surface for stacking stones. We used a similar compactor (see picture below) when we helped our son-in-law and daughter build their brick paver patio.

Laying Stacking Stones:

We selected a large stacking stone from Geostone. We preferred the smaller landscape size but there was limited availability so we opted for the larger size. In retrospect, we are glad we ended up using the larger stacking stones. We believe this will make the wall stronger. The lake sometimes floods and this will ensure the stones stay in place.

Daisy is inspecting the work so far!

Below are the retaining walls on the side of our house (future greenhouse area and raised garden beds) next to the start of the path.

To strengthen the stacking stones, each stone is filled with aggregate

Adding Landscape Fabric and Aggregate Behind the Stone Walls:

This keeps the aggregate in place and prevents dirt from seeping through the wall. This keeps the dirt and silt from coming through the wall and ensures the integrity of the wall over time.

Building Steps and Ramp to Dock:

This took us a few days to complete. We wanted the rise and run of our steps to be consistent.  The rise is 6.5 and the run is 11. These steps are so easy to use because of the 6.5 rise.

Building Hogwire Railing:

This took us over three days to build but we are so pleased with how this turned out. This matches the railing we built last spring on our deck. To learn how to install hog wire railing, click HERE for step-by-step instructions.

As you can see, our puppy Lucy was our supervisor while we worked on the railing.

Trenching and Adding Conduit for Power and Water:

Neal rented a large trencher (there are many sizes) to dig trenches for the conduit to run power and water from our house to our dock.

Neal spent three days pulling wire (electric to dock and lighting for path), pex (for water to the dock) and tubing for our Spider Be Gone system on the dock. He built these structures (pictured below) which spin and make it so much easier to pull the wire. When you pull the wire, it uncurls it and makes it easier to work with.

Below, you can see the trenches Neal dug and the conduit in the trench.

Framing for Concrete:

Our contractor framed it for concrete. The picture below is next to the lake. Notice that we are leaving small strips next to each wall for shrubs/plants.

The picture below shows the middle of the path.

Pouring Concrete:

Our contractor did this in two pours. Here is the first pour, which included the lower portion (between the two retaining walls next to the lake) and the lower section of the path.

Below is a different perspective of the same area.

The picture below shows the middle part of the path, which leads to our porch on the lower level of our house.

Installing Cap Stones:

Our contractor glued the capstones on top of each retaining wall with construction adhesive. Where the wall is curved or steps down, he had to cut the capstones with a demolition saw.

Installing Path Lighting:

Neal installed lights in three trees (about 18 feet high) and on the corner of our deck to shine down on the path at night. This works like a charm!

Removing Steps and Planting Grass:

Now that we have a path to the lake to walk or drive, we removed our old steps.

We also planted grass. Because we had so much dirt exposed (before the final concrete pour, we had some erosion. Hence, we planted grass twice and covered it with hay to keep it from washing away.

Shoveling/Raking Dirt Behind the Retaining Walls:

Our contractor dumped dirt behind the walls with his backhoe but we are doing all the spreading.

It is backbreaking work because the dirt has gotten wet, is in big clumps (some good old Alabama clay), and has rocks and roots mixed in. We are still working on this back-breaking phase. Below is an area after raking and shoveling dirt.

Landscaping is still a work in progress:

On both sides of the concrete, we left strips of dirt between the retaining walls for some greenery. We purchased a few loads of topsoil for these areas – – more backbreaking work. We also created several beds for plantings along the path. Stay tuned for more updates on this project.

Let the planting begin!

With some knock out roses . . .

And some some Stella D’oro Dayliles . . .

Our yard was a mess for months, but it was worth it!

Let us know what you think or if you have any questions by posting below.


  1. Samantha on 05/21/2021 at 4:00 PM

    That makes your yard look so different!

    • Suzanne on 05/25/2021 at 8:51 AM

      It really does! It has been a lot of work but worth the effort!

Leave a Comment