Alpha Guide: Hiking Acadia's Precipice Trail

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Challenging and exposed with views for days, Acadia National Park’s Precipice Trail is mile-for-mile one of the best hikes in New England.

If there’s one trail in Acadia National Park you’ve heard about, it’s likely the Precipice Trail. It’s as “Acadian” an experience as viewing the sunrise from the summit of Cadillac Mountain, getting popovers at the Jordan Pond House, or consuming an unreasonable quantity of lobster rolls. At only 0.9 miles long it’s a short trail, but its renown—or notoriety, or even infamy—is about three things: the challenge, the exposure, and the views.

The challenge is clear: in those 0.9 miles, the Precipice Trail gains over 1,000 feet in elevation. As for exposure, the upper reaches of the trail ascend an open, airy, nearly-vertical cliff face. And, finally, for the views Champlain Mountain’s bare east face affords hikers a sweeping view of Frenchman Bay, Schoodic Peninsula, and the Atlantic Ocean. It’s also a ladder trail, using a strategically-placed—and extremely fun—combination of iron rungs, railings, and ladders to aid hikers to the top, making it a challenge for even the most experienced hikers.

Quick Facts

Distance: 2.5 miles, loop
Time to Complete: Half day for most.
Difficulty: ★★★★
Scenery:★★★★★


Season: Mid-August through mid-October
Fees/Permits: $30/vehicle park entry
Contact: https://www.nps.gov/acad/

Download file: Precipice_Trail.gpx

Turn-By-Turn

From Bangor, head east on I-395. Take exit 6A for US-1A, following the signs for Ellsworth, Bar Harbor. After 24 miles, continue straight onto ME-3 east. Keep on ME-3 for another 18.5 miles. From here, continue straight into Kebo Street until you reach the Park Loop Road in another mile. Turn left onto the Park Loop Road—the Precipice Trailhead’s parking area (44.34949, -68.18811) will be on your right in 2.7 miles.

Iron rungs mark the route on the upper reaches of the Precipice Trail. | Credit: John Lepak
Iron rungs mark the route on the upper reaches of the Precipice Trail. | Credit: John Lepak

Precipice Trail

The Precipice Trail wastes no time getting down to business. Begin following the blue blazes up a concrete staircase and a moderately steep stone slab to an unmissable collection of NPS signage right on the trail. They’re warning would-be hikers of the challenge that awaits them, and they’re not kidding—the Precipice Trail is steep, exposed and absolutely not for folks who can’t handle heights or who aren’t prepared for a workout. Don’t let the short mileage fool you, this hike will get your blood pumping.

At 0.1 miles, the Precipice Trail presents its first iron aids: two rungs, mounted directly into the rock, on opposite sides of a left-facing corner. The rock is about six feet tall, and flat atop, with a third piece of iron—a handrail—just within reach. This is one of the more awkward moves on the trail, and its position a tenth of a mile in can’t be a coincidence—this is a test. A taste of what’s to come, and a final opportunity for hikers to reassess their decision. Take your time, trust your feet, and pull yourself up—it’ll be worth it later.

From here, the route comes out of the shade and enters a boulder field. Continue heading up, following the blue blazes and negotiating the boulders all along the way. At one point in this section, the trail actually ducks under two huge boulders before continuing on up over a wood bridge and some stone steps before it’s junction with the Orange and Black Path at 0.4 miles (44.35151, -68.18972).

Here’s where the Precipice Trail really kicks into high gear. The route follows an obvious system of cracks, corners, and ledges up a nearly vertical face—made passable by the placement of several iron rungs, railings, and ladders. Continue southeast, using the rungs and railings to take on short (but tricky) scrambles. As you get higher, these sections become more frequent until at mile 0.6 they blend together into one long mountainside jungle gym.

The going will likely be slow—this is a popular hike and it can be difficult (if not impossible) to pass slower parties. Take in the view, catch your breath, and enjoy it.

Eventually, the mountain will run out of curveballs to throw at you and at 0.8 miles, the trail levels out and opens up with panoramic easterly views. Keep following the blue blazes to one final ladder–scramble combo and gain the summit of Champlain Mountain at mile 0.9 (44.35083, -68.19401).

A view of Frenchman Bay and the Porcupine Islands while descending Champlain’s North Ridge. | Credit: John Lepak
A view of Frenchman Bay and the Porcupine Islands while descending Champlain’s North Ridge. | Credit: John Lepak

Champlain North Ridge Trail

In addition to marking the high point of the mountain, Champlain’s summit marker also marks the confluence of four trails: the Precipice Trail to the east, the Champlain South Ridge Trail to the south, the Beachcroft Path to the northwest, and the Champlain North Ridge Trail to the north. Each trail terminates at a different trailhead on opposite sides of the mountain, so find the Champlain North Ridge Trail and proceed carefully.

Descending this trail is incredibly pleasant: wide open views, massive granite slabs, and the occasional stand of pitch pines—a characteristically Acadian summit scene. Bar Harbor, Frenchman Bay, and the Porcupine Islands set the scene as you follow the cairns down, and the trees close in again. After the Precipice Trail, the Champlain North Ridge is downright leisurely. Enjoy it while it lasts—at 1.5 miles, when the trail meets up with the Orange and Black Path (44.35779, -68.19184), the work resumes.

Narrow stone steps and some scrambling are a reminder that you’re not out of the woods yet on the Orange and Black Path. | Credit: John Lepak
Narrow stone steps and some scrambling are a reminder that you’re not out of the woods yet on the Orange and Black Path. | Credit: John Lepak

Orange and Black Path

From its junction with the Champlain North Ridge Trail, the Orange and Black Path reverses course and heads south along Champlain’s steep eastern slopes. Though not as aesthetic as the Precipice Trail, the Orange and Black Path also packs a lot of value into a short distance, with plenty of elevation left to gain.

At 1.7 miles (44.35662, -68.19098) the trail splits: to the left (east), it descends to the Park Loop Road; to the right, it continues south, around the mountain, to its junction with the Precipice Trail. Should you not feel up to taking the first half of the Precipice Trail back down, here’s your bailout point. Head left for 0.1 miles to the Park Loop Road, turn right, and walk 0.6 miles back to the Precipice Trail parking area.

Proceeding to the right, though a bit more of a challenge, will avoid the roadwalk and will take you down a lovely bit of trail, replete with tricky scrambles and cool stone staircases, some cut into the rock, just wide enough to squeeze through. There’s what feels like a whole lot of up and down, but you’re essentially following a contour line back to the Precipice Trail, which you’ll hit at 2.1 miles.

The boulder field marks the beginning (and the end) of the Precipice Trail’s more challenging terrain. | Credit: John Lepak
The boulder field marks the beginning (and the end) of the Precipice Trail’s more challenging terrain. | Credit: John Lepak

Precipice Trail (Reprise)

Head left from the trail junction and retrace your steps back to the parking area. The terrain is familiar, but you’ll be hiking against the tide, so be prepared to wait for uphill traffic where the trail bottlenecks. Take the time to enjoy the views and catch your breath because, at 2.5 miles, it’s over before you know it and you’re back in the parking area.


Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

The Kit

  • The Precipice Trail is not officially listed as a hiking trail, but rather as a “non-technical climbing route,” and while trail runners or hiking boots will do the trick, a good pair of approach shoes, like the Scarpa Crux (men/women) will have you stepping with confidence on iron rung and granite slab alike.
  • This hike is a bit like a European via ferrata route and, like a via ferrata, it’s not a bad idea to use a pair of gloves. Try the Petzl Cordex Belay Gloves—they’re comfortable, dextrous, and will keep your hands from getting shredded.
  • At 2.5 miles, this isn’t the longest hike, but it is on an easterly face and can get hot on a sunny day. Make sure you have water—if it comes in the form of a hands-free hydration pack like the Salomon Agile 6 Set Hydration Pack, even better.
  • There are narrow ledges and scrambles on this trail where social distancing is simply not possible, so bring a face covering, like the Buff Original Neck Gaiter, the EMS Heritage Bandana, or the Hanes Face Mask.
  • Acadia has miles and miles of trails, and even though the Precipice is a shorty, getting lost is still possible and would be a real bummer. Bring the National Geographic Acadia National Park Map and make sure you’re going where you want to be going.

Credit: John Lepak
Credit: John Lepak

Keys to the Trip

  • The National Park Service regularly closes the Precipice Trail to protect resident peregrine falcons, a Maine endangered species, during their mating and nesting seasons. This typically lasts from March to mid-August and the fines—and incredibly bad karma—for violating the closure are steep. Be sure to check the NPS website for up-to-date information.
  • Acadia is regularly one of the most visited parks in the National Park system and the Precipice Trail is one of its main attractions—it draws a crowd. Go early, go late, or go prepared for company.
  • Bar Harbor is just a hop, skip, and a jump away and the Lompoc Café is a fine place to kick back for a post hike beer and banh mi in the shade.

CreditL John Lepak
CreditL John Lepak

Current Conditions

Have you hiked the Precipice Trail recently? Post your experience and the trail conditions (with the date of your hike) in the comments for others!