Making a Grand Entrance: Pool Ladders and Steps

Underwater view of a smiling mother holding her baby near the swimming pool steps

Every swimming session starts with getting into the pool and ends with getting out of the pool. As obvious as that statement is, the question of how people are going to get in and out isn’t always the first thing that comes to mind when planning a pool. And yet, when you think about it, it’s a pretty big deal.

First and foremost, a well-designed pool entry makes it safer and more convenient to use your swimming pool. But beyond its practical benefits, it can also complement and enhance your pool’s appearance. The key is choosing the right type of pool entry for your pool and the people who use it.

Pool Ladders

There’s a reason stainless steel pool ladders are such a common sight at swimming pools, both public and private. They’re affordable, take up a minimum of space, and work well regardless of water depth. On the downside, they don’t offer a smooth entrance into the pool, and overall aren’t as easy to use for children or those with handicaps.

One sleek and even less obtrusive option is to have footholds built right into the pool wall. Technically, these are known as recessed pool steps, but for the purposes of this discussion, you can think of them as a built-in pool ladder. They’re more expensive to add to an inground pool than a standard pool ladder, but worth considering if you don’t like anything jutting into the swimming area.

Stainless steel handrails for an inground pool ladder with water and ivy landscaping in the background
There’s a reason pool ladders are so popular – they come with a lot of advantages.

Pool Steps

Steps are a mainstay of pool design, bringing easy access and great aesthetics to the table. They’re typically incorporated into the pool’s structure, but can also be installed separately (especially in the case of above ground pools). One of the most popular varieties are wedding cake pool steps, which have a scrumptious curved design.

As compared to ladders, steps are more of a pool design element than a separate fixture. In other words, they’re usually seamlessly integrated into the design in a way that flows with the pool’s appearance and function. To offer just two examples, pool steps can be set off in their own cutout section or placed in the short leg of an L-shaped lap pool.

Closeup of pool steps in a separate cutout section of an inground swimming pool.
Putting steps in a cutout or recessed section keeps them out of the way.

Other Types of Pool Entries

Looking for something a little less traditional? Have unique needs? Here are some of the less common pool entry options:

Beach Entries

Beach entry or zero depth pools get a lot of attention these days, and it’s not hard to see why. Being able to stroll down a gentle beach-like slope and into the water is the height of luxury. Unfortunately, this type of entrance takes up a lot of floor space, so you really need a larger pool to make it work.

Baja Shelves

These things go by a lot of different terms, including sun shelves and tanning ledges. Basically, a baja shelf is a shallow area for splashing and lounging that doubles as an entry point into the pool. A common design is for the baja shelf to be incorporated into a set of pool steps.

Pool Lifts

For the disabled, pool lifts provide access to the pool and all the therapeutic benefits it has to offer. Unfortunately, swimming pool lifts take up precious real estate on a pool deck, and they’re generally expensive to purchase and install. But if you have the space, budget, and need, a pool lift is a tidy solution.

What to Look For in a Pool Entry

An experienced pool builder will undoubtedly have good advice to offer about pool entrances. Note, too, that if you’re considering a fiberglass pool, the type of entry may be a package deal with the pool shell itself. However, to the extent that you have flexibility and/or doubts about what type of pool entry to get, here are some quick tips:

1. Don’t forget the handrails. Handrails are standard with pool ladders, but they can also be added to steps and other types of pool entry. However they’re used, they make the pool entrance easier and safer to use.

Inground pool steps with a handrail
Handrails make getting into the pool safer for children, the elderly, people with handicaps… and everyone else, for that matter.

2. Choose nonslip surfaces. Speaking of safety, you should also pay attention to what type of surface the pool entry has and whether there are nonslip options.

3. Focus on who will be using the pool. In particular, think about the people who will have the most trouble getting into and out of the pool, and choose an entrance that makes the pool accessible to them.

4. Pick something that complements your pool’s design. In many cases, the shape and style of the pool will determine – or at least strongly suggest – what type of entry works best.

5. Consider multiple entries/exits. In particular, you may want steps at the shallow end of the pool and a ladder at the deep end.

The subject of pool entries and exits is more involved than most people imagine. If you’re planning a new pool, it might seem like one more tough decision you don’t want to make. But given the impact it has on the day-to-day use of your pool – not to mention its appearance – it’s something that deserves all the attention you can give it.