Not everyone enjoys mowing the lawn. Riding lawn mowers reduce mow time, improve comfort, and offer an abundance of options to facilitate yard care. Finding the best lawn mower for hills means getting acquainted with an expansive market chock-full of options for power, features, sizes, functions, and more.
Not all riding mowers are ideal for use on sloped or rough terrain. Heavy or improperly balanced machines combined with inattentive operation increase the possibility of a rollover accident. In this guide, we look at some of the best riding lawn mowers for hills available and address everything shoppers need to know about them.
- BEST OVERALL: Cub Cadet XT1 Enduro LT46 Lawn Tractor
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: John Deere S120 Lawn Tractor
- UPGRADE PICK: Craftsman T3200 Turn Tight Gas Riding Lawn Mower
- BEST ELECTRIC: Ryobi RY48111 Electric Riding Mower
- BEST ZERO-TURN: Ariens Ikon 52 Kawasaki Zero-Turn Riding Lawn Mower
- BEST FOR ROUGH TERRAIN: Toro Titan Max Havoc Zero-Turn Riding Lawn Mower
How We Chose the Best Riding Lawn Mowers for Hills
All of the lawn tractors, garden tractors, and zero-turns on our list are top-notch in terms of safety. We had to call upon all of our experience with power equipment and DIYing to come up with the features we thought were most important in a riding mower meant for rugged conditions.
Once we knew what to look for, we performed hours of extensive product research to assemble this list of mowers we felt could potentially meet our needs. We compared them based on their features, capabilities, and prices to ensure that each model would be the best lawn mower for a particular situation. Those that didn’t meet our criteria were removed, while those that did were listed based on their strengths.
Our Top Picks
The best riding lawn mowers for hills have the right combination of power, cutting width, and fuel type. Our list includes some excellent options regardless of which characteristics suit a specific yard and slope.
Folks looking for an all-around capable lawn tractor will want to consider this model from Cub Cadet. The XT1 Enduro LT46 features a 46-inch-wide deck that allows it to cut relatively quickly while still fitting in most garages and through garden gates. It also has a 16-inch turning radius, which allows it to turn around in a tight spot for ultimate control at the top or bottom of a hill.
The XT1 LT46 features a 23-horsepower gas engine made by Kohler, providing plenty of power for a tractor of this size. It also has a hydrostatic transmission that allows the user to adjust the speed with the pedal rather than jockeying through gears. It’s compatible with a range of attachments including mulchers, plow blades and snow blowers, cab covers, baggers, brush guards, and carrying trays. The only downside is that the deck, while large enough for small properties, might not cover ground as well on properties of 3 or 4 acres.
- Power source: Gas
- Type: Lawn tractor
- Cutting width: 46 inches
- 23-horsepower engine has plenty of power for a midsize tractor like this
- Compatible with a wide range of implements and attachments for ultimate versatility
- Features a smooth hydrostatic transmission to avoid jockeying through gears
- 16-inch turning radius provides plenty of control at the top or bottom of a hill
- Larger properties may require a garden tractor with a slightly larger deck
Get the Cub Cadet riding lawn mower at The Home Depot, Tractor Supply Co., or Cub Cadet.
Anyone looking to save money while still having the ability to get the job done may want to consider the John Deere S120. This compact riding mower features a 22-horsepower engine that powers the 42-inch mower deck, allowing it to cut through dense grass or climb hills with ease. It features a hydrostatic transmission that makes adjusting speeds smooth and easy as well as cruise control for locking in that perfect pace.
This affordable tractor has a lot of convenient features to consider. An easy-to-read fuel gauge ensures users don’t run out of gas as they’re climbing hills. An ergonomically designed operator’s station has plenty of room, and its 30-second oil-change system doesn’t require any tools.
While it’s not a small riding lawn mower, it might not be quite as heavy-duty as some other models. However, the affordable price allows the user to spend a bit more on accessories to improve its versatility—and it’s compatible with a lot of them.
- Power source: Gas
- Type: Lawn tractor
- Cutting width: 42 inches
- Comes with plenty of hill-mowing power at an affordable price point
- Has several convenient features like a built-in fuel gauge, cruise control, and 30-second oil changes
- Compatible with a wide range of John Deere accessories to improve its versatility
- Not as heavy-duty as some larger models; may take longer to mow large properties
Get the John Deere riding lawn mower at The Home Depot.
The twin-cylinder Kohler engine in the Craftsman T3200 puts out 24 horsepower that pushes this riding mower along rough properties and hilly terrain. Combined with a large 54-inch cutting deck, it can handle cutting through large lawns and thick grass without hassle. This larger deck also means riders will have to make fewer passes over hilly terrain. Craftsman rates it for properties over 2 acres in size.
This Craftsman mower boasts a tiny 5-inch turning radius that’s not far off from the performance provided by zero-turn mowers. And it offers this tiny radius without the added risk of a tip-over accident on sloped terrain. The hydrostatic transmission delivers power through an infinite gear system that provides drive when most needed, including up hilly terrain. Unfortunately, this mower replaced the T310, which had a built-in mulcher, and this one does not.
- Power source: Gas
- Type: Riding lawn mower
- Cutting width: 54 inches
- 24-horsepower motor can handle cutting through thick grass or zipping across large properties
- 54-inch mower deck cuts wide paths through grass, minimizing trips up and down hilly terrain
- 5-inch turning radius spins tractor around as tight as a zero-turn mower without tip-over risk
- Doesn’t include a built-in mulcher like the Craftsman model this mower replaced
Get the Craftsman riding lawn mower at Lowe’s.
Tool manufacturer Ryobi is no stranger to the benefits of battery power. Its 38-inch rear-engine electric riding mower could be a solid choice for those with less than 2 acres of hilly terrain, as the 38-inch deck is considerably wider than most rear-engines. This translates to fewer passes over the hill for safer use compared to most other electric riding mowers.
A trio of whisper-quiet and low-maintenance brushless motors propels this electric riding lawn mower. They’re paired with a 48-volt 100-amp-hour (Ah) battery—that’s enough power to mow for about 2.5 hours. Once power runs out, achieving a full charge takes around 6 hours.
The dual-bladed cutting deck can be adjusted in 12 different positions between 1.5 inches and 4.5 inches for cutting the grass to the desired length. LED headlights are included, and this next-generation machine includes convenient features like cruise control and USB charging ports.
- Power source: 48-volt 100Ah batteries
- Type: Riding lawn mower
- Cutting width: 38 inches
- 38-inch deck is wider than comparable models, requiring fewer passes on hilly terrain
- 48-volt 100Ah battery offers up to 2.5 hours of power while mowing hilly terrain
- Built-in accessories like USB charging ports and cruise control make mowing convenient
- If power runs out, it will take 6 hours to recharge the battery
Get the Ryobi riding lawn mower at The Home Depot or Ryobi.
A Kawasaki-built commercial-grade 23-horsepower engine pushes the Ariens Ikon 52 along at a speed of 7 miles per hour (mph). Combined with a 52-inch cutting deck, the Ikon is built for the mower who wants to cover a lot of hilly terrain quickly and safely. It also turns around in a zero-radius circle for easy maneuvering.
This mower is built for maneuvering around obstacles and running along curved flower beds or sidewalks. As a zero-turn mower, the Ikon is best when operated over flat ground with obstacles and has enough power for gentle slopes, but it is not recommended for excessively hilly terrain due to a high center of gravity. Fifteen-degree slopes are about all zero-turn mowers should handle.
- Power source: Gas
- Type: Zero-turn riding lawn mower
- Cutting width: 52 inches
- Wide cutting deck allows users to cut hilly terrain in fewer passes
- 23-horsepower engine helps users zip across large properties for fast mowing up to 7 mph
- Is able to turn around in zero-radius circle for efficient maneuvering
- As a zero-turn, it shouldn’t see slopes of more than 15 degrees
Get the Ariens riding lawn mower at Amazon, Ace Hardware, or Lowe’s.
If that property’s rough terrain has claimed its share of mowers, it’s time to move on to something a bit more heavy-duty like the Toro Titan Max Havoc. This zero-turn mower features large 23-inch tires to help propel it over rough and rugged terrain. Its 26-horsepower engine powers the 60-inch deck across properties with obstacles up to 7 acres in size without a problem.
The Max Havoc from Toro is a serious machine. It can zip across the ground at speeds up to 9 mph and features a heavy-duty mowing deck and a built-in roll bar with lights to help keep users safe on hilly terrain. Just remember that this is a zero-turn mower, so it shouldn’t see slopes of more than 15 degrees. But for the hills it can safely climb, it’ll cut them in much fewer passes thanks to its 60-inch cut.
- Power source: Gas
- Type: Zero-turn riding lawn mower
- Cutting width: 60 inches
- 23-inch tires allow this model to move across rugged terrain with ease
- Powerful 26-horsepower engine propels it at speeds up to 9 mph
- Integrated roll-bar helps keep users safe while mowing uneven ground and hills
- 60-inch cut allows this model to cut hills in fewer passes for safety’s sake
- It shouldn’t climb hills with slopes of more than 15 degrees
Get the Toro riding lawn mower at The Home Depot or Tractor Supply Co.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Riding Lawn Mower for Hills
Locating the best riding lawn mower for hills requires some research. Yard size and terrain type are top priorities, while motor and fuel type, weight, cutting width, and tire type and size can make the difference between a quick and easy mow and a lengthy chore.
Types of Riding Lawn Mowers
The best riding lawn mower for hills will likely fall into one of three categories: lawn tractors, rear-engine mowers, and zero-turn mowers, each of which has its own capabilities and specialties. Finding the right one means identifying which characteristics work best for a given situation.
Not all riding mowers are considered tractors. Lawn tractors employ wide, mid-mounted cutting decks as opposed to front-mounted decks. Operators use a steering wheel and pedal system similar to that of an automobile to cut large swaths of grass quickly and easily. They also tend to come with powerful engines corresponding to an increase in overall weight.
The main difference between lawn tractors and garden tractors is versatility. Lawn tractors are primarily used for cutting grass, while garden tractors may also plow snow, tow equipment, and perform other lawn-maintenance duties.
There are a plethora of options to augment the mower’s functionality. Manufacturers build grass sweepers, fertilizer spreaders, aerators, rollers, sprayers, and other accessories that ease yard maintenance.
A few subtle differences set rear-engine mowers apart from tractor mowers. As the name implies, the engine sits on the rear of the mower. These mowers tend to be lighter and less powerful than other types, a trade-off that aids maneuverability and energy efficiency at the cost of valuable torque.
These mowers have deck sizes ranging between 28 and 34 inches. For expansive yards or users who are in a hurry, the smaller cutting deck translates to longer mowing times than with more powerful mowers that have larger decks. Rear-engine mowers are more maneuverable thanks to a smaller turning radius than tractor mowers, making them a middle ground between heavier mowers that require more space and zero-turn mowers that turn on a dime.
Because of their smaller size and reduced power needs, rear-engine mowers tend to be less expensive than other types. They make great mowers for yards smaller than an acre.
Zero-turn mowers are best for yards with curves and tight turns. Their moniker comes from the dual hydrostatic transmissions that drive the side wheels independently—a single lever operates each transmission. Pressing both levers forward results in a straight course, while depressing one lever allows the mower to make a complete turn in a space the size of the mower.
For those with a large lawn or limited time to mow, zero-turn mowers offer an excellent solution. These mowers tend to be faster than lawn tractors, averaging 6 to 8 mph versus lawn tractors’ 3 to 4 mph. Zero-turn mowers are more comfortable, as their design incorporates a large, padded pilot’s seat that’s easy on the body.
Drawbacks of zero-turn mowers include reduced stability. Operators should not attempt to operate these mowers on slopes greater than 10 degrees. Because of a high center of gravity, mowing on steep slopes presents a tipping danger. Additionally, the dual-transmission design requires the throttles to be in the neutral position to stop without the advantage of a dedicated braking system, making them difficult to control on downhill paths.
Yard Size and Terrain Type
The first things to consider when selecting the best riding lawn mowers for hills are the yard size and terrain. Riding mowers can handle varying types of terrain. Most mowers include some height adjustment, but root-ridden or pockmarked lawns require higher clearances to prevent damage to the blade and minimize the damage of getting stuck.
Yard size dictates one essential aspect of mowing: the time it takes to do the job. Consider the size of the yard against the speed of the mower. Huge yards can take hours to mow; cut down on mowing time by getting a mower that’s fast and efficient enough to get the job done in a reasonable amount of time. However, a small riding mower may be more than suitable for a 2-acre yard.
Gas vs. Electric
The advent of battery technology in recent years has cut the cord. Battery-powered riding lawn mowers that do not require an electrical tether have gained popularity in recent years. Electric mowers are quiet, light, easy to maintain, and environmentally friendly. Battery life is a crucial consideration for an electric lawn tractor, however. Running out of battery power before finishing the job could mean a delay of several hours while the mower recharges.
Traditional gas-powered motors are more powerful than their electric counterparts at the expense of being far noisier and emitting exhaust fumes. Gas mowers provide more torque, are able to cut through overgrown or thick grass more efficiently, and refuel faster. However, they require oil, filter, and spark plug changes as well as other maintenance. Those with large properties or very dense grass will want to lean toward a gas-powered motor with a large fuel capacity for its superiority in runtime and power.
The cutting width, which is sometimes referred to as the mower deck or cutting deck, refers to how wide a swath a mower cuts in one pass. Mowers with wider cutting decks require fewer passes to complete a lawn.
Small lawns measuring ½ acre or less require a small lawn mower with a cutting width of fewer than 40 inches. For ½-acre to 2-acre lawns, 42- to 48-inch-wide decks work well. If the lawn is larger than 3 acres, search for a cutting deck 50 inches or broader. The search for the best riding lawn mowers for hills or flat properties should include comparing yard size against cutting width to ensure that the mower can finish the job in a reasonable amount of time.
Riding lawn mowers can be heavy. Since they are self-propelled, the engine needs to be powerful enough to move the machine at a reasonable speed, cut through dense vegetation, and carry a rider’s weight up and down varying terrain.
Smaller and lighter mowers do not have the same power as heavier lawn tractors with large engines. For small yards, less energy is required. In the sub-acre range, look for a mower with at least 14 horsepower. Owners of yards 1 to 2 acres in size will be happy in the 14 to 16 horsepower range, while powerful mowers in the 18 to 24 horsepower range are suitable for yards of 3 acres or more.
Riding lawn mowers run the gamut from bare-bones models with efficient engines to feature-rich high-end models with enough horsepower to perform nearly all gardening tasks. Like automobiles, more powerful mowers tend to be more expensive and less efficient than their lighter counterparts.
Brushed vs. Brushless Motor
The difference between a brushed and brushless motor is how power is generated. Only found in electrical motors, the brush refers to a bundle of carbon wires used to transmit electrical energy that spins the riding mower’s driveshaft. Brushless motors rely on magnetic force rather than physical contact to drive the motor.
Brushless motors are quieter than brushed motors and sense the amount of energy required to continue operation, adjusting the power to appropriate levels. They require less maintenance because they have fewer mechanical parts subject to wear and tear.
Brushed motors are louder due to the metal continually making and breaking magnetic connections. They’re generally less desirable than brushless motors, but they’re usually less expensive.
Aside from the blades, the tires are the only part of the lawn mower that actually touches the ground. The right tires are critical for traction and safety.
- Lug tires are thick, sturdy tires designed for traction. Blocks of rubber separated by a channel create grip. They are handy on wet, slippery, or sloped surfaces and are most often found on lawn tractors. Lug tires are not ideal for pristine grass, as they damage the turf.
- Smooth tires help prevent damage or ruts to manicured lawns. They’re not well suited to mowing on hills or slopes due to lack of traction.
- Turf tires are the meeting place for lug and smooth types. These tires tend to be wider, allowing better distribution of the mower’s weight over the tire’s surface area. Turf tires provide a decent grip without chewing up the lawn as much as a lug tire and provide good traction on slopes and hills.
Tractors and lawn riding mowers weigh around 500 pounds on average, and the engine accounts for 18 to 25 percent of their total weight. More powerful mowers may tip the scale at up to 600 pounds, while lightweight electric models can weigh as few as 400 pounds.
Electric mowers are the lightest type of mower. The lack of a heavy internal combustion engine significantly reduces weight.
Zero-turn mowers are the heaviest type of riding mower. A light zero-turn mower may weigh up to 650 pounds. Heavier models can weigh up to 1,000 pounds. While heavier mowers are more powerful, they can sink in soft or swampy turf and often have reduced fuel efficiency.
Safety is paramount when operating mechanical equipment. Whirring blades, gasoline engines, and hundreds of pounds in weight can add up to a disaster for the unwary.
Consider the following safety tips when operating a lawn mower:
- Walk the yard before mowing to ensure it’s clear of debris that the blades may throw.
- Keep discharge chutes pointed away from people, pets, cars, and structures.
- Allow gasoline mowers to cool before refueling to avoid a fire.
- Do not run the mower in a garage or other poorly ventilated space.
- When mowing on an incline, keep the mower perpendicular to the direction of the slope. Mowing parallel to the hill increases the risk of a rollover accident.
- Disconnect the spark plug before doing maintenance to prevent an accidental start-up when working on the machine.
- Do not allow additional riders on the mower.
Many riding mowers incorporate a dead man’s switch: A sensor detects the driver’s weight and kills the engine if the rider stands up or falls out of the seat, reducing the potential of a runaway mower.
There is a lot to consider when choosing the best riding lawn mower for hills. For a quick reference to your most pressing queries, check out this frequently asked questions section to get more information.
Q. Are zero-turn mowers good on hills?
Yes, zero-turn mowers are good on hills up to slopes of around 15 degrees. Beyond 15 degrees, traction can become an issue for these mowers, causing them to slip and slide down a hill, so it’s important to use them within their capabilities. Some manufacturers suggest only mowing downhill in a zero-turn.
Q. How do you mow a steep hill with a riding lawn mower?
Always mow up and down the slope in straight lines. Mowing parallel or executing turns on the slope increases the risk of a rollover accident. This bucks the traditional advice of mowing side-to-side with a pushmower, which is always the safest method for hill-mowing.
Q. How do you mow a ditch with a riding lawn mower?
Keep the mower in low gear to reduce the possibility of running down the slope. Mow in an up-and-down pattern rather than along the length of the ditch. Excessively steep ditches should not be mowed with a rider. In these cases, it may be better to use a string trimmer to cut the grass or opt for a push mower for larger ditches.
Q. What is the steepest slope you can mow?
A 20-degree slope—no more than that on most riding lawn mowers. That number should be reduced to 15 degrees for most zero-turn mowers as they are more prone to tipping over backward on steep hills. However, following the manufacturer’s instructions should take precedence here, as they test their machines for safe usage and may be liable if something happens within the range they state is safe.
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