Should I use an a-frame ladder or steps for my above ground pool?

Choosing a Ladder or Steps for an Above Ground Pool

Unless they are buried, above ground pools sit above the ground. Other than this being the most obvious thing I’ve ever said, it means that swimmers will have to climb over the wall to get into the water. For this and other reasons, a pool ladder is an important decision when getting an above ground pool.

There are about a dozen main choices when it comes to getting a ladder or steps for an above ground pool. Pool packages almost always come with a standard A-frame type that will work well for able-bodied people to get in and out of the pool. Though, some have different wants and needs so it’s worth spending some time learning about the different options that are available.

The Different Types of Ladders and Steps for Above Ground Pools

I. A-Frame Ladderabove ground a-frame ladder

This is the most common ladder for above grounds. A ladder with rungs is placed outside the pool and another ladder with rungs is placed inside the pool. Almost all are now made of resin and usually can take people who weigh up to 300 pounds.

A-frames attach in some way to the top of the pool’s rails to make them more stable. Almost all A-frames are safety ladders which means the outside rungs can be removed or pulled up so that it’s off the ground. This is done so that small children can’t use them to get access to the pool.

II. In-Pool Ladderabove ground in pool ladder

An in-pool ladder is almost exactly the same as an A-frame except it doesn’t have the rungs on the outside. In-pool ladders are used when a pool has a deck, because with a deck you’ll no longer need to step up from the ground. Note: Some first get an above ground pool and then have a deck built later. They will then use an A-frame ladder until the deck is built and will then cut off the outside portion of the A-frame ladder so they can then use it as an in-pool ladder with the new deck.

III. Ladder on the Outside and Steps on the Insideabove ground pool Ladder on the Outside and Steps on the Inside

This is nice if you don’t have a deck. Having steps inside the pool is better than just climbing rungs for a couple of reasons. One reason is they are wider for feet to step on.  They also have rails (on one or both sides) that help older or bigger swimmers get in and out of the water.

Another reason is the steps make good landings or rest spots for short kids. Steps can usually hold more weight than ladders so that’s good for the heavier people in the family.

IV. Steps on the Outside and Steps on the Insideabove ground pool Steps on the Outside and Steps on the Inside

This is the ultimate entry system for an above ground pool. There are wide, flat steps outside that go all the way up. These steps then go over the wall and down into the water. These steps also have handrailings (on one or both sides) on the inside and outside of the pool. These handrailings are good for those who can have a hard time climbing in and out. The weight limit is also more. This is a good option for those who do not have a deck, but whose pools need to be accessible to elderly swimmers, bigger swimmers or swimmers with special needs.

An above ground pool entry system with steps on the outside still has to be safe for kids. So, they will come with an outside gate that can be locked to block small kids from being able to climb the steps. The weight limit for these steps can be as much as 500 pounds. This is also the most expensive entry system costing as much as $600.00 for the nicest one.

V. Inside Stepsabove ground pool steps

These are for above grounds with decks. Since swimmers can get to the top of the pool via the deck, access is only needed for getting in and out of the water. Inside steps are better than just an in-pool ladder as it is wider for the feet and has one or two handrails that help swimmers get in and out.

VI. Wedding Cake Steps (Inside Only)above ground pool wedding cake steps

These are the most common steps for above ground pools that have decks. These steps are called wedding cake steps because they have rounded steps starting with a small round one at the top and then each getting longer as they go down deeper into the water. These steps have one rail that runs up the middle of the steps to assist swimmers to get in and out of the pool. Because these steps curve around, there is more stepping area which provides even more landing area for shorter kids.

Wedding cake steps don’t attach well to the top of the pool. So, weighing them down properly is more important than with the other steps. These steps take up a lot of space in the pool so they may not be a good option for smaller pools. A big advantage is most are injection-molded which means very little assembly is required.

Some General Notes on Above Ground Steps and Ladders

Weighing down steps can be a pain.

All ladders/steps will float a little in the water so therefore they must be weighed down. Some will require of you to pour sand into the unit while with others you will have to fill bags with sand and place them at the bottom of the steps.

I have seen people use all kinds of things, from concrete blocks to rocks to plastic dumbbells, to weigh the steps down. Anything is fine, but keep in mind that it will be in the water so plastic bags will deteriorate and objects will have algae grow on them. Real pool guy tip: Buy a longer piece of 3” PVC and some 3” end caps. Cut pieces of PVC to fit the area that’s underneath the steps, then fill with sand or concrete and glue caps on both ends. This is a nice, precise, clean way to weigh down the steps. You’re welcome!

Assembly will be required.

No real pool installer will assemble any ladders or steps. So, this is something you’ll have to do. I haven’t assembled a ladder in more than 25 years, so I don’t know much about it except that some say they suck to put together and some say they aren’t that bad.

Install the ladder/steps when the pool is at least half full.

An above ground pool liner isn’t completely set in place and secure until the pool is at least half filled. So, in order to avoid possible damage, wait before placing the steps inside the pool.

Secure your entry system.

Ensure that you do a good job and that the steps are weighed down well. This is where people get injured, so make sure it’s stable and not wobbly or wonky (I love using the word “wonky”).

Most entry systems for above ground pools don’t have to be attached to the top rails of the pool, but if you’ve done a nice job of installing yours and it still doesn’t feel quite stable, bolt your steps to the pool at the top.

20 thoughts on “Choosing a Ladder or Steps for an Above Ground Pool

  1. Hello! We have an above ground pool and trying to find actual steps for the outside. We have steps on the inside and a ladder on the outside, but the ladder just isn’t very sturdy. We purchased the pool about 2 months ago and the ladder/steps combo came with it when they installed it. The ladder has a 250 weight capacity and broke on me a couple of weeks ago and I weigh 115. I just want something with a larger weight capacity and steps so it is more sturdy. Do you know of any type steps made for the outside of the pool. We no not have a deck. Thank you

    1. Crystal: I, too, am looking for sturdier pool steps. I have a deck but am handicapped and fat! You will just have to research pool sites to find one that will fit your needs. The ones that are sturdier cost more ( a lot more). Wider steps also hold up better.

  2. Hi can u give me the hole opening measurement of the pool ladder brackets, the brackets that hold the ladder to the deck, when the entire ladder is in the water. Thanks! Hoping this opening will fit my ladder, as they are going to be to short for attaching the top handles to our deck! Thanks again

  3. Hi I have inside steps for my above ground pool eventually we will build a deck and the stairs will be bolted into the deck but in the meantime if we get a ladder to get into the pool how do we make it sturdy with the inside steps is there a way to connect it together?

  4. Why do pool stairs not have the rail spindles on the inside of the pool? It would seem to be more sturdy if the rails were inside as well as outside.

    1. Some do. There are now many choices in steps for above ground pools. Keep in mind though that the handles will be much sturdier if they are attached to a deck or pool’s top rail.

  5. Just got inside steps for our pool that hook to our deck (just like the ones pictured with the rails), how do we cover the pool inbetween uses with the stairs installed? We use the simple pull over cover that came with our pool.

    1. Some steps won’t allow you to use your cover as they get in the way. Some people take the rails off when using the cover. I’m not sure if that is worth it for you to do though.

  6. have a problem,we purchased an a frame ladder but our above ground pool bottom is lower than outside ground which makes ladder sit uneven, does anyone manufacture an a frame with adjustable steps on pool side to make that side longer? so pool side is longer than ground side?

  7. Hi. We have a small wooden deck on one side of our pool, and would like safety steps to climb up to the deck, but we do not need the other side. (we have a ladder going into the pool from the deck.)
    Can you recommend STEPS to connect to our deck? our

    1. I don’t know much about steps and ladders because I never assemble or attached them with the pool installs. I will say that most people build wood steps and make a wooden safety gate with a lack and a lock at the top.

  8. The bottom of our above ground pool is not flat. We have just been given a set of steps that are for a flat bottom. We have not installed them yet as we have not taken off the winter cover yet. Is there a way we can install these steps that won’t damage the floor of our liner?

    1. How “not flat” is it? Do you have a deep center or something? If the bottom is just poorly unlevel, then the steps should still work. If you have a deep center in your pool that started too close to the pool’s wall leaving a downward grade where the steps sit, then other than draining the pool, peeling back the liner, and building up the area of where the steps go to level, I don’t know what you can do to make it work.

  9. Hi,
    I just found this site after looking for a safe way for my grandchildren, ages 3 and 5, to enter
    and exit our little 3 ft. pool. We just ordered one of those Intex rimmed pool which seemed
    like our best option since we are only keeping the pool up for the 2 weeks they are visiting.
    The Intex pool has no platform and seems less sturdy than we prefer. Do you have any creative suggestions?? Obviously there is no pool deck since this is very temporary. I appreciate any and all replies. Also, there are many A-Frame ladders with a small platform at the top but they all adjust from 48-54 inches. It seems such a tall ladder would not be safe. Any thoughts?

    1. Hi. The only advice I give with making entering and exiting an above ground pool is to build a wood deck to you needs. This won’t help you as you are only going to be up for 2 weeks. I guess I say to use the ladder it comes with and assist the kids on it until they get used to swimming in the pool.

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