Since we’ve moved to San Diego, we’ve made it a priority to cross off all the popular hikes in the area. Most of these hikes are popular, because they are easy to access, well maintained, and offer great views of the city. Mount Woodson is one of these hikes that also gives you the chance to take a photo with Potato Chip Rock, one of the most photographed landmarks in San Diego.
Location: Poway, California
Length: 6.6 miles round trip
Elevation: 1800-2000 ft
Time: 3-4 hours
This hike has been on our list ever since we heard about it. We’ve seen plenty of photos of people on Potato Chip Rock bragging about how they conquered their fear of heights, which so happens to be something I’m working on! The hike begins at the Lake Poway parking lot. It’s a popular place to hang out with a trail around the lake, a large park, and fishing/boat rentals.
The trail starts off following the path around the lake. Right at the start you ascend and descend a little hill to get to the Mount Woodson trail. Once you reach this portion, you immediately begin your climb. Then you climb, and climb, and climb – a great butt workout for sure!
Roughly half way up, you’ll see a lone oak tree. It’s a great shaded spot (one of very few) to catch a quick breath. The entire hike is well marked to the Mount Woodson summit.
Once you see the cell towers, the end is in sight!
Just before the road is paved, you will find a crowd gathered, and Potato Chip Rock will be on your left. This part felt like we were waiting in line in front of a tourist trap. Every time I heard about this hike, it was described as a scary ledge with huge drop offs, but it was nothing more than a perspective shot. To get to the Potato Chip, you have to jump from one boulder to another. The only scary part was when other people were jumping onto it, and you can feel the vibrations of the rock. Seemed secure enough, but if it happened to break off, at most you would only fall one and a half stories.
Lookie! You can see the peak of Iron Mountain, another hike we did. :)
Final Thoughts: We enjoyed the hike up. The boulders kept the landscape interesting, and we especially loved the views of the lake. Unfortunately, we thought Potato Chip Rock itself was overrated. We were there on a Monday morning, and there were 10 people ahead of us in line. I can’t imagine how crowded it gets on weekends. We prefer finding more secluded spots when we’re hiking, because it’s our way to be amongst nature. I also thought it was underwhelming when it wasn’t something I had to really work up the courage to get on. Should have known it was a perspective shot!
Tips for the Potato Chip Rock Hike:
- This hike took us a total of 5 hours. We spent 2.5 hours hiking up, 1 hour at the top, and 1.5 hours back down. We were running 2 cameras for video and using one for photos. It took us a while!
- Mt. Woodson is the tallest peak of the small range of mountains in the area, including Iron Mountain.
- Bring lots of water! It got hot and we were extremely parched by the time we got home. They recommend 2 liters per person.
- Hike on a weekday to avoid the huge crowds.
- There are a few flat portions, so take advantage of them.
- Lake Poway has plenty of parking but it will get crowded on weekends.
- The city charges non-Poway residents a $5 fee for cars and $2 fee for motorcycles between March 1 and mid-November.
- Here’s a list of our day hike essentials.
We did this hike as part of a mission for Internet Adventure Club! Daniel is spending the next 30+ days traveling around the country and doing whatever missions you want him to do. You can even ask him to wash your car! If you’re on reddit, you might recognize him as the reddit travel guy.
This is such a fun concept that we hope to do one day when we get our dream RV. Find out more and suggest missions for him here, and be sure to say hi to them for us if he does a mission for you! :)
What’s the most famous natural landmark in your city?
How would you pose at Potato Chip Rock?