Potato Chip Rock Hike

Potato Chip Rock Hike (San Diego)

In This Guide
  • Where Is Potato Chip Rock
  • When to Hike to Potato Chip Rock
  • Turn-by-turn Hike Directions
  • Potato Chip Rock Hike Maps & Video
Distance7.5 miles (12.1 km)
Hike Time3-4 Hours (Total)
Total Ascent (?)2,130 feet (649m)
Highest Elevation2,846 feet (867m)
Fees & PermitsParking Fee
Dog FriendlyLeashed
Park WebsiteLake Poway - City of Poway
Park Phone858-668-4772

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 non-resident fee on weekends and holidays; on weekdays it’s usually free. It’s free for Poway residents with ID.

Potato Chip Rock Hike Maps 1
When you enter Lake Poway, go to the far lot to park. There’s plenty of parking, bathrooms, and a place to fill water bottles.
Potato Chip Rock Hike 4
There’s lots of parking but it fills up later in the day.

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 they are. Otherwise, keep reading for all the trail directions from Lake Poway.

Potato Chip Rock Hike Maps 2
The most popular free route starts on the side of Rt. 67, where you can park for free along the road. The 4 mile round-trip route takes Mt Woodson Road to the summit. It’s a paved and steep route, and lacks the scenery of the Lake Poway route.
Potato Chip Rock Hike Maps 3
My second favorite route to the top leaves close to the Rt 67 route, it’s the Fry-Koegel Trail. The trail is not paved and offers great scenery, but not as good as the Lake Poway route (in my opinion). There are also no bathrooms.

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). I see people doing this with a single bottle of water and it’s just not enough. Bring at least 1L of water, I bring 3L.

And if you want the pictures of yourself standing on Potato Chip Rock, it’s best to do this hike with another person so you can take pictures of each other. Selfies don’t work, you have to have someone else take the picture. You could try it with a tripod and Bluetooth remote, but I’m not sure if the Bluetooth range is long enough.

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Here’s the gear that I personally use, have tested, and recommend for this hike.See All of My Best Gear Picks Here

La Sportiva Spire

High-Tech Hybrid Shoes

Great for all hikes – short ones to 10+ miles Feels like a sneaker but protects like a hiking boot.

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Rei Flash 22

The Best Low-Cost, High-Quality Pack

This is a super-light and comfortable backpack that can hold everything you need on a hike, including a hydration bladder. It also works great as a general backpack or carry-on.

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Joby On Triee

Best Tripod For the Outdoors

Joby tripods attach to anything. The legs are adjustable and grippy, so you can put them on trees, packs, rocks, whatever. And they work like regular tripods too. Works with everything from smartphones to DSLRs.

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Gear For Off the Trail

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Potato Chip Rock Trail Maps

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Potato Chip Rock Hike (San Diego) Map Downloads

Download the Hike GPX File

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Here’s How I Navigate The Hike

People ask me all the time, so here you go. I have a few backups that you can see on my gear page, but generally I use a combination of these tools.

Fenix 5x Hiking Nav

Garmin Fenix Map Watch

This thing does everything: maps, GPX tracks, compass, barometer, altitude, heart rate, blood oxygen, fitness tracking, sleep tracking, and the list goes on. I keep a GPX route on the watch so I can quickly glance down and make sure I’m in the right place.

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Gaia Gps

Gaia GPS

I load a few types of offline maps onto my smartphone when I need to interact with the map in detail. I also use it before my hikes as a planning tool for all kinds of things, including finding free government land to camp on. The benefits are many, I highly recommend it.

Gaia GPS Benefits

HikingGuy Discount

Paper Nav

Topo Maps & Guide Books

Don’t be caught out if your batteries die. Take a topo map with you on the trail and learn how to read it. Some people also print my guides out for use on the hike. I’m a map geek and I love to pour over maps and guide books when planning my next adventure.

Browse Topo Maps

Great Hiking Guide Books

Don’t just rely on a cell phone, especially if you are hiking in the backcountry.

Potato Chip Rock Hike 3d
After winding around Lake Poway, you head up the slopes until you reach Mt Woodson.
Potato Chip Rock Hike Elevation
This hike is mainly uphill, but you can see there are a few sections where the gradient eases up and you can catch your breath.

Potato Chip Rock Hike Directions

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Step By Step Directions

Potato Chip Rock Hike 5
Head to the far end of the parking lot from the earlier directions. The building on the right is a bathroom with water fountains. Take care of any business and head around the building to the right. You’ll cross over some grass to the trail. The official trailhead is on the right side of the bathrooms, but the entrance to the bathrooms is on the left side, so I usually go this way.
Potato Chip Rock Hike 6
Once you start on the trail past the bathrooms, bear to the right on the Sumac Trail (not marked as such though).
Potato Chip Rock Hike 7
Shortly after that, continue left above the lake, avoiding the trail that joins from the right.
Potato Chip Rock Hike 8
You’ll be hiking above Lake Poway to your left. This part of the hike is really beautiful. The lake is stocked with fish and you can even swim in it.
Potato Chip Rock Hike 9
At this junction, continue straight to head towards Potato Chip Rock and Mt Woodson. The left takes you to the lake.
Potato Chip Rock Hike 10
Avoid the trail that joins from the right and continue hiking left, around Lake Poway.
Potato Chip Rock Hike 11
Here’s the most important junction, the trail to Mt Woodson. You’ll see some porta-potties here, which is your last bathroom opportunity.
Potato Chip Rock Hike 12
To the right of the bathrooms is the Mt Woodson Trail. Make a right at the board.
Potato Chip Rock Hike 13
Make sure to check out the hiking board for any recent trail info and standard warnings to not doing anything stupid.
Potato Chip Rock Hike 14
The start of the Mt Woodson trail also has signage about the heat and water. There are a ton of folks who do this hike unprepared. If you’re reading this article, hopefully, you’re not one of them.
Potato Chip Rock Hike 15
Here’s the sign at the start of the Mt Woodson Trail.
Potato Chip Rock Hike 16
From here the trail goes up. It gets steep but it’s not crazy.
Potato Chip Rock Hike 17
Keep your eyes open for lavender in bloom.
Potato Chip Rock Hike 18
You’re basically staying straight on the Mt Woodson Trail until you reach Potato Chip Rock. Continue climbing.
Potato Chip Rock Hike 19
Stay left on the main trail, avoiding the side trail to the right.
Potato Chip Rock Hike 20
If the hike gets too steep, stop, turn around, and enjoy the sweet views of Lake Poway and the surrounding mountains. It’s a nice way to catch your breath.
Potato Chip Rock Hike 21
Stay on the main trail and avoid the unofficial cutoff to the left. You’ll be rewarded with some nice views in a minute.
Potato Chip Rock Hike 22
You reach a nice wide area with a bench. The views from here are great, and if you’re having a tough time, it’s a great place for a break.
Potato Chip Rock Hike 23
After continuing for a few minutes, you’ll reach the junction of the Warren Canyon Trail. Hike to the left towards Mt Woodson.
Potato Chip Rock Hike 24
Here’s the detail of the Warren Canyon Trail sign.
Potato Chip Rock Hike 25
This next part of the hike is one of my favorites. The Mt Woodson Trail makes its way up through a very funky boulder field.The boulders were formed by spheroidal weathering, where joints in the rocks eroded leaving just the boulders exposed, and weathered and smoothed over thousands of years.
Potato Chip Rock Hike 26
This section has a few switchbacks, so make sure you stay on the official trail and avoid any cutoffs. The views of the surrounding mountains and boulders is great. Local Native Americans called Mt Woodson “Mountain of Moonlit Rocks.” It didn’t become Mt Woodson until 1895 when it was named after a settler who moved to the area.
Potato Chip Rock Hike 27
After the boulder field, you’ll reach a ridge. Keep right.
Potato Chip Rock Hike 28
Right around that turn, you’ll have another split, stay right again.
Potato Chip Rock Hike 29
Right after that last turn, you’ll see a pole marker confirming that you’re on the Mt Woodson Trail.
Potato Chip Rock Hike 30
This section is relatively level and offers some great views to the east and west as the trail follows the ridge line.
Potato Chip Rock Hike 31
Stay right on the Mt Woodson Trail.
Potato Chip Rock Hike 32
You’ll start to see the radio towers on top of Mt Woodson in the distance. Almost there.
Potato Chip Rock Hike 33
You’ll know you’re at Potato Chip Rock when you see the crowd. If you time it wrong, there can be 100+ people here. Wait in line to get your photo (or just skip it).
Potato Chip Rock Hike 34
If you want a picture, make sure you have someone else to take the shot for you. Selfies don’t work here.
Potato Chip Rock Hike 35
You’ve come this far, so you might as well visit the summit of Mt Woodson. Keep hiking for a minute up the trail past Potato Chip Rock.
Potato Chip Rock Hike 36
Take the hard right toward the radio towers.
Potato Chip Rock Hike 37
Boom! You’re on the summit of Mt Woodson. From here, just go back down the way you came to end the hike.

Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.

If you see trash on the trail, please pick it up and carry it out. Be a good egg and practice no trace principles.

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