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BEST Guide You Need To Hike And Conquer The Potato Chip Rock


Modified: December 27, 2023

by David Jefferson

Potato Chip Rock hovering over Woodson ridge
©Photo by kirybabe from Flickr

Potato Chip Rock is one of the most iconic landmarks in San Diego. However, climbing this famous spot is not for the faint-hearted. The Potato Chip Rock hike ends in a thin stone hovering 2,800 feet over Mt. Woodson trail. So, if you’re in for the adventure, the hike and view from the top are all worth it. 


However, before you set out to Potato Chip Rock, it’s best to acquaint yourself with how to hike it best. To help you, here’s the best guide to hike and conquer the Potato Chip Rock. 


Where Is Potato Chip Rock?

at the peak of the Mount Woodson trail

©Photo by daveynin on Flickr


Potato Chip Rock is among the famous Southern California attractions. If you’re planning to visit, hiking the summit is among the best things to do in San Diego. Located on the summit of Mt. Woodson, the topmost rock resembles a potato chip, thus its name. Potato Chip Rock sits between Poway and Ramona in an unincorporated part of San Diego County.


How Long Does It Take To Hike Potato Chip Rock? 

There’s an 8-mile hike from the bottom of Lake Poway to Potato Chip Rock. This is about 3-4 hours of trek time. Meanwhile, if you prefer the back route, it’s only 3.75 miles of the hike. That should be about 2-3 hours of trek.


How High Is Potato Chip Rock? 

The famous rock sits at the top of the Woodson Ridge. It is about 2,800 feet up from the ground.


How To Get To Potato Chip Rock?

The hike to Potato Chip Rock begins in the Poway Lake parking lot. From the freeway, it’s about 5-10 minutes. Once in the parking lot, it’s easy to spot the trail. It starts near the toilet and goes around the lake. 


Your journey begins with a little hill to reach the Mt. Woodson trail. Once you reach this point, you just need to keep climbing and trekking until you reach the top. Reaching the famous Potato Chip Rock is a rewarding experience. Sitting atop this unique piece of rock lets you feel like you’re dangling from a giant potato chip! 


Let’s begin trekking! Here’s the best guide when hiking Potato Chip Rock:


Hike With Proper Outdoor Hiking Gears

Hiker on top of Potato Chip Rock, San Diego

©Photo by kirybabe from Flickr


First things first, keep in mind that it is almost always warm in Potato Chip Rock. With that, make sure to wear the appropriate hiking clothes to beat the heat. A light material top or at least fast-absorbing fabric is highly recommended. As for the bottom, you can either choose to wear shorts or loose pants. As long as it’s comfortable, you’ll be good to go. After all, the hike takes about 3-4 hours and you certainly don’t want to be struggling with your attire while conquering the mountain. 


A very crucial thing to take note of is to hike with wear proper shoes. This means no sandals, slippers, and absolutely no fashion boots. Make sure to wear hiking boots or rubber shoes that are designed for climbing mountains. Your feet will need all the help and comfort as they can get to bring you to the top. 


Don’t forget the other essentials to keep you safe from the sun. Apply a generous amount of sunblock wherever needed. Also, wear lightweight sunglasses with UV protection. These won’t just protect your eyes from the harsh rays of the sun but also shield you from the dusty mountain trail. 



Choose The Correct Path

photo of one of the peaks at the Mt. Woodson Trail at Potato Rock Chip, San Diego

©Photo by chrisinphilly5448 from Flickr


There are two trailheads you can choose from when hiking the Potato Chip Rock. Depending on your hiking skills or preference, you can pick between a shorter or longer route. Before you choose your path, make sure you’re physically fit for the trail. As there is no refreshment kiosk anywhere to ask for help in case of an emergency.  


If you’re done your research and are certain that you’re fit to challenge the longer route, you should opt for The Poway Chip Rock trail. This trail is about 8 miles. Meanwhile, the shorter way begins on Highway 67 at the fire station. It’s about a couple of miles north from Poway Road. This route is about 4 miles. Both of the trails are suitable for adults and kids too. 



Hike For The Sunrise

a group of hikers waiting in the shadows at Potato Chip Rock

©Photo by RightCowLeftCoast from Wikimedia Commons


Among the things to keep in mind when hiking the Potato Chip Rock is to choose the best time to do it. While any time is practically a good time, those who have already climbed this iconic spot have something to share. Most people agree that the best time to hike Potato Chip Rock is during the sunrise. During this time, the Potato Chip Rock trail is less crowded. Hence, it gives you more room to move around and to enjoy some peace. Aside from that, the temperature in the early mornings is not as relentless as that at a later time. It’s always nice to hike when the sun is less harsh.   


Another reason why a sunrise hike is a great idea is the amazing photos you can take. With sunrise as your backdrop, it’s hard to imagine less-than-gorgeous photos. Add to that the less-crowded area for all your selfies. 



Pick The Right Weather

Hot day at Mt Woodson Trail, Potato Chip Rock

©Photo by chrisinphilly5448 from Flickr


To fully enjoy your Potato Chip Rock hike, make sure to check the Poway weather. While the trail is open year-round, there are months that are more favorable. If possible, hike during winter, spring, or autumn. These are the best seasons to climb Potato Chip Rock. Plan accordingly by checking the Poway weather first. This also allows you to prepare the right hiking gears depending on the weather. 


During springtime, the surrounding becomes very lush, making for one breathtaking scenery. The weather is also cool, allowing you to enjoy your climb more. Summertime can be very uncomfortable as the weather is very hot. During this time, the landscape dries up and turns brown, too.  



Avoid Hiking During The Weekend 

People hiking up Potato Chip Rock

©Photo by chrisinphilly5448 from Flickr


Because Potato Chip Rock is among the popular Southern California attractions, it can get really crowded here. If you ‘re not a fan of selfie-sticks that’s sticking out in every corner, don’t visit this place during the weekend. If possible, plan your Potato Chip Rock hike on weekdays instead. Of course, there will still be tourists, but not as packed as on weekends. 


Avoiding the weekend means you have more space to move around and to admire the beauty it deserves. It is said that the line for photos at the rock can take hours on a weekend. For the most comfortable and convenient hike, the best time is early morning on a weekday. 


Meanwhile, if you can’t avoid the weekend, be mindful of the people around you. There are paths that are just too small for a large crowd. In cases like this, if you need to slow down, go to the side to avoid being a nuisance. Aside from that, be considerate of other people waiting to have their turn for a photo on your spot. 



Always Remember To Stay Hydrated

a backpack with two water bottles at the side compartments

©Photo from pxhere


If you’re hiking Potato Chip Rock on the hotter months, make sure to stay hydrated. During the summer, the weather can be very hot in the area. The worst part, there is also nowhere to get a water refill along the trail. Pick a water bottle that’s easy to carry but can provide you with sufficient water. Keep in mind that it’s an 8-mile trail so you need to be ready. 


Beating the heat also means wearing the most appropriate clothes in hot weather. Wear sunglasses and a hat for ultimate protection. For your comfort, you can bring a portable hand fan that you can use in between rests. Bring a mist to cool yourself down. If not, opt for a face wipe. Refresh your face, neck, and arms in between your hike to beat the heat. 



Don’t Forget To Fuel Up For The Hike

a healthy hiking snack with raisins, nuts, fruit, and cereal

©Photo by Samuel Rengifo from WikiCommons


Aside from staying hydrated, it’s also important to fill your belly. There are no places to buy any food once you start the trail. Bring snacks, cheeses or anything that’s not too heavy but filling. Any hike deserves snacks or treats when you reach the top. This isn’t just a reward, but you’re most likely hungry by the time you reach the summit. Aside from that, you need to fuel up so you have enough energy when you hike down.


Bring light snacks that are easy to carry but pack enough energy. Protein bars are an excellent idea. Chopped fruits in sealed bags or mixed nuts are also great snacks to bring. Skip food that is complicated to eat as there are no trash cans in the area. In line with that, bring a trash bag with you so you can keep all your wastes together. Before you head out, it’s also great if you have breakfast first. This not only gives you energy for the hike but also delays your hunger. 



Take Amazing Photos

Panoramic view of the iconic Potato Chip Rock

©Photo by Getty Image


To immortalize your experience, don’t forget to take photos. Seasoned hikers recommend taking photos during sunrise or around 5 am. The gorgeous rays of the sun as it breaks on the horizon are priceless. What more if you pair it with the iconic view of Potato Chip Rock? 


If you’re not an early riser, any time should still be a good time to take snaps. Just be patient to wait for your turn if you’re hiking with a big crowd. 



Always Be Prepared

Hiker leaping to the Potato Chip Rock

©Photo by kirybabe from Flickr


Perhaps among the most important guide to successfully hike the Potato Chip Rock is to be prepared. This is especially true for first-time hikers. Make sure to warm up before heading out to the trail. Aside from that, double-check your hiking essentials before beginning your hike. Leaving any critical item behind can ruin your trip. 


Take note also that to actually get on top of the famous rock, you need to jump onto it. There is a gap between a boulder to another where the famous rock is. Don’t be pressured to jump over the gap if you’re not confident. Not everyone who hikes here does so anyway. However, if you’re in for the thrill, then make the leap onto the famous Potato Chip Rock. 


The hike to the summit is not that very difficult. However, as you move further up, there are rocks you have to climb over. Bear in mind, too, that the trail is about 3-4 hours. So if you haven’t done a hike this long, you need to prepare for it. 


Aside from that, don’t forget to stop and enjoy the view. The summit may be your goal, but the scenery along the trail is also worth appreciating. There are spots where you can enjoy a great panoramic view of downtown San Diego


Pro Tips For The Potato Chip Rock Hiker

photo of a beginner hiker looking out at the view

©Photo from pxhere


  • The trail is bumpy, but there are a few flat areas. Take advantage of them by taking quick breaks to rest. 
  • There are plenty of parking spaces in Lake Poway. However, this can be packed on weekends. 
  • The city charges non-Poway residents different fees for cars and motorcycles. It’s best to check the Poway parking website to stay updated. 
  • Bring music with you to keep you going. After all, it’s a 3- or 4-hour hike. 
  • Go to the toilet before you start your hike. There’s a restroom at the parking lot that you can use before you begin the hike. There’s also a portable potty about 30-45 minutes into the hike. If you miss this one, you won’t find another toilet along the trail.  


Day Hiking Essentials

a guide to hiking essentials for beginners

©Photo from nps.gov


  • Lightweight backpack: Pick a backpack designed specifically for daytime hiking. 
  • Sunscreen for the body and the face sunscreen: The trail doesn’t have areas with shade, so it’s best to apply sunscreen wherever needed. Don’t forget to apply a face sunscreen, too, for ultimate protection.  
  • Lightweight bottle water: Water is essential for a Potato Chip Rock hike. However, make sure to use a light water bottle for convenience. It’s a 3-4-hour hike and you don’t want to lug a heavy jug around. 
  • Snacks: It’s sometimes not enough to have breakfast before a climb. Bringing light but energy-packed snacks is a great idea. Try mini whole nut and fruit bars.
  • Toilet paper and wipes: You’ll never know when you need a good wipe. It’s best to bring some toilet paper and a pack of wipes on a 3-hour hike.  
  • Light towel: For the sweaty climbers, a light towel is always handy. You can also use this to cover your head when it gets too hot. 
  • Hand sanitizer: There’s nowhere on the trail to wash your hands. So, if you want to stay clean, bring a hand sanitizer.  
  • Hat and sunglasses: The long hike can easily toast your skin, so a hat and sunglasses are handy.  
  • Hiking shoes: Pick comfortable hiking shoes that will help you walk, climb, and jump. 
  • Quick-dry tees: The area is mostly warm year-round. Wearing a quick-dry tee will help you stay comfortable throughout the hike.  
  • Hiking convertible pants: With its ability to convert into shorts, you can stay comfortable while hiking.  


Frequently Asked Questions


Is Potato Chip Rock Safe?

Because it’s a sliver of rock sitting atop a mountain, many ask if it’s safe to stand or sit on it. There haven’t been any reports of Potato Chip Rock’s death. It is very much safe to sit and stand on. If there have been any accidents here, it’s because the climber has been careless. It’s also said that you wouldn’t die from a fall because the ledge is not far from it. However, there’s a big chance you can break your legs. 


When Does Potato Chip Rock Open?

The famous Potato Chip Rock is open year-round, except on Thanksgiving and Christmas. The Lake Poway Recreation area gate opens at 6 AM and closes at 6 PM or at sunset. 


Is The Trail Kid-Friendly?

The trail is kid-friendly. There are no open edges where your kids can run and fall. There’s also a paved way until you reach the bumpy parts. There are some flat surfaces along the trail that kids can rest on once in a while. As long as the kids are up for the hike, there’s no reason why kids won’t enjoy the adventure.  


Is Potato Chip Rock Pet-Friendly?

Licensed dogs are allowed in the area. They also need to be on a 6-foot leash at all times. Aside from that, make sure your dogs are 100 feet from the shoreline. 


Hotels Nearest To Potato Chip Rock

photo of the interior of The Raddison Hotel

©Photo by Prayitno on Flickr


Rancho Bernardo Inn – This 265-acre property boasts 287 luxurious guestrooms that promise peace and relaxation. This inn is mostly known for its golf, spa facilities, and world-class cuisine. 

The Radisson Hotel San Diego – Rancho Bernardo: A winner of the Carlson Hotels 2010 Presidents Award, this hotel offers 180 oversized rooms. Guests can also enjoy the outdoor pool, spa, and bar and grill. Each room is also equipped with modern amenities. 

Hampton Inn & Suites San Diego-Poway – The Hampton Inn is just minutes from San Diego. It is also close to some attractions such as the San Diego Zoo, Sea World, and the Bernardo Winery. The renovated hotel offers rooms each equipped with modern amenities.

Best Western Poway/San Diego Hotel – For a more budget-friendly option, check Best Western Poway. Guest rooms come with modern amenities. Guests can also enjoy the swimming pool and free breakfast during their visit. 

Holiday Inn Express San Diego – Another budget-friendly option near Potato Chip Rock is Holiday Inn Express. This inn offers clean and comfortable rooms at very affordable rates. Located in a beautiful valley with hills surrounding it, Holiday Inn is known for its golf courses and wineries. 


Time To Conquer The Potato Chip!

The Potato Chip Rock is among the dream destinations of avid climbers. Aside from the hiking adventure, it’s not every day you get to sit on a potato chip-looking rock. It may look and sound all fun, but hiking and conquering the iconic Potato Chip Rock still needs careful planning. This is especially true for first-time climbers or those hiking with kids.


Hopefully, this best guide to hike the iconic rock is helpful enough. Now, time to pack and plan because there are some hiking and conquering that need to be done!