This two-fer hike is one of the most exposed hikes in Maine. To get to the summit of Champlain Mountain from the park loop road you gain more than 900 feet in elevation in 1.0 mile. That doesn’t sound too steep, but the route involves several hanging bridges, narrow ledges, and iron rungs even before you get to the vertical section. The vertical section includes several iron ladders bolted to vertical faces, iron rungs and railings to help you cross narrow ledges. It’s a serious climb. In fact, hikers have fallen and died on this hike.
WARNING: Peregrine falcons nest on the cliffs. As a result, the trails are usually closed from May until the chicks fledge in August. Check the park’s website to make sure the trail is open before planning your trip. The best time to visit is usually September or October: there aren’t any crowds and the park loop road is still open. You can visit in the spring, but the road is usually closed, which adds to your hiking (the best option then is to park along ME3 at the head of The Tarn and climb Champlain Mountain via Beechcroft Trail. This adds 2.4 miles to the hike, but it’s a great route).
The hike starts at the Precipice parking area on the park loop road (between Bar Harbor and Sand Beach—it’s just before the entrance gate). The whole loop—up Precipice, down Champlain North Ridge, and back Orange & Black is just 2.4 miles. In all, you’ll climb about 1300 feet (in my guides, I always track gross climbing not net).
The trail climbs away from the parking area. Pretty quickly you need to do some easy rock climbs. The trail next climbs up and across a boulder field before slabbing around the cliff base. This section is a hint of what comes later—here you get some exposure without the climbing.
This section goes up and down with railings, bridges, and cut stones wedged into cracks. You have a nice view of Frenchman’s Bay. Just when you’re getting into a rhythm, you come to another sign at a fork. Turn left and begin the real climbing. The trail to the right is the Orange & Black Trail that you’ll return on.
I have to admit that I only have limited photos from the vertical section—I was too busy sucking rock to let go and take pictures. If heights don’t really bother you, the climb is fun with great views. My son Henry claims it’s not scary at all. Check it out and decide for yourself.
The rungs end and the trail domes to the summit. From there follow Champlain North Ridge Trail. You descend with spectacular views of Bar Harbor and the Porcupine Islands in Frenchman’s Bay.
Once down off the bare granite, you turn right and descend steeply to the Orange & Black Trail. Turn right on it at a place I call the patio. The Orange & Black Trail back to Precipice Trail slabs around the cliffs climbing and descending. You often have to climb or dance across narrow ledges or steps. It’s not really dangerous like the Precipice, but it deserves its place on the Wicked Wild 25 list. Like many of the original trails on Dorr Mountain, Orange & Black Trail has some really amazing rock work.