Located just a mile north of Sand Beach, Champlain Mountain is the 6th tallest peak in Acadia National Park and the cliffs along it's east face hold some of the most impressive views of the park. At a glance, the mountain looks impossible to scale without the appropriate gear, but the Precipice Trail presents an ingenious route that heads up the steep cliffs, navigating its various fault lines and shelf systems to the top. Through numerous iron rungs, ladders, handrails and wooden bridges, it makes the views from Champlain Mountain accessible without the use of climbing gear. While this trail is renowned as Acadia's most challenging and dangerous trail, claiming the lives of several hikers, it is also the park's most beautiful trail. The Precipice has even been counted among Fodor's list of the Top 10 Most Beautiful Hikes in the United States. Although many hikers are put off by the extensive warnings, if the proper care is taken on the trail, its innate dangers quickly fade away into what is one of the most exhilarating hikes in Maine.

Quick Stats:

Trail Length: 2.6 miles City/State:   Bay Harbor,
  Maine
Bikes Allowed: No
Elevation: 856 feet gain
County:   Hancock Dogs Allowed: No

 

Getting There

Acadia National Park sits away from mainland Maine on Mount Desert Island. From Bangor, hikers can follow Route 3 all the way onto the island and just after crossing the Mount Dessert Narrows, keep left on Route 3 instead of going straight on Route 102. After following the road for about 30 miles, hikers should look for signs leading to the Sieur de Monts Entrance. After the entrance, the Precipice Trail parking lot and trailhead is two miles down the Park Loop Road.

The Hike

Once at the trailhead, hikers will be able to see Champlain Mountain and the Precipice Trail in all its majesty, as well as the many warning signs about it. They will warn of the usual dangers like falling and slipping, but also state that the trail is not suitable for small children (as some of the climbs can be a bit tall for kids) as well as anyone who is unsteady on their feet or has a fear of heights. It should also be noted before going to the park that the trail is closed from March 15th through August 15th for peregrine falcon nesting season.

For those who are sure they can undertake the challenge, the hike starts rather tamely with a formal granite staircase and informative tourist-y signs describing the area. However, as the staircase curves out of view, the trail goes from well-developed to rugged in a snap. Within just a few moments on the rough and rocky trail, hikers will reach what is referred to as the "intimidator". It is this obstacle that separates the haphazard from the dedicated. The intimidator is a boulder outcropping with two very awkwardly-placed iron rungs to help visitors over. It may take some thought on how to overcome it, but if you can pass this test, the Precipice Trail is open for you.

Signhttps://www.flickr.com/photos/benandclare/

After that initial obstacle, the trail continues northwest into the hills in what is one of the most relaxing walks of the hike. Many consider this pleasant walk and the views presented a treat for passing the first test. However, there are sections of this trail that are challenging both physically and mentally. The trail ascends into a massive boulder field that climbs some boulders with iron rungs, but some go under boulders, which hikers have no way of knowing if they could fall suddenly or not.

Past the boulder field, the hike then spans a series of ledges. Some of the gaps are spanned by narrow wooden bridges while others are just narrow lips jutting out from the mountain. Although intimidating, the wavy iron railings, while rickety at times, are comforting safety nets. The ledges finally give way at the first trail junction where, upon taking the left fork, hikers will begin the proper ascent up Champlain Mountain.

Champlain Mountainhttps://www.flickr.com/photos/joevare/

This is where the real fun begins. The Precipice Trail now transforms from dicey narrow pathways to an adult-sized jungle gym. After climbing the last switchbacks of the forest base of the cliff band, hikers will have to scramble over a few boulder obstacles, but soon enough they will reach the first long section of iron rungs alongside several ladders. It is a tough, but fun climb straight up and on top of the first ledge; the views begin to get amazing. From this point on, the path is not quite so clear. There are ladders and iron rungs everywhere that take climbers up various shelves and fault lines. No matter what path hikers pick, they will be zigzagging up the mountain as they climb. There are little opportunities to rest during this section save for some small shelves, so hikers should prepare themselves.

Near the top, the multiple path climb fades back into a singular path. A set of ladders leads up to a thrilling (or utterly terrifying) outward-leaning catwalk. Thankfully it has both rungs in the cliff side and handrails to ease the nerves, but after passing this last test visitors will find themselves on the summit of Champlain Mountain. From this perch, visitors can take a rest and enjoy not only views of the Door Mountains, but ocean views as well.

View of CHamplain MOuntain from dif mtnhttps://www.flickr.com/photos/79666107@N00/

Although it is possible to just turn around and do the hike in reverse, it is generally not recommended for safety concerns. For those too tired or that are a little wearier of doing the climb in reverse, the Champlain North Ridge Trail provides a safer, but significantly less interesting way back down. The North Ridge Trail connects to the Orange & Black Path that provides a little more challenge via a series of granite steps, but getting back to the Precipice Trail parking lot through this last leg of the loop is a breeze and rather uneventful.

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