By far, the 3 mile round trip on the "Precipice" in Acadia National Park is the most fun-filled, challenging, scenic hike in Maine that can be packed into 3 hours!
I'm an avid hiker and have done Katadyn 3 times up and the Precipice is simply better since it is so short and magnificent. I'd really rather do Katadyn but that'll be another review (it's 9-10 hrs round trip and much further north).
I've been climbing the Precipice since 1991 when my oldest son was 6 months old and he was in a back pack carrier. Both sons have climbed with me and my wife ever since, at least once each year. And we live in NJ!
You will be tested immediately with a scramble up a long flat sloping rock face, then a pull-up onto a huge 8 foot boulder with little help except for a rung that is hard to reach on top. Make it past these easy obstacles and traverse up a giant rock slide with 2 garage-sized boulders (photo op) to crawl under located mid-way up this slide.
And the fun continues...you will happen upon a short traverse across boards over a chasm and nearly constant gorgeous vistas over the ocean while zig-zagging across the face. Soon enough, you will reach a series of exposed ledges with iron ladders and rungs that were placed in cartoonish, nonsensical arrangements leaning and traveling through irregular cracks. It can be challenging for those unused to heights, but it now packs in the adrenaline even more! If you can, and are not squeamish, wear you camera around your neck, and take the time to position yourself and take pictures looking down your body and the ocean below. Or have a friend or trail mate do it. Please pay attention for safety and holding up others coming up. There are spots that appear to look hundreds of feet straight down at the parking lot.
Do not miss the "famous" photo opportunity after all the climbing with a sharp left turn into 8 foot high cracks. You'll know you are here when traveling left after a ladder onto a 40 foot long ledge just about 2 sloping feet wide with a rail for you to clench on your left. Get to the end of it, and have someone take your picture with Bar Harbor and it's cruise ships off in the distance.You will soon summit @ 1058 feet after with perhaps 5-10 minutes of easy walking now. You started fairly close to the ocean with a 900 foot gain.
I've taken every possible way down, do NOT return via the Ladders. It's dangerous and quite rude for all those headed up while they wait for you to feel your way down. I prefer to return via the mostly-bald north face (The Bear Brook Trail) down to the loop road or, better yet, after getting about halfway down the north face trail and entering the treeline, take a right onto the East Face Trail. (This trail was recently renamed the Orange and Black Path.) Continue on this or after dropping down obvious stairs with another split on the Orange and Black, take a short trail continuing straight down more stairs to the Loop Road and then go right on the road back to the lot. (The left here would return you immediately flat along the remainder of the Orange and Black then traversing across the lower switchbacks of Precipice.
Roundtrip is about 3 miles and takes about 3 hrs and if you start in the morning you will be bathed in morning sun (as opposed to being in shade in late afternoon). Let's not ignore the posted warning sign that people have died on this trail - take it seriously! After rains, wet conditions add to the fun.
Throughout most of the summer this area is closed for nesting Falcons (mid-March to mid-August). The best time of year is in the fall anyway for this trail. (head to the Beehive for a similar, baby version of this mountain in the summer). The Beehive will be reviewed separately, but similar to The Precipice, in consideration of those coming up the ladders, please return down via the trail to Gorham or down to the Bowl and then towards Gorham.
As an added tip - the BEST trail book for Acadia is absolutely "A Walk in the Park" by Tom St Germain and is available at many local stores, online,and at the Park visitors center. It's sturdy, has a flap in the cover to maintain your page and covers nearly everything in Acadia. (There are old trails that are missing and NPS and FOA re-route/rebuild trails, so those may be missing)
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