Hiking Acadia’s Precipice Trail: Step by Step guide

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The Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park in Maine is one of the most exciting hikes I’ve ever done! This popular and challenging trail is known for its steep and rocky terrain, vertical climbs, and drop-offs- which is why it is so exciting! Despite its difficulty, Precipice Trail offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape, including Frenchman Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

This short hike is really fun, but because of its steep inclines and challenging terrain, it is a strenuous one and should only be attempted by adults who enjoy a challenging hike. Before attempting this hike, there are a few things you should know.

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What to Know about the Precipice Trail

How long is the Precipice Trail?

This hike is 3.2 miles roundtrip. For an average pace, this hike takes 2 to 3 hours.

To avoid two-way traffic, it is recommended to hike this trail as a loop and only hike up the Precipice Trail, to avoid going down the risky sections. It is very challenging and even more dangerous when hikers try to pass one another, going in opposite directions along the narrow and steep trail.

When is the best time to hike Precipice Trail:

You should only hike this trail in dry weather as the rocks and metal railings become dangerously slick with rain. It is best to hike it in the morning to avoid the crowds and direct sun.

The Precipice Trail is typically open from mid-May to early August. During the nesting season of peregrine falcons, the trail is often closed to protect the birds.

Where do I park for the Precipice Trail

There is a trailhead parking lot along Park Loop Road that can accommodate up to 20 cars. The lot fills up early, so it is best to get an early start. I started the hike at 7:30 a.m. and took one of the last spots during my visit in September.

What to bring on the hike

Wear good hiking shoes with good grip as you climb up and over boulders and on metal ladders. Bring water, a snack, sun protection, and, of course, a camera to capture some fantastic views! If hiking in cold weather, you may want to bring gloves with a good grip to hang onto the metal handrails easily.

I also always recommend an offline map. I love All Trails. Their offline GPS makes staying on the trail so easy and offers alternate routes if you are up for more hiking.

Experience level

Again, this trail is dangerous and is not for anyone afraid of heights or unable to climb vertically up a ladder or keep their balance. In some sections, there are exposed areas with only a handrail to one side and a cliff to the other. You need to be strong enough to pull yourself up to complete some of the climbing sections.

I don’t want to scare you out of doing it, but it is important to know what to expect before starting the hike.

The good thing is if you are a little afraid of heights or not in the best shape to be scaling cliffs, you can get to the same summit along a different trail (from the same trailhead) that involves rock steps but no serious vertical climbs. It is still an incline hike but a lot less demanding and intimidating.

Step-by-Step Guide to Hiking Precipice Trail 

Start along Park Loop Road at the Precipice parking lot and head towards the blue markers. The uphill adventure starts right away.

The first section isn’t as intense as the end section, but I almost lost my footing in the beginning on the first metal ladder-mainly because of my 30 lb camera backpack. So be careful!

The trail starts with boulder climbing and takes you under a small rock cave.

About 0.5 miles in, you’ll come to your first fork. Go left along the Precipice Trail to the Mt. Champlain Summit for the exciting, scary, and possibly risky part of the trail. 

If you are afraid of heights or can’t climb a vertical ladder, stay right along the Orange and Black Trail at the first fork. At the next fork (as in the photos above), take the rock stairs up to the left along the Champlain North Ridge trail.

Some easy boulder scrambling to the summit is involved, but there are no vertical climbs, dangerous drops, or rock-side ladders to scale along this route.

Alternatively, there is yet another way to get to the summit that skips the boulder climb in the very beginning; I will talk more about this route at the end of this post.

If you are taking the challenging route, the next half mile is the most challenging. At this point, it is important that you really commit to the trail, as turning around is not a good option.

Continue to follow the blue-marked path along the cliffs, up the ladders, and over boulders.

Make sure to stop and enjoy the views along the way! If you get tired, stop and rest. It’s a vertical climb with 1,000 feet of elevation gain, so taking breaks is completely normal. Don’t feel rushed on this part of the trail. If there are hikers behind you, let them pass-don’t rush up the metal ladders or across the boulders or along the narrow cliff walkways.

Once you reach the top, celebrate your accomplishment and take in some more stunning views. You will be able to see Egg Lighthouse and the Schoodic Peninsula, another beautiful area of Acadia National Park to explore.

How to Descend

The shortest and easiest way down is to follow the North Ridge Trail to the Orange and Black Path to Park Loop Road, back to the parking lot.

You’ll walk about 15 minutes along Park Loop Road to return to the parking lot.

Some people choose to continue on the Orange and Black Path to the first part of the Precipice Trail but as I said earlier, the trail gets busy, it is narrow, and going down the trail is highly discouraged. For everyone’s safety (and enjoyment) take the short trail back to Park Loop Road to the parking lot bypassing the Precipice Trail altogether.

If you want to get to the summit and don’t want to climb over boulders, walk to the Orange and Black Trail from the Park Loop Road along the paved road. The entrance to the trail is marked by a wooden piling, as in the photo above. It is on the same side of the road as the parking lot. After a 5-minute (or less) walk on this trail, you will see the stone steps on your right with another wooden piling marking the Champlain North Ridge trail; take this trail along the stone steps to the summit. You will descend the same way you went up, making this an out-and-back hike.

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Congratulations, you finished the hike! I hope it was as thrilling for you as it was for me. This is a spectacular trail to do in the fall, but the views are still beautiful all year long!

The Precipice Trail offers a thrilling and rewarding experience for experienced hikers, but it may not be suitable for beginners or those with a fear of heights. If you’re considering hiking this trail, plan accordingly, exercise caution, and follow all safety guidelines to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience.

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