Hiking in San Diego: The Potato Chip

san diego hikes, potato chip hike, potato chip san diego, best hike southern california, mr and mrs adventure, This past weekend Drew and I went to San Diego to celebrate our friend’s recent engagement. On Saturday evening we enjoyed some of the best sushi we have ever had at Harney Sushi (check in on FourSquare for an AWESOME sake deal!), and on Sunday, once everyone was up and running, we went out for brunch at Hob Nob Hill, which was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. It was absolutely delicious and they serve complimentary coffee! Gotta love that.

After debating various activities for us to embark on that afternoon, our friends settled on taking us to hike to the famous “Potato Chip Rock,” which is a super thin slab of rock that, you guessed it, looks like an awesome, giant potato chip! The PCR sits atop Mount Woodson, which is about 40 minutes North East of San Diego.

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A little known thing about PCR is that there are 2 different routes you can take. The longer West-side route has you park at Lake Poway Park, which costs $8, and makes for an 8-mile loop along a dirt trail (map). The East-side route, the one we prefer (and the only one we have taken), has you park along the shoulder of  CA-67, near the Hedy Drive intersection, and makes for a shorter, 4-mile loop on a shaded, paved trail (map). When driving to the trailhead for the East-side route, just look for all the cars parked along the shoulder (which there most certainly will be), and you’ll know you have arrived:

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This shorter route also offers opportunities to rock climb and boulder, which the other route does not provide. You can find excellently detailed driving instructions and rock climbing tips here.

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Once parked, we scrambled across the busy CA-67 highway and followed the signs guiding us to the PCR trailhead, it was maybe .5 miles more before we reached the actual paved trail:

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We’ve done this hike twice now, once in the heat of a summer afternoon and more recently, on a cool fall evening. Both were beautiful, yet very different experiences. If hiking in the summer we recommend starting your excursion earlier in the day or perhaps later in the afternoon. It’s a pretty steep, strenuous hike and with the SD summer heat on top of it, it’s best to strategize accordingly.

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Make sure to bring along sunscreen, a hat, and plenty of water, as there is no where to refill along the trail. We also made note that Pringles would be a highly appropriate snack for this hike :) If you find yourself hiking the PCR in fall or winter, do yourself a favor – bring a sweater and head out in time to be back at least an hour or two before sunset, here’s why:

1. It’s extremely windy at the top of PCR and with the sinking sun and SoCal’s cool evening temperatures settling in (October – March), without a sweater you’ll be hiding behind rocks for refuge from the bone chilling winds… like me:

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2. As the day comes to an end and the hours of sunlight become fewer and fewer (in November the sun sets as early as 4:30!), a line of people seeking to enjoy their perfectly lit moment on top of the famous Potato Chip begins to form and grow longer, and longer, and longer, until you find yourself waiting in an hour long line that you thought only existed in Disney:

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The journey to the top can take anywhere from 1-2 hours, depending on your fitness level. As we mentioned before, it’s pretty steep so wear comfortable hiking shoes and be prepared to sweat:

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Along the way you’ll notice some really cool rock formations, whether it’s in the rocks or the actual rocks themselves:

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Once the trail levels out, you’ll notice a meaty collection of satellite towers at the top, try not to give them too much attention though, as there is way more natural beauty around to appreciate:

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The view from the top is unusual and completely breathtaking:

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Continuing along the path, which veers down and to the right, you will find yourself face-to-face with the famed Potato Chip Rock! Take in the views as you wait in line for your moment:

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We had no idea that PCR was going to be as cool, and intimidating, as it was! Once we got up there and realized it was tilted and the wind was mega strong, I started to rethink my solo headstand, but with Drew supporting me I felt super strong and decided to go for it. Voila!:

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As you can see, the lighting in our Potato Chip photos varies drastically, this is because the brighter set was taken around 2pm on a clear, blue summer day, and the darker set was taken at 4pm on a cloudy fall evening. One thing is certain, no matter when you decide to go it will be amazing.

PCR is literally 2-inches thick along the edge, so thin that you can hear your footsteps echo… such a weird feeling!

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Hiking down the trail is definitely a lot easier, and faster too, it took us maybe 30 minutes. We thoroughly enjoyed our hike to PCR and recommend that you put it on your must-do list the next time you are in San Diego, we’re definitely glad we did!

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Comments

  1. Viry says

    Hi, I was just wondering if you think this hike can be done by a 38 week pregnant girl?? She’s planning on going for it this weekend. I heard it’s hard to get on top of the potato chip rock? She wants a picture on it!

    • says

      While we admire her sense of adventure, I would not recommend it for her at this time. While the hike up is pretty strenuous in itself, the part that I am most thinking of is right before you get on the Potato Chip. There is a huge gap right before the Potato Chip rock that you either have to jump (NOT recommended) or wedge your self down into and climb back up and out of. It’s an awesome scene and photo op, but I recommend she can wait until after the baby and someone can hand her the little one once she has made it up onto the Potato Chip. I hope that helps and I am so glad you reached out! Have a beautiful week :)

  2. steven says

    In an effort to shorten the total time for the hike, is it possible to bike from the parking lot to the base of the mountain and then hike up? From my calculations, the parking lot to the base is about 1 mile, so that would take some serious time off the trek. My big question is, “Do you know if there’s a place to lock the bikes up near the base of the climb?” Thanks!

    • says

      Great question! You could certainly do this to shorten the time of the hike- I can’t remember if there is something exactly at the base of the mountain to lock your bike to, however I do believe there will be a sign post near the base that you could lock it to. I think it’s worth a shot, let us know what you find!

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