Potato Chip Rock Hike (San Diego)
|In This Guide|
|Distance||7.5 miles (12.1 km)|
|Hike Time||3-4 Hours (Total)|
|Total Ascent (?)||2,130 feet (649m)|
|Highest Elevation||2,846 feet (867m)|
|Fees & Permits||Parking Fee|
|Park Contact||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 non-resident fee on weekends and holidays; on weekdays it’s usually free. It’s 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 they 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). 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.
Here’s the gear that I personally use, have tested, and recommend for this hike*.
Good for light and more hardcore hikes. Feels like a sneaker but protects like a hiking boot.
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.
Make your photos stand out by using this lightweight, do-anything tripod. The Joby attaches your smartphone to trees, rocks, whatever you can find on the trail. Folds down compactly too.
Make sure you have all the right gear before hitting the trail!.HikingGuy Best Gear List
* No company pays me to promote or push a product, all the gear you see here is gear I use and recommend. If you click an REI link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps offset website expenses. There is no cost to you.
Potato Chip Rock Trail Maps
Potato Chip Rock Hike (San Diego) Map Downloads
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View a Printable PDF Hike Map
Potato Chip Rock Hike Directions
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Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.