Article Overview: Hiking the Precipice Trail in Acadia
Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park feels more like an extreme adult version of Chutes & Ladders. In less than a mile, you climb the height of the Eiffel Tower while walking on the edge of sheer cliffs. Behind you, a screensaver of Frenchman’s Bay displays along the coastline of Mount Desert Island.
Precipice: (noun) prec·i·pice: A very steep rock face or cliff, especially a tall one.
Precipice Trail ranks as the hardest hike in Acadia National Park and sits with the behemoth hikes of Half Dome in Yosemite and Angels Landing of Zion as the most formidable in the park system. Half Dome has cables. Angels Landing has chains. Precipice Trail has ladders. You don’t harness in or clip on, so not quite a via ferrata setup.
Louder for the people in the back–this trail doesn’t work with harnesses, ropes, or climbing gear.
Another thing that stands out about Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park is the length. At just 2-3 miles roundtrip, it doesn’t seem as daunting as the other steep trails. Don’t let that fool you.
Hiking the Precipice Trail in Acadia
Table of Contents: Hiking the Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park
Table of Contents: Hiking the Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park
- Hiking the Precipice Trail in Acadia
- Things to Know Before You Visit Acadia National Park
- Where to Stay in Acadia National Park
- Best Time to Hike the Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park
- FAQ: Hiking the Precipice Trail
- Precipice Trail Map
- Preparing for the Precipice Trail
- Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park: Step-By-Step
- How to Get Down from Precipice Trail
- What Makes the Precipice Trail So Special
Things to Know Before You Visit Acadia National Park
$35 per vehicle OR if you plan to visit more National Parks within the next 12 months, I suggest you go ahead and purchase the America the Beautiful Pass (which can be found at the entrance gates to most national parks). This pass gets you into all National Parks, Forests, Monuments, and more, including 2,000 sites for free after a one-time $80 fee. If you’re taking the Island Explorer free bus system, you’ll pay $20 per person for a park pass.
Use it. Lots of it. Especially this one, which I never leave the house without because it plays nice with our dear friend, Earth 🙂
The Best Guide Book for Acadia National Park is this one, which we’ve marked up and highlighted quite a bit.
The Best Map: I like this map best for Acadia National Park.
National Parks Checklist Map: This beautiful National Parks Checklist Map can be ordered to your house.
Framed National Parks Map: We’re a sucker for maps; this framed national parks map is the best.
Where to Stay in Acadia National Park
Where to Stay: This is our favorite hotel in/around Acadia National Park.
Best Time to Hike the Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park
To begin with, you need to know that, more often than not, the Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park is closed or not safe to climb. Before I go up a mountain, I go down several rabbit holes to get information about my destination.
I want to know more than safety steps. I want to know the type of rocks, animals on the way, and weather patterns. A few historic notes will keep me entertained as I explore the trail.
That type of research prevents you from the single biggest mistake hikers make on this trail. The window of opportunity is short and fleeting.
- You should not take this trail when it’s snowy, icy, or wet. There are many other winter options at Acadia National Park.
- The rainiest month in Acadia National Park is November. The snowy season runs from late October through late April.
- The trails close during Peregrine Falcon nesting season. That starts March 1 and can go into August.
That means the best month to attempt the Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park is September and October. As a bonus, it also coincides with amazing Maine fall foliage.
Why Peregrine Falcons Close the Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park
Peregrine Falcons might be the fastest animal on the planet, but their nesting season isn’t as speedy. As part of the Acadia National Park’s support of the Endangered Species Act, the falcons are monitored by park staff when they start nesting in the spring.
Reintroducing the falcon to Acadia has been a laborious process, but since 1991, at least one pair of birds have been successful at breeding. Peregrine falcons mate for life and usually return to the same nest. One of those nesting locations is on the cliffs of the Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park.
Keeping hikers off the trail helps prevent humans from disrupting the nests.
Peregrine Falcon Facts
- It can fly up to 242 miles per hour.
- Nicknamed “Big-Footed Falcon” for its large feet.
- Were once endangered due to pesticides.
- The cone on the falcons’ noses helps protect them from high-speed air pressure. The same design is used in supersonic jet engines.
- Falcon fledglings are fed by parents for 40 days.
- While they love the cliffs of Acadia, they can also adapt to nesting at highrise buildings of cities.
If you visit during a time the Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park is closed, try the challenging Beehive Trail of Acadia National Park.
Even during nesting season, you can stop by the Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park parking lot, and park rangers host “Falcon Watch” each year which will help you spot the falcons and tell you what stage of the nesting season is underway. The trail could open sooner if the falcons don’t produce eggs in any given year.
FAQ: Hiking the Precipice Trail
Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park intimidates as the most dangerous trail in the Acadia National Park, but also rewards physically fit hikers who know all the safety guidance. You will ascend 1,000 feet in less than a mile through a series of rock scrambles, cliff ledge walks, and ladder climbs.
The Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park is 0.9 miles, all vertical. The trail must be done on a loop, as it’s too dangerous to descend Precipice. The total length is 3.2 miles if you take the North Ridge Trail of Champlain Mountain to descend.
The two toughest hikes of Acadia National Park are Precipice and the Beehive, but Precipice is longer and higher. The Beehive (below) still gives the experience of ladders and rungs along the way. One unique trait of the Beehive is there are parts where gaps in the rock required the addition of short iron bridges or wooden steps.
Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park: There’s No Going Back
While Precipice Trail offers one of the best hikes in Acadia National Park to test your limits, it’s not like Half Dome or Angels Landing, where you can simply stop and retreat if the trail becomes too much for you. As Acadia Rangers tell me, “Descending the Precipice is dangerous and not advised.”
My fear of heights rumbles with every new ascent, but I’ve learned that going down fosters fear more than going up. Precipice Trail doesn’t have an “Oh s***!” point on it where you can easily retreat on the most challenging parts.
Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park should not be attempted by children, those who get vertigo easily, or pets. In fact, the park bans pets on this trail. Additionally, there isn’t an imaginable scenario I would consider bringing my dogs on this trail anyway.
Precipice Trail Map
Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park sits just four miles from downtown Bar Harbor. The trailhead has its own parking lot before the Sand Beach Park Entrance. Do not miss the turnout for the parking area since Park Loop Road is a one-way street. You will have to complete the 27-mile loop to get back to his parking area.
About 20 parking spots are available there; understandably, the lot fills up quickly. A sunrise summit is ideal to avoid crowds and snatch one of those spots.
TRAVEL TIP: Look closely at the maps of Acadia National Park. Many roads that appear to connect actually don’t. For example, Park Loop Road runs under Route 3 as it crisscrosses the park.
About four million people visit Acadia National Park each year, and the popularity of the “shoulder season” (aka autumn) is growing. If you do this hike midday, you’ll likely have to wait for climbers ahead of you occasionally.
Preparing for the Precipice Trail
There are three things you can do to make this difficult climb of Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park one of the most rewarding.
Bring what you need, and put everything in a backpack. You will need your hands available for most of the 1,000 feet of this climb. You don’t want a water bottle dangling off your wrist or a camera in one hand.
Since you’ll be climbing rocks, scrambling, and climbing ladders, you need shoes with excellent grip.
Check the Weather Forecast
That means today’s forecast and the previous couple of days. You need to know if there is any moisture on the Precipice Trail of Acadia National Park or if ice and/or snow will be present.
In February 2021, a Maine hiker was stuck after hitting an icy patch on the trail. He had to cling to a tree on a sheer cliff face and call to be rescued. This is exactly the kind of weather conditions you want to avoid.
The Precipice Trail of Acadia National Park requires equal amounts of upper body and lower body strength. You should be able to do pull-ups, vertical climbs, and pace yourself. Mental strength is also needed since you have nowhere to go but up. Work on meditation and being present to overcome potential panic.
Never rush to make a climb just because a line of people might be waiting behind you. Go at your own comfortable pace.
Items Needed for Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park
Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park: Step-By-Step
The sign at the trailhead offers great safety information but also a “Triple Dog Dare” of sorts as it reads, “Consider these alternative trails.”
You’ll face two points in the first quarter of a mile where you abort the mission before the most challenging part of the trail begins.
If there is a park ranger in this area, ask about weather conditions, trail challenges, and any other safety questions that are important to build your confidence on this trail.
There will be another sign that warns you, “Falls on this mountain have resulted in serious injury or death.”
The warning is true, but the reality is that the most recent death at Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park was in 2012. Before that, there hadn’t been a fatality on this trail for 27 years.
“The Eliminator” of Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park
You’ll reach the area known as “The Eliminator” around 530 feet (0.1 miles) into the hike of Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park. This short climb using rungs tests your climbing skills. It’s called “The Eliminator” because if someone struggles with this point, they should consider turning around.
HEADS UP: As a 6′ tall person, I was able to grip the rungs easily, but some of my shorter hiking friends had trouble grabbing two rungs at once.
You’ll scramble up a boulder field, always looking for those blue blazes to make sure you’re leaving the trail. Some of the boulders you’ll climb over, others you’ll have to bend down and crawl through. You’ll be thrilled to come across a few stone stairways that take the burden off of your arms.
Then comes the first cliff walk of the Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park after you cross a short wooden bridge. Here you get a taste of the walking rollercoaster design of the cliff’s edge.
The Last Chance to Escape
I’d be lying if I didn’t look longingly at the Orange & Black Trail sign that takes you safely back to Park Loop Road. Conveniently, I already scrambled, used ladders, and walked the edge of a cliff. This will be your absolute last chance to bail if you struggled with the first 0.2 miles of this trail.
Summiting Champlain Mountain
I felt the spirit of Samuel de Champlain pushing me upward and taking the hairpin turn on the Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park.
Here are a few things to know about the runs and metal bars along the way.
- Like guardrails on roads, metal rungs are placed sporadically along the cliff drops.
- In some places, the guardrails are at waist level. In other spots, they look more like giant staples that barely rise above ankle height.
- More metal rungs are drilled into the rock wall, providing balance and support as you navigate the cliff edge.
- The ladder runs aren’t always even or orderly. They can be haphazardly placed on rocks, but it’s well thought out for the tough spots where you might need a boost.
Spots along the cliff’s edge can be narrow with the pathway slanting down, and in some places, you’ll take a blind walk around the rock. This can be one of the congestion spots where you wait for the next person to pass.
The rungs on the side of the mountain literally save lives when the rock face leans toward you. I thanked my yoga instructor for all those Half Moon Bikram yoga moves I’ve done for spine flexibility.
Honestly, I can’t imagine how the Precipice Trail of Acadia National Park would work if it were “out and back.” The comfort of knowing that this was as one-way of a hike as Park Loop Road provided someone solace.
The Views from Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park
While you’re climbing Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park, you’ll have Frenchman’s Bay sprawled out in front of you, with views of the MDI shoreline, Schoodic Peninsula across the water, and islands dotting the landscape.
You’ll get a view that might make you understand why Samuel de Champlain named this land Mount Desert Island.
The top of Champlain Mountain stretches over a wide berth of flat rocks where you can rest and refuel. You’ll be at 1,508 feet above sea level. However, you’ll feel on top of the world after finishing the Precipice Trail of Acadia National Park.
Several other trails connect to this summit.
How to Get Down from Precipice Trail
Take your time at the summit because you still have to get down the mountain. The Precipice exodus is ranked as moderate, with steep trails across more rocks and a few nail-biting cliffs. On the contrary, it’s nothing like what you experience on the Precipice Trail.
You’ll take the North Ridge Trail of Champlain Mountain for 0.6 miles until you reach the Orange & Black Path, which returns to Park Loop Road in .25 miles.
From there, finish the easy half-mile walk on Park Loop Road.
What Makes the Precipice Trail So Special
Overall, the beauty of Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park gets heightened by its ephemeral nature. Trying to find the sweet spot when the trail is open but the weather is willing to let you climb the mountain majesty makes it a hike for the ages. If you can handle the heights, I can’t say enough about how amazing this trail is.
Finally, whether you love the adrenaline rush of heights or want to take in Maine from a vantage point usually reserved for falcons, this trail will satisfy your thirst for adventure.
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Helpful Related Links
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