Potato Chip Rock Hike (San Diego)

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)
Time3-4 Hours (Total Time)
Total Climbing2,354 feet (718m)
Highest Elevation2,846 feet (867m)
Dog FriendlyLeashed
Park NameLake 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 fee on weekends, and on weekdays it’s free. It’s also 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 the 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). Here’s what you need for the hike:

My Top Gear Picks

Garmin inreach review

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

Fenix 5x Hiking Review

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 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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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.

View This Video in 360

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 mind 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.

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