Since we’ve moved to San Diego, we’ve made it a priority to check out all the popular hiking trails in the area. Most of the popular hikes are easy to access, well maintained, and offer great views of the city. Mount Woodson also rewards you with a photo with Potato Chip Rock, one of the most photographed landmarks in San Diego County.
Last Updated: Sep 19, 2018 Originally Published: Jun 11, 2015
14644 Lake Poway Rd, Poway, map
Length: 6.6 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: 1800-2000 ft
Time: 3-4 hours
This hike has been highly recommended by many people and has been on our bucket 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.
More: 15 Most Popular Day Hikes in the United States
The hike begins at the Lake Poway parking lot, which is a popular place to hang out. There is 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!
We assumed since there were so many people posted photos that it was going to be an easy or even a moderate hike, but it burned all the way up.
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. At the fork in the trail, you take a right to stay on Mt Woodson Trail. The left trail is the Blue Sky / Lake Poway trail that continues around the lake. Overall, it’s a well marked route to the Mount Woodson summit.
Once you see the cell towers, the end is in sight!
ARRIVING AT POTATO CHIP ROCK
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 people mentioned this hike, they 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. :)
The Honest Review + Final Thoughts
We enjoyed the hike up, which was quite the workout. The boulders kept the landscape interesting, and we especially loved the views of the lake. Unfortunately, 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, so it took us a lot longer than we expected,
- Mt. Woodson is the tallest peak of the small range of mountains in the area, including Iron Mountain.
- Bring lots of water! After being out in the heat, we felt 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.
Is Potato Chip Rock Safe?
It felt safe enough for us to walk and sit on, but this depends on careless you are. Are you hoping to hang off it? Most likely you wouldn’t die from a fall since it’s not a far fall from the ledge, but it’s possible that you’d break your legs.
When does Potato Chip Rock Open?
The gates at Lake Poway Recreation area opens at 6AM and closes at sunset. It’s open year round except for Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
Is Potato Chip Rock Dog Friendly?
You can bring licensed dogs as long as they are on a 6-foot leash at all times. They must stay 100 feet from the shoreline, and it goes without saying that you should also clean up after your pets.
We did this hike as part of a mission for Internet Adventure Club! Our friend, 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 plan on doing when we get our dream RV. Also, 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!
This Post Has 9 Comments
I have never been into Potato Chip Rock. How far down from the tip of Potato Chip Rock?
It’s not far at all. Maybe one story? If you look at the photos above, we have a side view of it.
Getting into the Lake Poway Park on weekends is now $10. It’s free during the week. It’s always free for Poway residence. It’s a terrific recreational facility.
Thanks for the heads up!
I wanna try to do this in San Diego this week. Thanks for your honesty with this hike. Since we only have 2 days to spend there, we may get to it but since it’s pretty lengthy, we shall see!
We did this one as a small group on a Friday night going up the service trail. We were the only ones there and it was great to reach the top at sunset!
That’s awesome! How late did you end up going on Friday night?
I’ve been wanting to do this hike and get that coveted shot sitting at the edge of Potato Chip Rock. Thanks for the detailed description of how to get there and what to expect.
So happy to hear you found this helpful. Hope you get to do the hike soon, Kay! :)