Potato Chip Rock Hike (San Diego)
|In This Guide|
|Distance||7.5 miles (12.1 km)|
|Time||3-4 Hours (Total Time)|
|Total Climbing||2,354 feet (718m)|
|Highest Elevation||2,846 feet (867m)|
|Park Name||Lake Poway - City of Poway|
I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of the Potato Chip Rock hike even if you’re not familiar with it. Potato Chip Rock is the iconic rock formation in San Diego County where everyone grabs a photo of themselves perched out on the rock, over the oblivion. The hike to the rock and summit of Mt Woodson is a fun one, with a few options to get to the top. It’s a hard hike because of the uphill, but otherwise well-marked and easy to do. It gets crowded so plan your trip accordingly (keep reading!).
Where Is Potato Chip Rock?
The Potato Chip Rock hike starts in Poway, located about 30 minutes north of San Diego. There a few ways to hike to Potato Chip Rock, and this route is the most scenic and offers bathrooms and facilities. I’ll give you a few other options later in the guide.
Use this trailhead address: Lake Poway, 14644 Lake Poway Rd, Poway, CA 92064.
Note that if you put “Mt Woodson Trailhead” or “Potato Chip Rock Trailhead” into your GPS, it might take you to one of the other ways to do the hike.
This hike, which is probably the most popular route to Potato Chip Rock, starts at the Lake Poway park in Poway, CA. The park has bathrooms, picnic tables, and plenty of parking. There’s a fee on weekends, and on weekdays it’s free. It’s also free for Poway residents with ID.
I highly recommend leaving as early as possible. The gates usually open at 6am (check the website above). When you do this hike first thing in the morning, it’s glorious. When you leave around 8-9am, you’ll have crowds of people on the trail. It’s worth getting up early for.
What About the Potato Chip Short Trail?
There are a few ways to hike to Potato Chip Rock and Mt Woodson. The route from Lake Poway is the most popular route for good reason. It has great scenery, plenty of parking, facilities and bathrooms, and is the least steep (although still a tough climb). It does have an entry fee on the weekends through.
If you want to try the other routes, here the are. Otherwise, keep reading for all the trail directions from Lake Poway.
Is Potato Chip Rock Safe?
Yes, as long as you’re not a dummy. People get hurt here when they do stupid things like hanging off the rock or trying risky poses. If you fall off the rock, it’s about a 40 foot fall. I’ve been there when a kid was hanging off, fell, and had to get rescued.
There’s a small hop onto Potato Chip Rock, and when people land on the rock, it can vibrate a bit which can be scary. When you’re standing on the rock, it’s not too bad, and you won’t fall hundreds of feet if it breaks. You might break a few bones, but you’ll survive.
What You Need For the Hike
There is no shade on the trail and it can get brutally hot here (which is another reason to leave early). Here’s what you need for the hike:
- A good daypack with 2-3L of water
- Trail running shoes or sturdy sneakers
- A snack
- A camera (duh!) so the best way to do this is to go with 2 people. One person waits in line and poses on the rock, another one takes the picture. There’s probably a way to do this with a remote, but it sounds complicated. Some folks also use drones. So there’s that.
My Top Gear Picks
Do you have the right hiking gear? Will it stand up to the test? I waste lots of money testing hiking gear every year so that you don’t have to. My gear picks are solid choices that will serve you well on the trail. I don’t do sponsored or paid reviews, I just the share actual gear that I use all the time that’s made the cut. Here are my top picks:
- Garmin InReach Mini Emergency Beacon – Hiking out of cell phone range? Make sure you have one of these two-way satellite texting devices in case your hike doesn’t go as planned. You can read my full review here.
- Injinji Sock Liners With Darn Tough Hiking Socks – This combo is a great way to avoid blisters out on the trail. I have some insider-hiking tips for avoiding blisters here. Pair them with modern, high-tech hiking boots (for women and men) and your feet with thank you.
- Garmin Fenix 5x Plus – It’s a little pricey, but man do I love this thing. Not only does it have all the topo maps and navigation tools on my wrist, but it also acts as a long battery life, rugged, outdoors version of an Apple Watch. Track your workouts, sleep, heart rate, all that stuff.
I have lots of other great, sponsor-free, trail tested gear picks on my “best gear” page.
See My Full Gear List
Potato Chip Rock Trail Maps
I highly recommend bringing a good paper map with you, and then using it in conjunction with a GPS device. You can see the navigation gear that I use here (I’m currently using the Fenix 5x Plus and love it). Just download the GPX file below and load it onto your GPS.
Many people also print out this web page for the turn-by-turn images. And if you really want to get tricky, YouTube Premium lets you download videos for offline use, so you can download the hike video and save it.
Download the Hike GPX File
View a Printable PDF Hike Map
Potato Chip Rock Hike Directions
Subscribe to HikingGuy on YouTube
You can watch this video in 360 degrees.
I have a version of this video where you can pan around in 360 degrees and see every angle of every trail junction, the trail conditions, and more. This is how you can use and view them.
Step By Step Directions
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