We’ve been to Acadia National Park a number of times, and hiking the Precipice Trail has been on our list of things to do for over ten years. It wasn’t until just recently that we were able to go during the right time of year (when the trail was open) and have our kids at the right age for this amazing (yet slightly scary!) adventure.
The Precipice Trail is a breathtaking hike up the face of Champlain Mountain, which is one of the tallest mountains in the park and tops out at 1,070 feet. While it’s technically called a “hike,” it’s really a combination of hiking and climbing up ladder rungs and steep rockfaces. This will certainly expose any fear of heights you may have and test your mental toughness!
If you are up for an adventure, are able-bodied and have the sheer will stare danger in the face, punch it in the nose and just keep climbing, then this hike is a must do!
Our extensive itinerary for Acadia National Park is a downloadable guide to help take the guesswork out of planning for your next trip to Acadia and Mount Desert Island. We cover the best hikes (in ranked order), provide valuable links to information that you need to know, let you know what to pack and what not to miss in this amazing place.
PARKING AND TRAILHEAD FOR THE PRECIPICE TRAIL
Precipice Trail Maps (courtesy of the National Park Service)
The trailhead for the Precipice Trail starts at the Precipice Parking area on Park Loop Road. The parking area is on the right (western) side of the road and is before arriving at the Sand Beach Parking area. If you happen to pass the parking area, you’ll be out of luck, as the Park Loop Road is only one-way at this point! Directions from Bar Harbor to the Precipice Trail Parking area can be found here-it will only take about 10 minutes (without traffic, that is).
The parking lot is only capable of handling about 23 cars. Since the trail takes about 2 hours round trip, this means that spots will only open up an average of once every 5 minutes or so. This will be longer if it’s in the morning, when many people have just begun their journey. In any case, arrive early if you want to ensure a spot.
Unfortunately, there are no restrooms at the trailhead or on the trail.
PRECIPICE TRAIL: TRAIL SURFACE AND ACCESSIBILITY
- Trail surface. This trail is one that you really need to be prepared for. On the way up it is a mix of packed dirt, boulders, steel ladders and small bridges with the occasional handrail. On the way down you will be hiking on granite mixed with a packed dirt trail. Because of this, you don’t want to hike this trail when it is wet or has rained recently. The rungs will be very slippery and the rocks will be dangerous.
- Accessibility. The trail is not wheelchair accessible or suitable for anyone not in really good hiking shape.
PREPARATION FOR HIKING THE PRECIPICE TRAIL
- Waterproof hiking map. We purchased the Acadia National Park waterproof map prior to our trip (it is also available in the visitor center). We strongly recommend doing this, as it covers the trail directions perfectly and gives you a good sense for what you are looking at when you are at viewpoints. It’s also waterproof!
- Hiking boots. Be sure to wear supportive hiking boots, as you don’t want to get injured on this trail and have to be rescued on the cliffside!
- Intestinal fortitude. On this hike you are going to have to bring your confidence, courage and absolute care! Honestly, if you can climb a ladder and are sure on your feet you will have no problem, but if you do happen to look down at points you may need to harness your inner confidence to keep going!
HIKING THE PRECIPICE TRAIL TO THE PEAK OF CHAMPLAIN MOUNTAIN
After leaving the parking lot, the trail enters the hardwood forest and starts heading up in elevation. Of course, very early on, the trail is plastered with warning signs about the dangers that await!
The first part of the trail is not overly steep, but after about a tenth of a mile, the trail gets to its first set of iron rungs. While this set of rungs is not overly tall, it actually takes a bit of muscle to navigate over it properly. It is good that this is the first test and allows you to see if you are up for the challenge of what’s ahead, but just without the risk of falling a long way down!
Our kids moved over it easily, with the exception of our youngest, who needed a small amount of help. Somehow, trails like this are able to bring our kids together and it always makes us smile.
Shortly after the first set of iron rungs, the trail enters a boulder field. The sheer rockface and boulders at the bottom are very typical of Acadia National Park. They are the result of glacial movement that ended up severing the granite walls, leaving cliffs with amazing rockpiles at their base.
These sheer cliffs are the perfect nesting site for peregrine falcons, who use it between March 15th and August 15th to raise their young. During this time, the trail is closed to hikers. Before you go, make sure you check to see if the Precipice Trail is open.
These boulder fields took a bit of work to get up. While not overly challenging, it was a good that we wore our hiking boots to help with grip. Also, it was a good thing that we weren’t hiking when it was damp out-this would have been really challenging if that was the case!
After the boulder field, the trail flattens out (and even drops in elevation slightly). After about 2 minutes of walking, the trail meets up with the Orange and Black Path. To head up the Precipice Trail, continue to the left (south). The Orange and Black Path will bring you to the top of Champlain Mountain via a much longer (1.5 miles vs. 0.4 miles) and less steep route.
After continuing on the Precipice Trail after the junction with the Orange and Black Trail, this is where the real work begins! Over the next 0.4 miles, the trail gains over 700 feet in elevation, and much of this gain is while climbing on ladders. You can totally see why the park strongly discourages anyone going in the counterclockwise direction-it would be challenging, but it also will disrupt the flow of traffic.
Views of Frenchman Bay and the Atlantic Ocean are plentiful, and it’s good to take a break occasionally and soak in the amazing views.
For the most part, our family did great hiking up the trail. There was one spot where Andrew, our youngest son, looked down and he definitely got a bit frightened and froze for a few seconds! The size of the bus tells you how high we were when the height sank in. He was able to get over it quickly and made it the rest of the way up without any issue.
About 0.1 mile from the peak, the trail flattens out. After heading through a few trees and up a few more rocks, you’ll find yourself at the peak of Champlain Mountain!
THE PEAK OF CHAMPLAIN MOUNTAIN
While up here, the views are absolutely amazing. We were able to sit on the rocks with only a few other people and take in the scenery. While this hike is not for the faint of heart, it wasn’t too physically demanding, and it went fairly quickly.
From the peak, there is a 360-degree panoramic view. The view of Frenchman’s Bay is fantastic, and it’s also possible to see all the way over to Schoodic Peninsula. We just loved sitting here and taking a break before moving down the mountain on a less intense trail.
HIKING BACK TO THE PRECIPICE TRAIL PARKING LOT
From the peak of Champlain Mountain, continue due north onto the Champlain North Ridge Trail. Be careful to not head to the west on the Beachcroft Path-we made this mistake when we started to head down but corrected it quickly by retracing our steps.
After heading off the peak, the trail enters back into the forest. After 0.7 miles, the trail comes to a junction. Heading to the right goes on the Orange and Black Trail and meets back up with the Precipice Trail after 0.4 miles. The other option is to head down the Orange and Black Trail toward the Park Loop Road. This is the option we chose, as it was getting dark and this is the faster way back.
After descending the rest of the way, we had a short 0.5-mile walk on the Park Loop Road back to the parking lot.
Our kids gave the hike “two thumbs up”…at least that is what I took them doing this to mean!
PRECIPICE TRAIL: TOP LIKES AND DISLIKES
- Breathtaking Views. If you can stand looking around while you are on the ladders, the views are really incredible. It’s rare that you get an immediate and direct sense of how much you’ve climbed up in elevation on most trails, and this one has it in spades.
- A Sense of Accomplishment. This trail is definitely case where “mind over matter” plays into it. When you get to the top you will feel like you really did something great!
- Loop Trail. Loop trails are great, and the fact that you get to go up ladders without having to go back down them is nice, as going down the ladders would be quite scary and cause some significant backups on the trail.
- Trail Access. Since the trail goes right near peregrine falcon nesting locations, you can only get on this hike during some parts of the year. That is unfortunate, but of course it makes the trail that much more special!
THINGS TO DO NEAR THE PRECIPICE TRAIL
It’s hard to pick something that is right near the trail, as there are a ton of options! If we had to pick other “must dos” in the area of the trail, here they are:
- It’s likely that if you are going to Acadia National Park that Sand Beach is already on your list of things to do. It’s a short drive from the Precipice Trail to the beach. Here you can find bathrooms and of course, the beautiful Sand Beach which is great for relaxing. If it’s low tide, consider taking the Great Head Trail as well, which is a relatively short hike with amazing views.
- A smaller-scale version of the Precipice Trail is the Beehive Trail. There are a few ladders still, but it is much easier, which is why this is one of the most popular trails in Acadia National Park.
FURTHER INFORMATION ON ACADIA NATIONAL PARK FROM JUST GO TRAVEL STUDIOS
- Make sure you check out our downloadable Acadia National Park itinerary, which contains a bunch of great information on Acadia National Park, including the best hikes to do, where to stay, what to pack and tips on other parts of the park.
- We have a great resource on What to See and Do in Acadia National Park-make sure you also review it before your trip. If you are just looking for an overview of hiking in Acadia National Park, be sure to read our article covering The Best Hikes in Acadia National Park.
- Other great hike reviews for Acadia that we’ve covered in detail include Hiking the Bubbles Trail and Hiking the Beehive Trail. This hike also made it to the list of the best hikes in U.S. National Parks with Breathtaking Views.
- After your trip, contact us and we’ll work with you to create a vintage-style travel poster from a photos you send to us. This really makes the perfect travel memory!
OTHER USEFUL INFORMATION ON ACADIA NATIONAL PARK
- Carlene (from “healthfullyeverafter.co”) has a terrific resource on the 10 Must Do’s in Bar Harbor Maine. While we have a good amount of information on Acadia, her resource will give you ideas on what to do when you’re not in the mood for climbing on ladder rungs!
- When in Maine you have to have lobster, and Jennifer (from “SoloTravelgirl.com”) has one of the best guides we’ve seen on Where to Get Lobster in Bar Harbor, Maine.