The Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park takes you on a journey along the glorious stretch of coast in what is known as Down East Maine.
The hiking in Acadia is varied: There are summit hikes, coastal hikes, forests, and lakes. Perhaps the most challenging and steep (though a short 0.9 mile to the top) is the Precipice Trail - a non-technical climb to the top of Champlain Mountain (at 1058 feet/328 meters).
If you're interested in taking on this popular Acadia hiking trail then have a look through our guide to find out everything you need to know about the Precipice Trail.
Precipice Trail Quick Facts
- Elevation: 1058 feet/328 meters
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Length: 2.8 miles (loop)
- Duration: 3-5 hours depending on preference and pace
- It is one of the scarier hikes in America and many trekkers underestimate the hight they have to reach
- Acadia Park is very popular and has very few fatalities on its trails
- The trail leads to the top of Champlain Mountain
- Not suitable for kids or people with fear of heights
Precipice Trail Hike
Your itinerary will depend on whether you book through a trek operator or organize your route by yourself, but here is the route we chose for our hike.
Start In The Morning: For Precipice climbing, you'll want to arrive at the parking area early, by 9 a.m. (earlier in the summer), as it often fills. The lot can be found off the one-direction Park Loop Road, on the right. A fun idea is to get up really early and enjoy the sunrise along the coast before heading to this trail.
Another advantage of hiking the Precipice in the morning is that, on sunny days, you'll be bathed in direct sunshine, warming yourself and the rock surfaces on commonly cool autumn mornings in Maine.
Beginning Of The Trail: The trail starts up some stone stairs, leading to rock slabs you will quickly traverse and soon a boulder-strewn field, heading upward, gaining altitude and opening vistas. A collection of large boulders gather together, forming a short tunnel that those with a larger frame will need to use modest contortionist manoeuvres to pass through.
To The Orange And Black Path: After 0.4 mile, you'll reach a sign at the intersection of the Orange and Black Path: 0.5 mile to the summit, turning left. In this section of the trail, you'll encounter most of the metal rungs and ladders available to assist you as you climb up the rock. Pause frequently to take in the ever-expanding views to the east across Frenchman Bay to the Schoodic Peninsula on the other side (also part of Acadia National Park).
To The Summit: The summit can be quite windy, so it's advisable to break earlier for a snack and to enjoy the view. There's a lovely shelf area approximately five minutes beneath the top, which is perfect.
Following The Champlain North Ridge Trail: To continue your short adventure, after enjoying the summit, you'll head north (right), following the Champlain North Ridge Trail. For a longer option, you can take the Champlain South Ridge Trail, which meets up with the Bee Hive and the Bowl trail, which you'll take to Sand Beach and hike around Great Head - or save this for another day's exploration.
Descending: The descent is gentle, frequently across broad slabs of rock, interspersed with short vegetation, resulting in unobstructed views to the north. A half mile after leaving the summit (~1.5 miles from the beginning of your hike), you'll reach a sign for the Orange and Black Path, where you'll turn right. At approximately 1.6 miles, your choice is 0.2 mile/0.3 km to the loop road (a left turn) or 0.5 mile/0.8 km to the Precipice Trail (a right).
The Trail Back To Precipice: The trail leading back to Precipice is unmaintained, difficult terrain (we took it the first time we climbed the Precipice, nearly a year before this visit, in October of 2017), but it's fun. You'll also need to do just a bit of climbing back down on the Precipice if you choose this option.
Left To The Stone Steps: This time, we turned left, to the loop road, which you'll meet at approx. 1.8 miles. Directly across the road, the trail continues, down some stone steps. This section of trail is not marked, but if you cross the road, it'll be easily apparent. The trail is beautiful and relatively flat.
Onto The Schooner Head Pat: At approximately 2 miles, you'll turn right onto the Schooner Head Path, south, which parallels a quiet road. The trail is flat and would be ideal for a run.
To The Wetlands: At approximately 2.2 miles, there's a mini trail to your right, which leads to the wetlands. The wetlands are fragile, so be gentle and stay on the trail, as always. This detour is short and well worth it to take in the grand vista and bird watch.
Murphy's Lane To The Precipice Trail: At ~2.5 miles, you'll turn right onto Murphy's Lane to the Precipice Trail. This short trail through gorgeous forest is 0.3 mile/0.5 km, and the changing leaves of autumn are magical.
Return To The Parking Lot: Cross the loop road to return to the parking lot, completing your adventure that began with a climb to excellent views and ended with forest perfection.
Precipice Trail Video
This Bazzle family’s video should give you a good idea of the vertical climb and incredible views that the Precipice Trail has to offer.
Precipice Trail Map and Guidebook
There are many free maps available. The Acadia park is semi-divided into three areas: Schoodic Peninsula, The Isle of Au Haut and the Mount Desert Island.
But if you need to prep your route in advance and have a trusty physical copy with you while you are on the trail, you could get Acadia National Park Waterproof Trail Map, Maine by Jill Keefe, which should be waterproof and very handy en-route.
Hiking Precipice Trail FAQ
When is the best time to hike Precipice trail?
The best time to hike Precipice Trail is September and October. The peak summer crowds are gone, though you'll still find a fair amount of visitors, especially in September. Restaurants (in particular, roadside lobster shacks) will start to close for the season by late September, but the weather is often ideal, and the fall leaves shining in the sun add to the perfection. The trail is usually closed from mid-March until mid-August, for nesting peregrine falcons.
How difficult is the Precipice Trail hike?
This Precipice trail hike should only be attempted if you have a reasonable level of fitness, no fear of heights, and are comfortable climbing metal rungs and scrambling. It's not suitable for young children (especially due to the many exposed sections), and it's not suitable for anyone when wet.
Do you need a permit to hike the Precipice Trail?
Although there is a fee to access some sections of Acadia National Park, a fee is not required to park at or climb the Precipice. However, the park service is always making changes, so look out for (new) signs informing you to display your park pass.
What gear should I take for the Precipice hike?
The most essential items to pack include a map or guidebook of the Precipice Trail in Acadia. Good hiking shoes are also a must. It's always a good idea to carrying extra layers of clothing including a rain jacket, and of course a comfy water pack and some protein-rich snacks.
Are there places to eat after the hike?
If you're ready for lunch - or dinner - after your hike, and you like seafood, there's none fresher than at Thurston's Lobster Pound, in Bernard, south of Southwest Harbor (which has the most options for dining on MDI after Bar Harbor). This place is delightful and casual, with ample outdoor seating. You'll order at the counter when you walk in, take a seat, and await your meal while enjoying the view of the bay and salty air.
Do I need a car to get to the Precipice trailhead?
The island has a transportation service called the Island Explorer. The service is made up of nine bus routes which link campgrounds, hotels, in-town-shops and inns with destinations in the park and nearby villages.
When does Acadia open and close?
The park is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year. However, certain sections and roads in the park are closed depending on the season.
What wildlife could I encounter on the Precipice trail?
Acadia is home to a variety of wildlife. You can expect to see Puffins, Peregrine Falcons and a variety of sea birds and song birds. The park is also home to otters, foxes, deer and the occasional moose and bear (but sightings are very rare). Whales and seals can sometimes be spotted from the parks coastline.
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