Potato Chip Rock is one of those hikes that even non-hikers want to go on to get a photo. It is located outside of San Diego, in the town of Poway, and it features a no joke 8-mile hike to a thin rock that people climb on, and that looks like it will break at any moment. I have done this hike many times over the years, with the first visit being in 2013. Back then, it was not the popular hike that it is today, and we basically had the whole rock to ourselves. Fast forward to 2020, and on a recent visit, over 50 people were waiting in line for a photo, and I have heard it can be over 100 on the weekends. It is still a great hike though, with beautiful views. Just be prepared to wait when you get to Potato Chip Rock. Here is all the information so you can check it out.
- 8 miles round trip
- 2,000 feet of elevation gain
- $10 for parking (I believe this is only on the weekends and holidays though)
- No shade
- I hiked this in 2013 and 2020
- Address: 14644 Lake Poway Road, Poway, CA 92064
Here is a video I made from my hike in 2020.
How to Get There
The hike to Potato Chip Rock is in Poway near Poway Lake. It is 5 to 10 minutes off the freeway and it costs $10 to park on the weekends and holidays if you do not live in the city of Poway itself. Once you park in the top parking lot, the trailhead starts near the bathroom and wraps around the lake.
The trail winds around the lake for a mile before you reach the actual trailhead. From there, it is about 3 miles to the summit. Be prepared though, because there is significant elevation gain to the summit, and it is straight-up the whole way. Here is the Google Earth View of my GPS recording to give you a feel for the trail.
As you head up, you will leave the lake behind and head towards the mountain with the radio towers on top of it.
The trail is really well maintained with lots of signs at the junctions and good rock stairs for the steep parts.
There are a lot of unique rock formations along the trail = that will make your walk up enjoyable. Think of it as whetting your appetite for what is to come: 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 halfway to the top, and it is a great place to relax if it is a hot day.
We went through about three liters of water on the trip and still ran out with about a mile left on the way down, so make sure you have a lot of water if you are going in the hot summer months. I would recommend not going in the summer though.
As you continue up, you will get some great views out in the distance towards the ocean and the mountains and cities around you.
Once you reach the top of the mountain, there is still about a half-mile walk to the potato chip rock. By this time, you will surely be tired, but keep pushing — you are almost there! There are also a lot of cool rocks up here to boulder on if you like that sort of thing.
The summit itself is overrun with antennas, which detracts from the view, but on a bright 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 of a 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 unique rock and something I had never seen before. This rock requires some scrambling to get to the top of, and while it looks terrifying to stand on, it doesn’t feel that way until you get up on it. At that point, you can hear the echo of your footsteps, and that is a little weird. Of course, it should go without saying, this rock will one day break, so make sure you are careful if you chose to walk out on it.
The rock does create a fun photo, but the area can get packed, so you may have to wait in line. The rock is about 100 yards below the summit. Here is the photo I did in 2020 which is a popular pose on the rock.
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 County. 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. Let me know what you think below.