Acadia National Park, Maine
The Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park is certainly not for the fainthearted. A death defying 1000 foot (300 metre) climb along an exposed rock face to the summit of Clamplain Mountain delivers stunning views across the rugged coastline of Maine
Precipice Trail – One for the Adrenaline Junkie possessing a Good Head for Heights
As someone with an undeniable fear of heights, I had to cross a mental threshold to successfully complete the Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park, Maine. To this day, it’s the most terrifying short hike I’ve ever done—a lot scarier, in my opinion, than Zion’s famous Angels Landing, which is often included in lists featuring “the world’s most dangerous hikes”.
If you’re not afraid of heights or you can overcome your fear, however, it’s a spectacular and exceptionally memorable hike. It’s one of Acadia National Park’s most well-known trails for good reason. It’s without question a physical (and mental) challenge, but the views are sensational.
As its name indicates, the Precipice Trail ascends a sheer granite cliff. From the trailhead, which is about a mile to the north of Sand Beach along the beautiful Park Loop Road, the trail zigzags its way to the top of Champlain Mountain.
This mountain is one of the highest summits in Acadia National Park, consisting of a gently sloping west side and a super-steep east side. This ocean-facing east side is where the Precipice Trail is located.
Hiking the Precipice Trail, Acadia National Park
Basically, this trail is as steep as a hiking trail gets without becoming a type of rock climbing or mountaineering. In just 0.9 miles, you’ll climb no fewer than 1,000 feet (300 metres approx.). It’s not really that steepness that makes the Precipice Trail so imposing, though. It’s the fact that it runs along an exposed cliffside with long drop-offs and little protection.
The hike starts off immediately with a section of bouldering across an area filled with giant rocks. After that, you’ll face the impressive Precipice cliff, where steps cut out into the granite, iron rungs, ropes, wooden bridges and ladders will help you reach the top.
Not a Fan of Heights? Now is not the time to look down!
You will need to use those aids to safely make it to the top of the cliff. Some stretches are so steep and so exposed that looking down is not recommended—trust me.
Along most of the way up, stunning views of the Mount Desert Narrows and Frenchman Bay accompany you, taking your mind somewhat off the risks of hiking this trail. Once you’ve reached the rim of the Precipice cliff, it’s only a short walk to the actual summit of Champlain Mountain.
Because of how steep it is, the only direction to hike the Precipice Trail is up. Hiking down is strongly discouraged. Additionally, since you’ll be hiking on relatively smooth granite, this trail is best avoided in winter and during wet conditions.
Precipitation makes the trail slick and slippery. It’s also not suitable for small children, the elderly and people who have no desire to overcome their fear of heights! It would also be a smart idea to hike with a partner or in a group.
I did hike this trail, though, even despite my acrophobia, and I have to say that it’s one of my most memorable hikes. I loved pushing my mental limits and being rewarding by both the satisfaction of finishing this trail as well as the simply stunning panoramic views.
Because going back the same way is not advised, you should make your way down via the Champlain North Ridge Trail. Turn right when you arrive at the intersection with the Orange and Black Path, which leads to the Park Loop Road. Walk back south along this road until you arrive at your car again.
The Precipice cliff happens to be an ideal nesting area for peregrine falcons. To protect this vulnerable birds and allow them to raise their young undisturbed, the Precipice Trail is typically closed from mid-March to mid-August. You can check the National Park Service website for current conditions and trail closures.
During this closing period, you might find a park ranger at the trailhead or parking area offering information about these fascinating birds of prey. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to watch them through a telescope.
Acadia National Park Precipice Trail FAQs
Below, I answer some of the most frequently asked questions about the Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park.
How Long Is the Precipice Trail?
The Precipice Trail itself is only 0.9 miles long. However, the trail only leads from the Park Loop Road to the summit of Champlain Mountain. To get back to your starting point, you have to make a loop via the Champlain North Ridge Loop and Orange and Black Path. The total distance of that loop hike is 3.2 miles.
How Long Does It Take to Hike Precipice Trail?
The Precipice Trail may not be especially long, but it’s extremely challenging. Because of its steepness, it’s very slow hiking. You should count on at least 1.5 hours to make it to the top—at the very minimum. Some people need up to 2.5 hours for the climb.
The Precipice Trail – Champlain North Ridge Trail – Orange and Black Path loop takes between 3 and 4 hours. The total duration depends on your physical fitness and how many breaks you take along the way.
How Difficult is Precipice Trail?
That’s an easy answer: very difficult. Again, it’s not a particularly long trail, but it’s super-steep. Climbing 1,000 feet (300 metres) in less than a mile, it demands both physical fitness and mental strength. It poses a serious challenge to people who are scared of heights and is not suitable for elderly people, children and people with heart conditions.
How Dangerous Is the Precipice Trail?
The Precipice Trail is quite dangerous. In fact, it’s the most treacherous trail in Acadia National Park. Fatalities are rare, but injuries are not uncommon. This is, after all, a very exposed, tricky and steep trail. It’s a non-technical climb, but a slip or fall can prove to be deadly or at least result in some serious physical harm.
Therefore, as I mentioned above, hiking the Precipice Trail is strongly discouraged during wet conditions and in winter, when ice and snow may be present. Don’t rush things and take your time negotiating steep and/or exposed sections. Always use the iron rungs, ropes, ladders or railings wherever they’re present. They’re there for a reason.
Where Is the Trailhead?
The Precipice Trailhead is along the Park Loop Road south of the town of Bar Harbor and just north of Sand Beach. Note that, in summer, parking is limited from mid-morning well into the afternoon. This is a very popular trail. As an alternative to driving yourself, you might consider taking the free Island Explorer Shuttle Bus.
Is the Precipice Trail Always Open?
No, because the Precipice cliff is a nesting area for peregrine falcons, the trail is usually closed to everyone from mid-March to mid-August. The closure periods may vary depending on how early and how long these beautiful birds are present.
Are Dogs Permitted?
Acadia National Park is one of the most dog-friendly national parks in America, with 100 miles of trails where dogs are allowed (on a leash). The Precipice Trail, however, is not part of that. No pets are allowed on this trail, which is understandable considering its difficulty. Regardless, many dogs would not be able to make it to the top.
Where Can I Find a Precipice Trail Map?
As in all national parks, you can find all the information you could possibly desire at the park’s visitor centre. This includes a detailed map and park newspaper with up-to-date trail conditions and possible closures. For some more information before you head to the park, including a map of the Precipice Trail, I suggest taking a look around this website.
Is There a Fee?
Yes. The Precipice Trail is on the Park Loop Road, which is essentially the only drivable road around Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island. To enter this road and, as such, the park, you have to pay for a pass. You can find current entrance fees on the National Park Service website.
Precipice Trail Video
You can get a good impression of what to expect from a Precipice Trail hike in the video at the bottom of the Acadia National Park website’s trails page.
This is another great video that really helps show the Precipice Trail in all its glory! Watch it now…
Discover What Others Are Saying About the Trail
Want to know what your fellow hikers think of the Precipice Trail before you head off to Acadia National Park? Check out the Tripadvisor page right here.