Potato Chip Rock Hike – Mt. Woodson Trail East/Route 67 (Short Trail)

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how to hike potato chip rock

Potato Chip Rock is one of the most iconic hikes in San Diego, California. It involves….you guessed it. A rock that looks like a potato chip. When I was planning for my week vacation in San Diego, this Potato Chip Rock hike was one of the most recommended, both for uniqueness and relatively short distance. So the hike combined two of my most favorite things in the world: potato chips and short distances. I’m in. 

The actual location of the hike (which I’ll drop below) is about 30 minutes outside of the city of San Diego, in a town called Poway. But when I looked for directions, I learned that the Potato Chip rock hike distance was actually closer to ~7.5 miles (12.1 km) roundtrip, which ended up being about 4 hours total?? But I had also read a few sources saying the hike was only 4 miles and it would take 2 hours!

Either way, not as short as I was expecting, but I was still down to do it! Plus, I had spent the last two weeks gorging myself on all of San Diego’s delicious food and bumming at the beach. I needed some activity.

But as with everything I do in life, I did everything wrong. SO, here’s a post on how to have the best experience at the Potato Chip Rock hike – learned from my continuous bad decisions.

Potato Chip Rock Hike Tip: Head out early!

If you’re a regular hiker, you probably could have guessed this tip. Buuut I suck at waking up early. As hard as I try, I cannot be the early bird who gets the worm. However, if you are, they there are some perks for you! First, you’ll get through the hike before peak sun and heat.

THERE IS NO SHADE DURING THE HIKE.

So you’ll thank yourself by heading out early. Second, it will be less crowded. People love to stick around at the top for a picture with the “potato chip” rock, and lines can get long! Some hikers noted they waited over an hour! So overall, hiking early is a good idea.

The trailheads open at 6am and close at sunset.

What I did…

hikes in san diego

But again. That is not me. So if you are not a morning person either, here’s my experience. I woke up “late” around 11am, then stopped by Panera Bread for a quick brunch. So I didn’t get to the hike trailhead until around 12:30. Luckily for me, it was overcast that day (at least for the first 30 minutes). Also, since I was in San Diego for a whole week, I decided to hike on a Tuesday and I only encountered two other groups of hikers, one couple on our way up and another small group at the summit taking pictures.

Potato Chip Rock Hike Tip: Choose Your Trailhead

When I heard Potato Chip rock was almost 8 miles roundtrip, I was shocked. Then I learned that there are actually a lot of different trailheads that can take you to the summit of Mt. Woodson, and around the area. But for this post, I will talk about the two most popular. They are just on either side of the mountain and can technically be one through-hike, though most people just return the way they came because they have to get back to their car. All trailheads are dog friendly as long as they are on a leash at all times (just make sure to clean up after them!).

trails in san diego
My messy doodles, but these are where the trailheads start relative to each other. Lake Poway trail is on the left near the lake. Route 67 trail is bottom right. And Fry-Koegel Trail is the one on the center-right, off the golf club

Mt. Woodson Trailhead – Lake Poway

address: Mount Woodson Trail, Poway, CA 92064

This trailhead is the most popular, and likely the one that pops up when you google it. There is a large parking area (fee required: $5 for cars $2 for motorcycles), restrooms, and it passes by Lake Poway on the way to the summit. It’s pretty darn scenic. BUT, it’s also 7.5 miles of hiking with no shade, moderate difficulty.

Mt. Woodson Trailhead – East (Route 67)

address: 16310 CA-67, Ramona, CA 92065

As it turns out, this is actually the trailhead I ended up hiking (by mistake). But it turned out to be a good thing! This route is basically the “backside” of the mountain. Good news, the parking is free! Though there is no designated parking area, it’s just off the side of the highway. This trail is only 4 miles round trip. The total hike took me about 2.5 hours. There is still no shade, and also no restrooms. It is also EXTREMELY STEEP. Plus, you will pass “Butt Cheek Rock” on this trail, which is reason enough.

Fry-Koegel Trailhead

address: 17301-17399 Mt Woodson Way, Ramona, CA 92065

There is also the Fry Koegel Trailhead, which is another popular one. It is nearby the Mt. Woodson Golf Club. It is around 6 miles roundtrip, unpaved, and slighly wilder than the other two. However, it’s clear and maintained. About moderate difficulty, and scenic! I haven’t done this hike personally, but it sounds like you can park near the fire station or on the side of the road for free. Or maybe at the golf club for a fee? Idk, if any of you have done this trail, let me know!

Moving forward, this post will be specifically about the Route 67 trailhead (aka the short trail). However, most of the tips can be applied to any of the hikes!

Potato Chip Rock Hike Tip: Bring supplies!

Even if you choose the short Route 67 hike, you’re going to need some supplies. Mostly water. For reference, I brought one water bottle.

That was a mistake.

Route 67 may be the shortest hike, but it is also the most challenging in terms of steep inclines and the sheer number of switchbacks. If you have a 3L camelbak, that would be ideal, especially for the longer trailheads. The equivalent would be about 6 average-sized water bottles.

If you have a large hydroflask (64oz/~2L), that should be a good amount for the Route 67 short trailhead. You will have to ration though. I will eventually write up a Beginner’s Hiker Checklist Guide, but until then, here are some other things to bring!

Hiker Mini-Packing List

  • nutritious snacks (think nuts, dried fruit, jerky, power bars, etc)
  • hiking shoes, or if you don’t have any, choose a shoe with good grip and ankle support if possible. (expensive boots =/= better, as noted by Risa from Switchback Shawty)
  • small backpack for supplies
  • mini basic first aid kit (think bandaids, alcohol wipes, tylenol, etc)
  • saved offline-map of trail (in case you lose signal)

Starting the Hike

parking at potato chip rock
After you park on the side of the road, the Route 67 trail head is right there! Make sure to not park in any red zones!

Now that you have all the basics down, it’s time to get to the hike. When you get to the Route 67 trailhead, just park on the side of the road. Make sure to hide any valuables in your car (like phones, wallets, purses, etc) in your trunk or something. You can never be too careful with car break-ins! There is no fee at this trailhead!

potato chip rock hike short trail

You will walk along a dirt path for a bit, then when you get to the paved road, look to your right to see “Butt Crack Rock.” It’s…just a rock that looks like a butt. I will leave it up to your imagination to keep the surprise. I thought it was silly, but feel free to just ignore if butt humor is not on your agenda.

The road will have a steady incline for about half a mile or so. If you have ache-y knees or other joint issues, it may be useful for you to bring a walking stick or knee braces. Because it only gets harder from here. At this point in my hike, the sun started to come out and it came out HOT. Thankfully, because of my hypothyroidism, I usually travel with a sun umbrella. But it was still really hot, so another reminder to bring enough water!

potato chip rock hike
Where the paved road starts
is potato chip rock hard
The paved road is in decent condition, but there are some dips, cracks, and mini potholes. Just keep an eye out!

Getting to the Summit

There will be about a mile of switchbacks, and it will suck. As you approach the top, you will start to see antennas. This is technically the summit! The hike will start to flatten out but keep to the trail, walking past the antennas. After a few minutes you will reach potato chip rock!

potato chip rock trail
When you reach this split, stay right towards the antennas and walk past them
potato chip rock hike

Hopefully, the line to take a picture at potato chip rock won’t be too long when you’re there, but it CAN get pretty wild. I would say a picture at the rock is fun at least once, but if you have already done a variation of this hike and taken a picture, don’t feel bad about skipping it.

That said, you should know a few things about taking a picture at the rock.

Potato Chip Rock Photo Op Tips

  1. It is not VERY accessible. There is a small jump (a few feet ~3ft) that you have to make to get to the edge of the rock for the iconic picture.
  2. The rock itself is stable, but if you fall from being a daredevil and trying to dangle from the edge, you will probably break some bones if you fall. But again, be smart and you’ll be fine.
  3. To get the iconic picture, you will need someone else to take it from the side. However, if there is anyone else there, they will (in most cases) gladly take a picture for you!
  4. Have a few poses in mind already to get your pictures quickly! If you already know what you’re going to do, a large group might let you skip ahead!
best hikes in southern california
This is the gap between the two rocks. You have to jump from the rock on the right to the “potato chip” rock on the left

Annnd then you’re done! Give yourself a pat on the back for finishing this hike! If you’re looking for more fun adventures in California, check out the following hikes and parks!

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12 Comments

  1. As soon as I read “But as with everything I do in life, I did everything wrong,” I was like “finally, someone else who accidentally does stuff the wrong way. 😉
    I don’t know that I’d have the patience to wait for an hour to get a photo on that potato chip rock. I would probably cheat and take a photo of it while no one was on it and then hoof it back to my car. Especially since I know I’d have the best intentions of waking up early to do this hike, but there’s no way it’d happen. That sun would not be my friend.

    1. Hahhaha I feel ya!! Your best bet would probably be to go on a weekday!

  2. Helpful tips! I’ve done a little hiking in Washington state, but never Oregon! I will definitely put this place on my list!

    1. There’s a lot of great hikes in Oregon, but uhh this is actually California!

  3. Looks like such a cool hike! I had never heard of the rock, but looks like such a unique formation 🙂 Hopefully I can try out this hike one day.

  4. Love how detailed your post is! I had never heard of this particular hike before. But it looks stunning. Hope I can do it some day!

  5. “There will be about a mile of switchbacks, and it will suck.” Hehe this made me laugh, so relatable. Potato chip rock looks so cool! Adding this trail to my list for when I finally make it out to San Diego. Thanks for sharing

    1. YAaaaas!!! Thank you for reading!! And I hope you are able to visit San Diego soon!

  6. Frank Skala says:

    Really enjoyed your article on hiking to potato chip rock! Thank you for your good work capturing important details.
    Will be taking a group up the 4-mile trail on a Monday in Feb. Wish us luck!
    One question. Is there enough room to park 10 cars at the trail head?

    1. Hmmm…yes…probably. But you’d have to get there very early!

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