Hike Up Mt. Woodson for Your Instagram Photo on Potato Chip Rock

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.” -John Muir

Hiking Potato Chip Rock


Distance: 9 Miles

Steepness: VERY

Popularity: VERY

Path Mapping: Pretty well, only one confusing spot for us

What to Bring: Water, more water, snacks

Time it Takes: 4 hours+

Hiking Potato Chip Rock

In September 2016 we got a big group together to hike to the summit of Mt. Woodson, something I have wanted to do since moving here to San Diego. Everyone on Instagram posts pictures with this “Potato Chip Rock” (a rock that is so thin it looks like you’re sitting on a potato chip) and I’ve been wanting my own photo there so badly. This is an intense hike however, so we made a group event out of it, and trained for it. This hike (if you go around the lake, and do not take the paved emergency fire path) is 1 mile around the lake and then 3.5 miles almost straight uphill. Then, you have to walk back down and around, so in total it’s about 9 miles. Everyone says to go on a weekday because on the weekend there can be a line that takes 45 mins or so to get to the front of to take your picture on the rock, so we went on a Thursday. Check out this video of our group hike:

It’s a LONG hike. Prepare to climb! No matter how much training I did to prepare, nothing prepared me for the steep uphill and consistent climb of the Potato Chip Rock hike. It feels like you’ll never make it to the top, but trust me you do eventually! Bringing a group of friends with you definitely helps because they will distract you so you don’t think about your aching legs and lungs as much. We prepared for this hike by hiking Iron Mountain, and I thought that was a long hike. Ha. (See the Iron Mountain hike here!)

Hiking Potato Chip Rock

It is VERY popular. If you don’t go on a weekday, you’re looking at waiting in line forever to get a photo, and walking past (and with) a lot of other hikers along the way up and back. Plan to go early in the morning, later in the afternoon, or on a weekday. These times are the best if you’re looking to hike without a crowd of people.

Hiking Potato Chip Rock

There is only one confusing spot. Most signs point you straight up to the Mt. Woodson summit. There are porte-potties along the trail, and markers to lead you in the right direction. Potato Chip Rock is very close to the actual summit, so when you’re almost there, you will see it on the left. At one point, there are two signs that both point to the Mt. Woodson summit. One trail goes down (and eventually around and back up a longer way) and one trail goes up toward the summit. Make sure you just continue to go UP, and you won’t get lost! If you are confused at all, wait for another hiker and ask to make sure. There should be plenty of people around to ask no matter when you go!

Hiking Potato Chip Rock

Bring lots of water, and snacks! I brought a water backpack and ended up having just enough water, and we were hiking on a cloudy day. On a sunny day, I would make sure to bring a water backpack and a few extra bottles, just in case. It can get hot quick, so make sure to bring a hat and snacks for break times!

Hiking Potato Chip Rock

The hike is totally worth the photo! Climbing up on top of the big rocks to get to the edge to take a photo is actually quite hard! I’m so glad we had a group with us, so we could all help each other. You either have to take one (giant) leap of faith, or find an alternative way to climb across from one rock to the rock that sticks out. Once you’re across, you can climb out to the edge to take an awesome photo on the edge of what seems to be the Earth! It was cloudy for us so you couldn’t see the city beneath, but we took the photo anyways. Everyone knows that famous rock that sticks out, so it was totally worth the hike!

Plan at least 4 hours to hike this trail. We started at 8:00am and didn’t get back down until about 12:00pm. And that was with virtually no line at the top for the photo. We did take about a 30 minute break at the top to enjoy the view and take tons of pictures, but other than that, we were hiking. If you want to take lots of breaks and if you have to wait long for pictures (say, if you’re going on a weekend) then plan more than 4 hours. Otherwise, 4 hours should be enough time!

Hiking Potato Chip Rock

Overall, this was an experience I will never forget, and I am SO glad I did it! Have you hiked this trail? How was it? Comment with your Potato Chip Rock photo!! 😀