Potato Chip Rock: Mt Woodson Summit in San Diego

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I have always loved the picture I have seen of people standing on the edge of a thin rock that looked like it will break at any moment. Upon additional research I found out that the aforementioned rock is outside of San Diego on top of the Mt Woodson summit. I figured I had to go check it out, so a little while ago I made the 4 miles each way hike to what is affectionately known as potato chip rock.


  • 8 miles round trip
  • 1,700 feet of elevation gain
  • $8 for parking
  • No shade
  • Address: 14644 Lake Poway Road, Poway, CA 92064

How to Get There

The hike to potato chip rock is located in the city of Poway right near Poway Lake. It is about 5 to 10 minutes off the freeway and it costs 8 dollars to park if you do not live in the city of Poway itself. Once you park in the top parking lot the trailhead starts right near the bathroom and wraps around the lake.

The Trail

The trail winds around the lake for about a mile before the actual trailhead starts. It’s about 3 miles to the summit from here but there is a good amount elevation gain so be prepared, it is up pretty much the entire way. Here is the Google Earth View of my GPS recording to give you a feel.

The first thing you notice is there are a lot of unique rock formations all along the trail and mountain side. This make sense as the main reason for this hike is to see the crazy potato chip rock.

Also of note, there is only one place that has any real shade on the trail from here, it is a little tree about half way to the rock and it is a great place to relax. We went through about three liters of water on the trip and still ran out with about a mile left, so make sure you have a lot of water if you are going in the hot summer months.

The trail itself is well maintained and relatively easy to follow all the way to the summit.

The Summit

Once you reach the top of the mountain there is still about a half mile walk to the actual potato chip rock. By this time you will surely be tired, but keep pushing on as you are almost to the rock. There are a lot of cool rocks up here to boulder on as well.

The actual summit itself is over run with antennas, which detracts from the view, but on a clear day you can still see a lot of San Diego from here.

Check out the view from the summit.

Potato Chip Rock

When you are about a quarter-mile away from the summit (the rock is before the summit) you will  see Potato Chip Rock in the distance.

This is the real highlight of this trek as it is a very unique rock. This rock requires some scrambling to get to the top of and while it looks very scary to stand on it doesn’t feel that way until you actually get to the very end. At that point you can hear the echo of your footsteps and that is a little weird. Of course it should go with out saying, this rock will one day break, so make sure you are careful if you chose to walk out on it.

The rock really does create a fun photo but it did not seem as scary when I was up on it as it does in the picture. The area can get really packed though so you may have to wait in line.  The rock itself is about 100 yards below the summit. Once you are done you can head back down the way you came.

Potato chip rock is a great hike to explore the beauty of North San Diego. I like to climb mountains that have something unique at the end and this one definitely does. Just be sure to take lots of water if you go in the summer time. Check out the rest of the photos, get directions and leave me a comment below.

Photo Gallery


Get Directions

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jim-Van-Matre/1014131392 Jim Van Matre

    Thank you for the great directions and details. I’ve always wanted to go there but the uphill hike has kept me away. You’ve inspired me to give it a go.

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      You can do it Jim! It really is a fun hike to be able to accomplish, and you get a fun picture at the end!

      • Jim Van Matre

        Thanks. Finally headed up there tomorrow! So excited.

  • vixyleigh

    Thank you for writing about this hike! I have seen many pictures from friends who have accomplished this hike and have been piqued with interest ever since! I may tackle on this hike soon while we’re blessed with beautiful weather!

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      No problem! I love this hike, you should be able to stand successfully on top of the potato chip

  • HeyCourtneyRae

    I’ve always wanted to do this hike! my fb feed is constantly flooded with this famous shot!

    A Golden State of Mind

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the comment, it is a fun place for a profile picture!

  • Natalie Smith

    I love this site! I recently relocated to Riverside County, and have searched through your site to find great hikes, things to see and do. Yesterday a friend and I took on Mt. Woodson. It was a great hike, although I will not do it during the summer again. Thanks for the time you have put into this site. I can see it will play a key part in my adventures!

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Natalie, thanks for the comment and I am glad you have enjoyed the site! I agree on Potato Chip Rock, its super fun but not a summer hike as there is no shade!

  • Sanjoy

    Nice pictures, Josh! I just returned from Mount Woodson and Potato Chip Rock hike. Your description and pictures are really cool!

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks Sanjoy! It’s a great hike, I hope you enjoyed yourself on it!

  • Tara Ruark

    Set out early yesterday morning and it couldn’t have been better. Foggy and cold on the way uo. Hot and sunny on the way down. Very steep! Definitely had to set small checkpoints but we all made it to the top. Took our time. Will be going back next month to hopefully improve our time. Beautiful area and can not wait to go again.

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      That’s great the weather worked out so well for you! Hope the second trip goes just as good!

  • stairman

    there is a forty foot or more drop if that rocks breaks you will die….if you must go on it do it one person at a time and stay back at least three or four feet from the edge…some day someone will die here…..once I saw four 200 pound plus young guys out at the end smiling….they may have weakened it that day…..feelin lucky?

    • Frank

      there was a “cobra head” rock formation in Utah, that broke a few months ago. It was during heavy weather (no one was hurt), but it existed for more than 200 million years and I’m pretty sure it endured its share of weather through all that time.

      I bet the people who climbed it over the years added the extra stress and shear that ended up weakening it. If this potato chip rock falls, let’s hope it’s during some heavy weather late at night and not during some crazy group selfie.

      • stairman

        200million?….sorry you need to crack a geology text book a bit.The dinos they dig up in Utah under the rock are younger then that.An overhanging rock structure of the hardest rock in the best climate for preservation would doubtfully last 200k years and most likely less then 20k….the entire batholith that makes up the southern California mountains is less then 4million years old

        • Frank

          After doing some serious and strenuous research (googled it in 20 seconds)… I confirm the cobra head rock formation was 245 MILLION years old. You need to read those geology text books a little more closely.

          • stairman

            the rock body was formed 245mybp….the cobrahead as you put it wasn’t exposed till very very recently…it was caused by diferential erosion and has not been sitting there unchanged for 245 million years…..are you a victim of the public school system?

          • Frank

            well using google for 20 seconds never put me in serious debt. You seem to know more about this, and I’ll give it to you… even though whether the specific cobra structure was 200k or 200m years old is really beside my original point. Thanks for your enlightened knowledge.

          • stairmaster

            Public school system a problem jackass?

          • stairman

            our public school system…today ….in California ..,…yess jackass where do you teach

  • Linda

    you can go the shorter way……..just about 1.5 miles one way….that’s what we did…..my friend used to eat lunch up there and no one bothers them though some hikers called them crazy….now people are in line just to have their picture taken…..i would recommend that people don’t jump while on the rock so that others can enjoy it too….

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the information and good recommendations on how to interact with the rock

    • Maria

      Where’s the short way?

      • Melissa Durham Jones

        If u park inn the highway side, u can hike up the blacktop road, rather than the lake poway mountain side. Way shorter but still pretty steep.

        • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

          Thanks for the info Melissa!

  • PennyKay

    Beautiful pics along with those posted by my son-in-law and daughter.

  • Lena

    Thank you Josh for a very informative article and beautiful pictures, my sisters and I with our children will make an attempt at it next month, will a 65 year old woman with fair psychical condition make it? …and which or where is the shorter trail that Linda mentioned ?

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      Thanks for the comment! It is a pretty demanding hike, not too long but a decent amount of elevation. Just make sure to take your time! I am not exactly sure where the shorter trail is so hopefully Linda will enlighten us!

  • Christine619

    Thanks for the info! I’m going to attempt it for my birthday! Wish me luck! I’ve been hiking Cowles for a while now, but am still intimidated! I got this!!!

    • http://californiathroughmylens.com/ Josh

      You can do it! Make sure to have fun and get an awesome picture!

  • John

    How long did it take you to do the hike? My wife and I are looking for a nice hike, but nothing too long.

  • Impeach Obama Now!

    Although the pics and info is well done. Sharing exact directions to very special places in the outback on the net, will do nothing more than flood the special area with more and more people! I am an avid 4×4 outback explorer and hiker. And I love outdoor photography!

    And I have seen many special places over run by way too many people because of post’s exactly like this! And eventually, when a special place becomes over run, then rules will be put into place to limit your ability to visit!

    All you have to do is look at what happened to Cedar Creek, as a perfect example! So stop boasting and sharing the exact directions to your favorite places, or one day in the near future you will be sorry you did!
    Fun pics are cool! Exact directions are not!

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