In my quest to fulfill my bucket list of San Diego tours and adventures, I made the trek to the much talked about Potato Chip Rock. Here is how my experience went and some things you need to know before heading out on this San Diego adventure.
I’ve heard many a tale about Potato Chip Rock in San Diego, and the biggest draw is the pictures you get to take at the top of the hike! Before going, I asked my friends who had done it before for some advice. These are some of the answers I received:
- ”After last night, you want to do what?”
- “It’s mostly uphill.”
- “It takes at least 3 hours.”
- “Can I put a tracking system on you for when you pass out and we need to find you on the mountain?”
So after these encouraging responses, I almost didn’t go, but luckily I had a friend that pushed me to go.
Overview of Potato Chip Rock
The Mt. Woodson trail is located in the city of Poway, right near Poway Lake. The route is difficult in scale, totaling 7.6 miles out and back, with elevation gains exceeding 2,000 feet. The biggest allure of this hike is, of course, the potato rock formation at the hike’s summit. The iconic potato chip rock has become a popular destination for photo ops- you’ve probably seen pictures of hikers posing on the ledge.
Hikers will enjoy the serenity and open scenery as they climb to the top. The path is lined with green shrubs, trees, and boulders. But nothing compares to the top of the summit, where you’ll get to enjoy the beautiful 360-degree views of San Diego from above (as you catch your breath from the climb).
The Lake Poway Recreational Center is a lovely place with many activities, including the park, lake, and many hiking trails. We were not sure where to go, so we visited the Rangers office where a very nice and informative Ranger gave us some background on the area and told us where to go. The Mt. Woodson trail is the trail you want to take in order to make it to the fun “photo op”. The Ranger warned us it should take about 3 hours up and 1 hour down. Once pointed in the right direction, we were on our way!
I truly enjoyed the Potato Chip Rock hike. It is definitely challenging as it’s mostly uphill, but it is beautiful. There are a lot of people on the trail, which can be a good thing or bad thing, depending on your preference. I was in awe of the natural beauty the whole way. It definitely is a change from city life. I was warned that it was a long hike, but it definitely felt like it went on and on and on. Just when you think you’re almost there, there is the mile checker to tell you that you’ve only gone .5 miles! If I didn’t have the motivation of knowing that I had a killer photo op waiting for me at the top, I probably would’ve quit. We were really glad we stuck with it and made it to the top.
Things I wish I would’ve known:
1) It really is 3 hours up and 1 hour back.
2) It really is mostly uphill.
3) Make sure you bring water. I was advised to bring a snack. I didn’t really feel the need to have a snack, but it couldn’t hurt to bring one.
4) In order to get on the “Potato Chip Rock” for the photo op, you need to jump from one boulder to the next. In my opinion, this was a scary jump. Some were doing it with ease… others, ahem me, not so much. I have a busted knee to show for it. You also need to get down somehow, whether it be taking a leap back to the boulder or sliding down the boulder hoping you make it down unscathed.
5) Go on a weekend in the cooler months. I went on a Sunday at 2 pm in January. I would imagine the hike would’ve been a lot harder if it were hot. There is very little shade, so plan accordingly. If you have to go during the warmer seasons, start your trip early and pack plenty of water.
6) Stretching before and after is strongly encouraged.
7) Most importantly: Think of what poses you want to do before you get to the rock! There is a bit of a wait and usually, you have to ask strangers to take the picture for you. People are waiting for their turn
watching you as you strike your best pose. You don’t want to do that huge hike just to get a horrible picture!