Precipice TH Elevation: 117 ft.
Mt. Champlain Elevation: 1,054 ft.
Beehive Elevation: 529 ft.
Sand Beach Elevation: 24 ft.
Distance: 4.15 mi.
Elevation Gain: 1,337 ft.
Start Time: 10:07am
End Time: 12:17pm
The Precipice Trail and the Beehive Trail are noted as being a couple of the classic hikes in Acadia, well loved by visitors. On one hand this is a bit surprising given the inherent danger each contains, particularly on the Precipice Trail, on the other hand, given the thrills and views, I can see why many partake anyways. Each trail has high exposure and the use of iron rungs mounted into the rock to assist with climbing and safety. Its not quite a full blown via ferrata where you are walking over nothing, but a few sections get close. There was also no use of ropes or clipping into any anchors as other even more exposed routes have. As I hiked each of these I kept pondering just how one ranks a route such as this. There is some rock climbing involved and the use of iron rungs on rock which would otherwise be class 5 climbing. There is massive exposure in many places on the Precipice Trail and there is the effort to do all of this. I certainly would put this in the category of a full class 5 climb with ropes and protection. On the other hand, even with the iron bar assists this is a bit more than your typically class 2 or class 3 climb. I think in terms of technical ability I would classify this in the range of easy class 3. But the exposure in parts on Precipice goes pretty high up on the scale.
The Precipice Trail begins steeply right from the get go. A brief forest trail leads to rock slabs and then some boulder scrambling. You're instantly pressed into following white blazes on the rocks to hold the route. There was a clear warning sign at the trailhead giving hikers fair notice to the dangers ahead. It was recommended children not be brought. I was impressed up higher on the route to find a man with a 9-year old who appeared to be doing quite well. There are a number of places on this route where longer arms and legs would help so I would wonder if the young man must have had some help from his father along the way. The following photo shows the first real difficulty of the day:
|Look in center photo at the large rocks for the iron bars used to climb up and over|
It would be hard to describe each and every challenge along this route and so it seems more beneficial to let the pictures describe it for me. I tried to capture a selection of all that I encountered. There was no one single part where it felt like we were hanging out over oblivion. There were mixtures of iron bar railings on ledges, and iron steps like a ladder to climb up steep rock. Even one section in the pictures below where the iron bar ladder was essentially vertical up and over an 8-foot section of rock. The most extreme exposure came on some of the ledges and a few of the ladder sections where you certainly would not want to fall off.
|Iron railing helps on this rocky ledge|
|Thankful for the increasingly wonderful views today.|
|One or two such bridges were also used to "span the gap". Thankfully they felt sturdy.|
|A well made rock staircase|
|This shot captures the views as well as the exposed nature of this route|
|This photo shows the iron bar ladder going up vertically over the rock obstacle|
On the lower half the route I was almost entirely alone just passing a pair of couples. One couple was actually descending. The route signs all make it clear one should absolutely not try to descend this route from the top. Not only would it be personally dangerous but the meetings with uphill traffic would make it dangerous for all. I'm guessing this couple probably reached a point low on the route and decided it wasn't for them. I was also shocked how muggy I felt the entire climb up. I had no breeze and was really feeling the humidity. The temps were perhaps upper 70's but it felt every bit of the warmth.
On the upper half of the route I got into a bunch of traffic. Some of the groups were kind enough to notice when swifter hikers would overtake them and let them pass. There are plenty of sections where it is a one-at-a-time affair and I would frequently tell folks ahead of me "no hurries, take your time terrain."
|More iron staircases in the rock with some traffic this time|
|One last scramble before the summit|
|Looking out from near the summit|
Above that last obstacle was a short walk to the signed summit of Champlain Mountain. The summit had decent signage pointing the directions of the handful of trails heading down from the top. I knew the general direction I wanted to head but it needed a little searching around for me to finally confirm I had found the South Ridge trail.
|Cairns just like this marked most of the upper route on the South Ridge|
|Much of the first half of the South Ridge route was like this, running slabs amidst the vegetation|
|A look down at the Bowl with the Beehive behind it.|
|Shore side at the Bowl, quite beautiful|
|Boardwalk on part of the trail around the Bowl|
|Looking up at the Beehive from below|
The Beehive trail had many more people on it. Many of them younger as well. There's probably a couple of reasons for this. One, it basically shares parking with Sand Beach and so sits right next to one of the most popular areas of Acadia. Two, it is easier and shorter than the Precipice Trail. I still wouldn't take my younger kids on it though.
The Beehive Trail, after the junction, is easy forest trail for a short bit and then it climbs. This trail, like Precipice, makes use of ledges and in a handful of sections of iron bars to assist climbers. When the ledges get too narrow the trail designers apparently improvised as the following photo shows:
|Just use more iron to make the ledge wider|
|Waiting on the ledge to keep moving upwards|
|This low cloud layer is moving up and over Sand Beach|
|One of the final, mostly easy, scrambles to the summit of the Beehive|
The summit of the Beehive had a number of people on it all enjoying the great views to the southeast. This route, like with Precipice, was very muggy today with almost no breeze to move the air about. There were good trail markings to lead to the descent route from the Beehive which heads down near the Bowl again. It then joined up with the Bowl trail where I had descended earlier. Here I retraced my previous route "completing the loop" and descended down to the Loop Road and the trailhead. This turned out to be a most exciting route for today to go up Precipice, top out on Champlain, and then to descend down and around and back up the Beehive ending near Sand Beach. From my finish it was a short walk to the beach where I could cool off and join up with my wife to enjoy the rest of what Acadia has to offer.
|Views from the Beehive to the east|
I have a track and waypoints from the hike all contained in a KML file that you are welcome to download and use (at your own risk).