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The Most Popular Hike in San Diego: Potato Chip Rock

Updated: Dec 16, 2021

Hannah Unbound sitting on top of Potato Chip rock in San Diego California

You can't look at one Sandiegan's Facebook page without at least one picture of them on potato chip rock. Since this hike is short, and only 30 min out of the city, and everyone has done it, you would think it would be easy. But this hike is a royal bitch of a climb.

There are also two different trailheads, one in Romana and one in Poway, each giving its own advantages and downfalls. In this post, I'd like to give you my insight on which one is better, how to prepare, and what to expect on this massively popular hike.



Which Trailhead to Pick

7.3 miles, 2,119 ft, 2.5 hours

Lake Poway as seen from the Potato Chip Rock trail

This trailhead is a little tricky to figure out, you have to park in the Lake Poway Recreation Area parking lot, and take the Mount. Woodson trail which Potato Chip Rock is a part of. Not to worry though, they have a map at the front of the trailhead and the rock is easy to spot.


The potato chip rock trail from the Poway entrance

- Definitely a better natural view over the mountain landscape

- Slower incline to the rock

- Actual dirt trail

- Large parking lot


- You have to pay $10 on the weekends to park

- It is a thin trail and can get very crowded later in the morning

- There are steep areas at the beginning and end, with some rocky bits towards the top (it's still a 2,000ft elevation gain)

- Longer trail at 7.3 miles

4.1 miles, 1220 ft, 2 hours

The Potato Chip Rock Trial from the Ramona side in San Diego California

This trailhead is very difficult to see from the road, as it's simply a little offshoot off of Mt.Woodson rd. The best way to spot it is by the long line of cars parked along Highway 67, where you will also have to park.


The sunrise on the potato ship rock trail in san diego california

- A shorter hike in distance at 4.1 miles

- It has a wide paved trail (starts as a dirt trail and then turns in to technically just a road)

- If you go early, there is a great sunrise view


- This trail is literally straight the fuck up! (with switchbacks, but still, it's steep with a 1,220ft elevation gain)

- You don't get an "authentic" trail experience by walking a road most of the way

- Parking is strange and difficult (since you're just pulling over to the shoulder of the highway)

- If you go in the summer there will be very little shade, and that pavement can get hot

The mountain landscape of Poway seen from San Diego's most popular trail
My personal choice is definitely the Poway trail, the views are better, the trail is better and if you go early on a weekday, there are fewer people and free parking.



What to Expect on the Trail

A trail marker reading Mt.Woodson Trail and stone stairs leading to the summit

- Either trailhead you pick will still be a steep climb since you have to cover over 1,000ft of elevation gain (the Poway entrance gives you some reprieve in the middle of the hike though)

- If you do not start early, expect a very long line to get a picture on the potato chip rock

- There are a bunch of satellite towers at the top that sort of take from the view, but I suggest just turning around and looking at the mountains instead

Multiple large cell towers at the top of Mt.Woodson in Poway California

- This trail can get very hot in almost any season so please come prepared for sun

- This trail gets extremely crowded on either side of the mountain (if you want more space between you and others, take the Ramona side)


How to Prepare For the Potato Chip Rock Hike

Landscape view over Poway from the potato chip rock trail
  • Stretch out those calves

- going straight up a mountain for 2 hours is going to hurt

  • Bring a snack so you can hang out at the top and enjoy the views

  • Bring a lot of water

- not just some bottle in hand, but a bladder or a bag that can carry multiple bottles, you'll need it

- I saw a girl going up with only a bag of gummy bears in her hand, not a good idea

  • Bring sun protection

- as said before, not a lot of sun coverage on this trail

The potato chip rock trail in Poway San Diego California
  • Bring your phone to get a picture on the rock (since that's why you're taking this trail)

  • Be patient

- you'll have to wait to go around people, and for people to pass you, plus at the rock for a picture, so just chill

  • Go early

- This is the most important item of them all!

- When I say early, I don't mean "San Diego early", I mean to get to the trail by 7am not wake up at 7am.

-I was coming back down the trail at 9am on a Friday and was already confronted by about 100 plus people

-Of course, this is only important if you want to avoid the huge groups of people that bombard this trail on a daily basis



The actual potato chip rock at the top of San Diego's most popular trail

In summation, go early, and go on a cooler day and you'll have a great time. I actually really enjoyed this hike from the Poway trailhead and I'm looking forward to bringing more people out to it. Just be prepared for a real workout.

If you're looking for more beginner-level hikes in the San Diego area, I highly suggest checking out Torrey Pines. All of their trails are under 3 miles and offer amazing views of the ocean on top of a cliffside. You can also check out other natural areas around San Diego here.

As always, feel free to comment below, DM me on Instagram, or email me if you have any questions on the potato chip rock trails or anything hiking or camping-related. I'd be happy to help you out.

Until next time,

Happy Trails!

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Hey there! My name is Hannah Smentkowski, I'm the photographer, writer, hiker, camper, and craft beer drinker of this blog!


Here, I share my travel, camping, and hiking tips to help anxious explorers get outdoors with confidence!

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