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.
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 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.
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.
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