The Precipice Trail is said to be the most challenging trail at Acadia National Park and in this guide we’re sharing everything you need to know before hiking it!
The most exhilarating hiking experience we had at Acadia National Park was the Precipice Trail. With iron rungs, drop offs, climbing, and many other fun features, it’s one of the most unique hikes we have ever done!
Watch our experience hiking the Precipice Trail at Acadia National Park.
Leading up to hiking the Precipice Trail we were a bit nervous about what to expect. While it’s not for those with a major fear of heights, we weren’t sure how our minor fear of heights would handle the amount of exposure on this trail.
But despite any fears, we had a BLAST “hiking” this trail and it was without a doubt our favorite hike in the entire park (read more about our other favorites here!).
And in this guide we’re sharing everything you need to know to hike the Precipice Trail at Acadia National Park including safety warnings, what to expect, when to hike, and more!
- About the Precipice Trail
- Safety Warnings for the Precipice Trail
- Precipice Trail Stats
- Where is the Precipice Trail
- When to hike the Precipice Trail
- What to Bring to the Precipice Trail
- Things to know before hiking the Precipice Trail
- Our Experience hiking the Precipice Trail
- Looking for more things to do at Acadia National Park?
Looking for more things to do at Acadia National Park and in Maine?
- The best rhings to do in Acadia National Park (+ Itinerary options!)
- How to see the sunrise at Cadillac Mountain
- Our favorites hikes in Acadia National Park
- How to backpack the Cutler Coast in Maine
- The BEST things to do in Portland, Maine
- New England Fall Road Trip Itinerary
About the Precipice Trail
The Google definition of a precipice is “a very steep rock face or cliff, especially a tall one.” That is a perfect description of the Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park.
Acadia National Park is home to four thrilling, iron rung hikes in the park that have ladders, narrow ledges, and other challenging features. And while the Beehive Trail may be the most popular of these iron rung hikes, the Precipice Trail is the longest, most exposed, and difficult of them all.
Once you reach the base of the iron rung ladders, you’ll be climbing roughly 600 feet straight up, with no harnesses, no helmets, no ropes, no gear. It’s just you, the iron rungs, the rock face, and your bravery!
We thought it was pretty wild that they just let anyone who wants to do this hike do it without any training or guidance. But don’t let this scare you, as long as you take your time and pay attention, you’ll have the time of your life.
Along this “hike” you’ll not only get to test your fear of heights, but also see some amazing views of the Atlantic Ocean and Mount Desert Island. So while you may go for the thrills, you’ll also get to experience some great scenery too, only making the hike even better!
Before embarking on your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave every place better than you found it, so that others can enjoy these beautiful places for many years to come!
These seven principles include planning ahead and preparing, hiking and camping on durable surfaces, disposing of waste properly (pack out what you pack in!), understanding campfire rules and always fully extinguishing your fires, respecting wildlife, and being considerate of other visitors.
Safety Warnings for the Precipice Trail
Although we don’t want to scare anyone from doing this hike, it’s important to understand some of the safety concerns with this hike to evaluate if it’s something you really feel comfortable doing.
There is no shame in skipping it if it’s out of your wheelhouse! We’re big believers in doing what YOU personally feel comfortable with. And there are plenty of gorgeous hikes in Acadia National Park!
But before attempting the hike, here are some things to consider.
Do not attempt if afraid of heights
As we’ve mentioned, this hike can be very exposed and requires climbing up vertical walls at times. While you’re never dangling off a massive cliff, for those who do not enjoy heights, this hike could be more miserable than fun.
We have minor fears of heights and we both felt fine 95% of the time and are glad we did it, but realize that it may be a horrible experience for others.
Do NOT hike the Precipice Trail if it is wet or icy
While this hike is safe, it can turn dangerous if you hike in the wrong conditions. Please do not hike the Precipice Trail if it is raining, icy, or snowing out, as it’ll make the trail very slick, which will not only be less fun, but pretty scary as well.
During our hike on a dry day, we encountered a couple spots where water was running off the side of the cliff and we were extra careful around those spots because it was very slick. We can only imagine how treacherous this could be if the whole thing was wet.
THREE Points of Contact
Always maintain three points of contact when on the ladders. If you want to film or get a photo of your experience, have someone take it for you. We wore a GoPro (and used voice control) to be able to get some videos and photos without always having to use our hands.
We know “be careful” is the most obvious advice ever, but please take your time and pay attention to what you’re doing.
Precipice Trail Stats
Elevation: 1,053 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions
This trail is a loop that takes you up the cliff face, across the top of it then gently back down the north side. It would not be fun to go down these ladders, especially with two way traffic, so it is a lot safer as a loop hike.
The only hiking you’ll be doing is the short distance from the parking lot to the iron rungs and ladders, as well as hiking down from the top back to your vehicle. The way up is mostly climbing ladders and scooting along ledges with metal handrails.
Despite the higher elevation gain in the short distance, because you’re climbing straight up it doesn’t feel all that strenuous. And once you reach the top, it’s mostly downhill back to the parking lot.
Want to get 30% off an AllTrails+ membership? Click this link or use our code aplusk30 (you must redeem this code on the website, not the app)!
We use AllTrails+ on every single hike and it is the most helpful hiking tool out there! Some of the features we love are offline maps (so we can navigate even without cell service), wrong-turn alerts, and its 3D maps feature, so we can get a feel for trails before we hike.
Where is the Precipice Trail
The Precipice Trail is located on Park Loop Road on the eastern side of Mount Desert Island in Acadia National Park. It is about a ten minute drive from Bar Harbor, making it an easy hike to get to.
At the trailhead there is a parking lot that can fit about 22 cars, including a couple handicap spots. If this is full, you’ll need to park in the right hand lane of Park Loop Road. Keep in mind that Park Loop Road is a one way road in this area, so if you pass the trailhead and possible roadside parking, you will have to do a big detour to get back.
When to hike the Precipice Trail
The best time to hike the Precipice trail is between mid-August and mid-October. This is when the trail is fully open and the conditions will be safest for hiking.
If visiting in the summer, the weather will be beautiful, as will the scenery, but keep in mind that this is peak season at Acadia and crowds are at their highest. If you choose to hike during this time of year try to visit midweek, but know that it will still be busy.
We hiked the Precipice Trail in the fall and it was AMAZING! In the fall, the weather is a bit cooler (but safe to hike), the crowds are slightly smaller, and the fall colors roll in!
If you can visit Acadia during peak fall foliage, you will not be disappointed! We visited the third week of October, which was very close to the peak fall foliage and it was one of the most magical times of our lives. We will never forget how extra gorgeous the park was!
Fall foliage varies every year, but this foliage tracker was a very helpful resource for us during our time in Maine!
Yearly trail closure
One other very important thing to note is that between March 15 and August 15 the Precipice Trail is CLOSED due to Peregrine Falcon nesting. If you happen to visit during this time and want a similar experience, we suggest hiking the Beehive Trail.
What to Bring to the Precipice Trail
As always, we recommend having the 10 essentials on you when doing any hike, but here are a few key items we want to point out that will especially help you during this hike!
To see everything we take hiking, check out our hiking gear as well as our guide about how to make a 10 essentials kit.
You may feel more comfortable climbing the ladders with gloves that have a bit of grip on them. We didn’t feel this was necessary personally, but it is something to possibly consider. However, we do recommend gloves if it is colder out, as the iron rungs will feel extra cold on bare hands.
It was pretty windy during our time at the top of the Precipice Trail, so having a jacket you can put on once at the top would come in handy.
If you decide to climb the Precipice Trail in the winter, early spring, or late fall, even if it doesn’t seem icy out, make sure to bring some microspikes just in case the trail is slick. We love our Kahtoola MICROspikes!
We’ve read reports of people attempting this in flip flops. Please do not do this! You will want to wear hiking boots or at the very least, fairly new running shoes with good tread on the bottom.
Don’t bring hiking poles
Since most of your hike will be spent going up rungs, hiking poles will get in the way and make your climb more cumbersome on the way up, unless they collapse down and you can strap them to or store them in your bag.
Things to know before hiking the Precipice Trail
Before you hike the Precipice Trail here are a few things to know before you start.
There is a $30 entrance fee per car to enter Acadia National Park, which covers 7 days in the park. We recommend getting the America the Beautiful Pass, which is $80 per year and gets you into all National Park Service managed sites and federal lands for free.
No reservation required
While Cadillac Mountain at Acadia National Park requires a permit (read our tips for sunrise here!), you do not need a reservation to hike the Precipice Trail.
We started the hike up the Precipice Trail right after sunrise and there were a couple cars in the parking lot. We encountered a handful of people along the way, most of whom we let pass us since filming and photos slowed us down, but it wasn’t too many people that it wasn’t enjoyable.
However, when we got back to the parking lot it was completely full and there were cars parked along the side of the road after the parking lot. We were very glad to get there early, as having crowds at the rungs would take some of the fun out of the hike and may make you feel rushed, which could make the hike less safe.
Dogs are NOT allowed
While dogs are allowed on many trails at Acadia National Park (which is a huge perk), dogs are NOT allowed on this hike. You can see which trails allow dogs inside of the park here.
Curious what we do with Kona when she cannot join us on a hike? Read this guide about how we travel with a dog.
Our Experience hiking the Precipice Trail
While we don’t mind starting many hikes in the dark, the Precipice Trail was one that we wanted to ensure we did in daylight, so we arrived at the trailhead right after sunrise.
From the parking lot we could see the cliff face we would be climbing up and even a couple very small humans climbing up with no gear, which was wild to see!
The trail starts out as more of a traditional trail, although it is very rocky, with some boulder fields you have to climb up and crawl under. About 0.3 miles in, you’ll cross a bridge and have some initial iron rungs to conquer, but the real fun doesn’t begin until after you reach the Orange and Black Trail junction.
The iron rungs start out easier, but are a good chance to feel out your comfort level and decide if you need to turn around. It’ll only be harder to turn around the further you go.
We reached a few smaller iron rungs to climb before reaching a tall rock wall, which brought back memories of climbing the via ferrata in West Virginia, but without any safety measures. Despite this, it definitely wasn’t as scary as the via ferrata, but it still gives you a good amount of exposure to get your heart and adrenaline pumping.
We lost count of how many iron rungs there are, but they alternate between being short, long, straight up ladders, more crooked to get you through less straightforward sections, and being horizontal to help you across ledges. The rungs are placed perfectly the entire way and every time you need one there is one.
The only times we felt nervous were during some sections where it was straight up and then you had to go to the side immediately, which caused me (Kathryn) a tiny bit of anxiety, as well as a ledge we had to cross that was slightly wet.
Other than that, we had SO much fun going up and across the cliff face, seeing progressively better views of the surrounding area the higher we went. It felt like a giant jungle gym!
After countless rungs, we made it to the top of Champlain Mountain, which has amazing views of the Atlantic Ocean, as well as some islands and a lighthouse. It was mega windy up here and very cold, so we were thankful we had jackets to keep us warm so we could enjoy the view and celebrate our climb.
To head back down, you’ll want to go the North Ridge Trail to the Orange and Black Path. This trail is steep and relatively straight forward until closer to the end, where we reached a junction that goes straight or to the left. There was a sign pointing to the left that said Orange and Black Path, so we (along with those in front of us) went that way.
We were supposed to meet back up with the original trail we started on, but after turning at this junction, the trail eventually reached a dead end right on Park Loop Road and we realized we went the wrong way.
Thankfully there was a good sized shoulder and we were able to walk back along the road to the parking lot. This ended up being a nice mistake since we didn’t have to fight two way traffic in a couple of the earlier rung sections on the hike. It turns out the Acadia National Park website does say this is an option for your hike down, so despite being on the road, it is allowed.
We safely made it back to the van and after letting my mom know that we survived, we continued down Park Loop Road for some less adventurous, but still gorgeous adventures in Acadia National Park.
Looking for more things to do at Acadia National Park?
For more tips of things to do in Acadia National park, suggestions of places to stay and eat, as well as itinerary options, check out our guide to the Best Things to do in Acadia National Park and these guides:
- How to see the sunrise at Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park (Reservation info, hiking options, & other tips!)
- Our favorites hikes in Acadia National Park
Ready to hike the Precipice Trail?
Pin this guide to hiking the Precipice Trail to help plan your trip!