How To Hike The Adventurous Precipice Trail In Acadia National Park

by Mark and Kristen Morgan
Incredibly beautiful view from the summit of Acadia National Park Precipice Trail hike rocks trees ocean and blue sky

Precipice Trail is the most popular, exhilarating and adventurous hike in Acadia National Park. But it is not for the feint of heart. We’re going to walk you through iron-rung ladder climbs, narrow cliff edges and stunning scenery as we climb the Acadia Precipice Trail to a spectacular summit panorama.

Many of the best hikes at Acadia National Park have very similar trail types, elevation gains and views. However, the two hiking trails with a difference are Precipice and Beehive.

Beehive Trail is essentially a miniature version of Precipice Trail. So, if you have any doubts or concerns after reading this guide, we recommend you hike Beehive Trail first to see how you get on.

If you love it, head straight over to Precipice and prepare to be blown away by an epic climb.

We will explain exactly what you can expect from hiking Acadia’s nerve-racking Precipice Trail, how to climb the iron bar ladders and scale cliff sides as you soak up special views over the Gulf of Maine.

Let’s get right into hiking the awesome Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park!

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Precipice Trail Video

Check out the Acadia Precipice Trail action in this video we created on the hike.

It is the polar opposite to a cinematic video so please don’t expect anything fancy here! However, it does capture the raw footage of this exhilarating climb from our old GoPro attached to a head strap.

Expect lots of motion, POV ladder climbs and see the steep drop offs from various parts of the hike.

Important: For best quality, click the gear icon and select 1080p resolution.

What is the Precipice Trail In Acadia National Park?

Precipice Trail is a thrill seekers’ dream come true among a series of not-so-thrilling trails in Acadia National Park.

Now that’s not to say the other hikes aren’t worth doing. On the contrary, Acadia’s hikes are fantastic. But there is something special about a heart clapping, adrenaline pumping, butterflies bouncing climb up a sheer rock face.

Beehive Trail is so named because it looks like a beehive in appearance. The word precipice means ‘a very steep rock face or cliff, especially a tall one‘.

All we can say is Acadia’s hikes are very aptly named!

Precipice Trail will challenge the average hiker. Not only is it almost a vertical climb, it is also has a penchant for inducing vertigo, hearts in mouths and wobbly knees to those who look down.

This hike is a test both physically and mentally. As long as you’re in a good frame of mind, you will have no problems here.

You have two options once you reach Champlain Mountain summit:

  • Precipice Trail continues to Champlain Mountain summit from which you can descend via Champlain N Ridge Trail onto Orange and Black path and rejoining Precipice near the trailhead.
  • Take a turn off Orange and Black path leading back to Park Loop road, walking back on the main road to the parking lot. Take care of traffic on Park Loop road.

Important: Do not descend via the Precipice Trail climbing rock face. It is very dangerous to you and everyone else climbing.

Incredibly beautiful view from the summit of Acadia National Park Precipice Trail hike rocks trees ocean and blue sky

Precipice Trail Safety and Difficulty

With a hike such as this one, which is actually more of a climb than a hike, it is important to address safety. In this case, safety applies to yourself but also to everyone else who is climbing at the same time.

If you’ve ever climbed the scary razor thin trail to Angels Landing in Zion, Precipice Trail should a walk in the park for you. Some of the same attributes are required for this hike in Acadia:

  • Stamina
  • Ability to climb uneven ladders
  • Patience
  • Most importantly – NO fear of heights

All Trails rates this hike as ‘hard’ and we can’t argue. If you’re an experienced hiker, you might find this ‘easy’ from a physical perspective but due to the jeopardy involved (of falling!), a rating of ‘hard’ makes sense.

The climb is NON technical, which means you don’t need any climbing experience. Personally, we feel as though we’ve hiked far more challenging hikes labeled with ‘easy’ and ‘moderate’ tags.

One of the major safety problems you will face on this trail is overcrowding and waiting around on steep ledges. It isn’t fun when you climb a ladder, wait for 5 minutes, move around a rock face, wait 3 minutes, climb a ladder etc.

Arriving at sunrise or not long after is the perfect remedy to overcrowding on the Acadia Precipice Trail. Not only will the hike be quieter but you’ll also get a parking spot.

  • Important: If you do have a fear of heights, vertigo or claustrophobia, please do not attempt this hike. You will struggle and once you start climbing, it is very unsafe for yourself and others to climb back down.

Another cause for concern is inclement weather. Strong winds and rain are going to cause problems.

Slick rock surfaces and iron bars will become slippery and that’s the last thing you want to do half way up a sheer rock face.

Preparing for the Hike

Hiking Precipice Trail is among the very best things to do in Acadia National Park. But what do you need to do in order to prepare for hiking Precipice Trail?

Aside from the obvious fact you should be OK with several steep drop offs, please be aware that this hike is open and exposed on sheer granite rock.

In peak season between 8am-4pm or between 10am-2pm in off season, you can expect a degree of waiting around for climbers above.

  • In Summer, that means sunscreen is a necessity. Also consider sunglasses, caps and the usual sun protection gear.
  • In Spring and Fall, layers are key for the same reasons. If it’s windy, cold or wet, you need a lightweight windproof / waterproof.

Our top recommendation is for hikers to wear a strong and sturdy pair of shoes with good grip. Having a grippy shoe sole is going to help you get traction on the iron rungs and narrow granite rock faces as you climb.

We started out with the camera but quickly packed that up and just used our smartphones. If you have a GoPro, don’t forget your head or chest strap.

Top tip: You need two hands free for this climb. Pack water in a backpack and try not to take too many things that will distract you, such as loose clothing or cameras.

Directions from Bar Harbor to Acadia Precipice Trail

Precipice Trail begins along Acadia Park Loop road, very close to Bar Harbor. Remember that traffic is going to be chaotic in peak season and in particular between 10am-2pm.

The key thing to note is that you don’t have to officially ‘enter’ Acadia National Park to hike Precipice Trail. It’s highly unlikely you are visiting the area just to hike this trail and you will pay to enter other areas of the park.

But technically, you can hike this trail without paying the US$ 30 entrance fee.

Sieur de Monts Entrance – Drive South on Main Street, turn right onto Sieur de Monts Road and take a right onto Park Loop road. Follow the road until you reach Precipice trailhead.

Parking is very limited and the majority of vehicles will park on the roadside stretching for quite some distance. Early arrivals have a greater chance of parking in the lot or close by.

  • Distance from Bar Harbor: 4.2 miles
  • Drive time from Bar Harbor: 10 minutes

Top tip: You can enter as many national parks as you like in 1 full year with an America the Beautiful National Parks Annual Pass.

Trail Details

  • Hike distance: 2.3 miles roundtrip (Champlain mountain / Orange and Black)
  • Type: Loop trail
  • Difficulty: Moderate / Hard
  • Hike time: 2-3 hours depending on crowds and stops
  • Elevation gained: 1,050 ft (320 m)
  • Trailhead: Precipice on Park Loop road
  • Age: Over 12 recommended

Walkthrough of the Acadia Precipice Trail Hike

That’s all of the important details and logistics out of the way, now let’s get onto the fun part!

We’re going to walk you through hiking the Acadia Beehive Trail with plenty of images so you can visualize the trail and see what you’re up against.

Cars parked along the roadside under colorful trees

Get Parked Up Early

Arriving early is advised for anyone who would prefer to climb Precipice Trail with relatively fewer other hikers around. We made sure to plan our Acadia itinerary so we could arrive right after a sunrise photo shoot nearby.

Even if you’re not so bothered by crowds, arriving early gets you a better parking spot so it’s still worth the effort. Plus, you get to watch the sun rising low in the sky above an open blue ocean.

By the time we finished the loop trail and arrived back at the parking lot, cars were lining the roadside as far as we could see in both directions.

Woman climbing boulder with iron rung ladder in a forest

Begin the Ascent

The trail begins by walking up huge granite rock faces, at times fairly steep but nothing to worry about just yet. Follow blue painted stripes on trees as the trail becomes surrounded by light forest.

A wooden bridge and the first taste of iron handrails are provided to reach the beginning of your ascent.

There’s one enormous boulder right near the start of the trail with iron bars (pictured above) and it actually proved to be one of the trickiest sections to navigate on the entire hike.

If you find yourself struggling at this early stage, don’t worry, it doesn’t get any more difficult technically!

Boulder Field

Lots of iron bars sticking out of a sheer granite rock face precipice trail in acadia national park

It’s time to gain some elevation. After a few fun obstacles and gaps in rocks you can climb through, the trail turns directly upwards via a boulder field.

Just follow the blue painted lines as you climb vertically. The boulders are medium to large sized and require a bit of strength to move from rock to rock with larger steps than usual. Hands may need to be used here.

Sideways Traverse

Man standing on very narrow rocky ledge with iron rail and stunning views over the ocean

Now that your heart rate is raised nicely from the directness of the vertical climb, it’s time to level out again. Follow as the blue paint leads away from the boulder field and along a sideways trajectory.

This is where the fun really starts.

You will get your first taste of dramatic drop offs, iron bars at shoe level to push your weight into the rock face and ‘bridges’ to cross.

Some of this section goes down and some up but it is mostly flat. Views by this point are already amazing but you know they are only going to get better the higher up you get.

Woman climbing a narrow set of stairs surrounded by colorful leaves on precipice trail hike in acadia national park maine

Time to Climb

Just like that, the sideways section ends and the trail again turns vertical. However, this time there’s no boulder field, but narrow ledges and lots of iron protruding out of rock faces.

This is the point you really begin to heighten your senses, double check footing and pay more attention to gripping bars.

We don’t want to scare you or make this sound overly dramatic but you will feel your heart rate increase at this point.

Iron rung ladder protruding out of granite rock in Maine

Ladders, Ladders, Ladders

The one thing we were most surprised about on the Acadia Precipice Trail was the amount of ladder sections. We expected a handful but they just kept coming and coming, which we couldn’t get enough of!

How many ladders? We don’t know, we were too busy riding the wave of adrenaline and enjoyment at such a unique hike.

Be careful if it is busy, give others space and if people aren’t giving you enough space, ask them to back up a little so you feel comfortable. Most hikers will let people pass if they are going much slower.

Some of the sections as you get closer to the top are quite serious. Watch your feet and if you’re going to be distracted by the stunning view, grab hold of the iron rails with two hands!

Summit view over ocean with sun reflecting at the top of precipice trail hike in acadia national park

Precipice Trail Summit Views

Enjoy every step of this hike because before you know it you’ll be standing at the summit wishing you could do it all over again.

Views over Frenchman Bay and the Gulf of Maine are spectacular. Tiny islands floating in the bay, sunlight shimmering on the ocean and a mixed feeling of relief and exhilaration will take a moment to sink in.

If you’re smart you’ll pack breakfast! This is the time to find a secluded spot, absorb the view and let your blood pressure stabilize.

Once you leave the summit of Champlain Mountain, you will find the descent a breeze. There are some narrow winding staircases but after climbing Precipice you’ll be walking on air.

Our Hike To Precipice Trail Summit In Pictures

Man climbing steps on a cliffside
Woman climbing iron ladders on a stunning hike in maine
Wooden bridge crossing steep drop off on precipice trail hike in acadia national park
Woman standing on narrow granite rock with steep drop off to side
Man climbing steep rock using iron rail for assistance
Ladders made of iron bars in rock on the side of precipice trail hike acadia
Beautiful image of an iron rung ladder in a granite rock face with views over the ocean and colorful trees precipice trail hike in acadia national park maine
Man walking to summit of precipice trail hike in acadia national park through beautifully colored leaves in Fall
Woman at the champlain mountain summit sign after hiking the precipice trail in acadia

Best Time To Hike Acadia Precipice Trail

Precipice Trail is best hiked early in the morning or later in the afternoon once the crowds have thinned.

For the most experienced hikers, a very early climb to summit for sunrise would be epic and something we will do next time we’re in Acadia.

Spring offers a much quieter experience than Summer and Fall. Acadia benefits from two peak seasons due to its wonderful Autumnal foliage.

More From Acadia National Park

Remember to read our detailed guide to the 10 best hikes in Acadia National Park next.

Here are some of our favorite trails:

Hiking is just one of many amazing things you can do on your visit to Acadia. Read our ultimate list of the 17 best things to do in Acadia National Park to discover the rest of the park.

We hope this hiking guide helped you plan your hike up the exhilarating Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park!

Have you been to Acadia? What are your favorite hikes in the national park? 

Please let us know if you have any questions or need any help planning your hike.

-Happy Hiking-

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