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Hiking Champlain Mountain, Maine

Champlain Mountain in Acadia National Park can be climbed along several hiking trails. We picked the shortest one.

That shortest trail, the Precipice Trail, also happened to be the steepest trail in the entire national park. It is a part of the east face of Champlain Mountain and is less than a mile (1.6 kilometers) long. However, in that short distance, it climbs more than 1,000 vertical feet (300 meters). The trail is so steep and exposed that there several iron rungs and ladders along the way. In fact, the Precipice Trail is not classified as a hiking trail, but as a non-technical climb.

View of Frenchman Bay from the summit of Champlain Mountain, Maine.
View of Frenchman Bay from the summit of Champlain Mountain

Hiking Champlain Mountain Along the Precipice Trail

Rocky stairs on the Precipice Trail, Maine.
It’s technically a climb, not a hike

It is by far the most challenging trail in Acadia. I’m afraid of heights, mind you, which made it even more of a challenge. Caroline pushed me to do it and I will always be glad that she did. It was one of those perfect opportunities to overcome your fear. It was absolutely worth it; the views were brilliant.

Frenchman Bay, seen from the south face of Champlain Mountain.
A narrow wooden boardwalk on the mountainside

The first part of the trail involves regular hiking and some fairly easy rock hopping. At about half a mile the real thing begins. The last part is almost completely vertical. That was probably why we saw many people coming down on the first stretch, but no one after we started to really climb. They all turned back.

Hiking the Precipice Trail up Champlain Mountain, Maine.
Bram was a little scared sometimes
Views from the Precipice Trail, Acadia National Park.
Caroline not so much

We walked on three-foot-wide paths along the sheer mountain face, one step away from a hundred-foot drop.  I can only say that the iron rungs and ladders are necessary. I, for one, was glad I could hold on to something.

There are warning signs at the trailhead. It would indeed be stupid to hike this trail alone and in bad weather. And the best direction is up, not down.

Iron rungs on the Precipice Trail, Acadia National Park.
A vertical climb on iron rungs
Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park.
Very narrow path and a long drop
Rocky stairway on Champlain Mountain.
Rocky stairway on Champlain Mountain

While our original intention was to hike up and down along the Precipice Trail, we made the wise decision to descent another way. The North Ridge Trail was a gentle one-mile descent, especially compared to the ascent we had just done. Both trails start (or end) at Acadia’s magnificent Park Loop Road. The distance between both trailheads is about one mile.

North Ridge Trail on Champlain Mountain, Maine.
A pleasantly gentle descent along the North Ridge Trail.

The Precipice-North Ridge loop is approximately three miles (five kilometers). Timewise you should count on at least an hour and a half for the Precipice Trail and about forty minutes for the North Ridge Trail. The total loop – including breaks, summit pictures and the mile on the Park Loop Road – took us about three hours.

The views on the way up and from Champlain Mountain’s summit are unbeatable and a welcome reward for that demanding and sweaty ascent.

It’s really a unique hike and highly recommended, even if you have fear of heights. Just make sure to check the weather forecast before you go and do not hike alone. People have died there.

We did this hike a day after hiking up Cadillac Mountain, also in Acadia National Park and the highest mountain on the Atlantic coast of the US.

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