Potato Chip Rock Trail

We were trying to start and finish our 2020 six peak challenge even though it was already October. 😂 We decided to start with Mount Woodson, also known as Potato Chip Rock since we planned on hitting San Diego during Halloween weekend. I was a little worried at first since it was a really popular trail and usually that meant A LOT of hikers. Especially since there’s also a shorter hiking trail that leads up to the infamous Potato Chip Rock, but we planned accordingly and headed out early.

We had read that you had to pay to get inside and that booths officially opened at 6:00AM, but we just assumed that it worked like national parks where if you went early, it was essentially free because nobody would be there at the toll booth to charge entrance fee. What we didn’t know was that the trail shared it’s entrance with a gated utility facility. We went at 5:00AM all packed and ready and the gate was technically open (apparently it was opened that early for workers to come and go) so we went through, BUT rangers came after us and ended up kicking us out saying that gates aren’t opened to hikers until 6:00AM. There is an alternate method, park all the way down in the residential area and walk yourself back up (but it’s a ways up). There were two other hikers that walked in and the rangers didn’t seem to mind. We ended up just waiting right outside the gate for an hour for them to open. It was $10.00 per car and they only take cash if I remember correctly.

Here’s the details for the trail on online forums:

Roundtrip: 7.3 miles/11.75 km
Difficulty: Difficult
Time: 4 Hours
Elevation Gain: 2,130
Pets: Allowed, but must be leashed
Permit: Not needed
Fees: $10 Parking Fee

Photo courtesy of Brad Spiess

We packed 2 bottles of water, total of 72 ounces, a spinach wrap and sandwich with a few granola bars for this hike instead of of packing a hydration pack since it was cooler weather and we planned on getting down before the afternoon sun hit the mountains. We also brought light jackets since it was chilly in the morning. Nothing too thick since once the hike started, your body will warm up and you don’t want to carry too many heavy items.

Since it was winter time (in terms of sunlight) when we started this hike, the sun still wasn’t up yet and the trail was in the dark. I highly recommend bringing a flashlight with you (although you should have one on you for just in case moments anyways). We hiked in the dark passing the beautiful Lake Poway dressed in lunar light for about an hour before the sun began to rise, and we stopped for a moment to watch the sun bloom against the mountains and clouds. The sight was gorgeous. I also advise on starting early because the trail will be in the dark/shade as opposed to the sun. There’s VERY little shade on the trail and I can only imagine how hot it’ll be if you do this trail midday in the summer (pack plenty of water if you plan on summer hiking here).

Now, the entire way up was a constant incline. It can be dauting and difficult for those that hasn’t built up the stamina and energy for strenuous uphill workout. My partner ended up feeling exhausted and nauseated from the constant steep climb (I had him sit, hydrate and eat a granola bar to build his energy back up). This goes on until you hit the top where the Potato Chip Rock is. I clocked out at 1 hour 45 minutes to get to the top at 3.75 miles. Luckily, when we reached the top there were only minor amount of people, roughly about a dozen of us spread around the empty mountain top. Initially, there was also no line for the Potato Chip Rock so I took advantage of the emptiness and got my photo taken. Another 20 minutes later, a lot more people arrived and a line had started to form. By then we had already had a quick breakfast and started our descent. Again, going down was much easier and only took us about an hour and 15 minutes to get back to the parking lot.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to track the hike but was still able to get the data though:

Roundtrip: 7.5 miles/12 km
Difficulty: Intermediate, scale of 1 (beginner) – 3 (advanced), 2
Elevation Gain: 2,062
Time Done: 3 hours

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