Mount Woodson Trail

Mount Woodson Trail summit

If you live in San Diego and like to hike, then you’ve heard of Potato Chip Rock. I have always wanted to climb up to the rock, but knew it was something that Karlie could not handle with her breathing issues related to GOLPP. So I waited until we adopted Sunny to tackle it. Of course we did many hikes before trying this one since it’s over 7M and an elevation gain over 2000 ft. It was not an easy hike, but it well worth the challenge and I highly recommend it.

The day of the hike we arrived at the Lake Poway Recreational Area a little after 9A. The park was already busy with kids and families. Despite that there was plenty of parking in the lot. After parking the car we walked toward the lake and found the start of the trail to the right of the restrooms.

Are We on the Right Trail?

The trail starts with a dirt trail that winds around part of Lake Poway. We followed this for awhile with me wondering if we were on the right trail. The signs indicated we were on the Lake Poway Trail with no indication it led to the Mount Woodson Trail. Despite that we kept following it and after almost a mile there was a sign for the Mount Woodson Trail. We turned right at the sign and started our trek up the mountain. At this point we were 2.9M from the summit.

Sunny checking out Lake Poway
on the Lake Poway Trail
Sign for Mount Woodson Trail

On the Mount Woodson Trail

At this point the trail starts to go up the mountain and away from the lake. The climb is pretty steady, but there are sections that are somewhat flat giving you a chance to catch your breath. The trail alternates between hard packed dirt and rocks. As you climb you come to sections with stones that make steps. There are many switchbacks with these steps. We observed quite a few people using walking sticks which I image were helpful, especially on the way down. The views are absolutely beautiful the entire trip. There are sections with pretty vegetation on each side and sections with awesome views so if you get tired on the way up you can stop and take in the scenery. There are also quite a few spots where you can get up on the rocks for a closer view.

on the Mount Woodson Trail
somewhat flat section of the trail
up the steps on the Mount Woodson Trail
Sunny between two rocks
more steps at the Mount Woodson Trail
view from the trail
almost to Mount Woodson Trail summit
views near the summit

Summit and Potato Chip Rock

Once you reach the summit you see the Potato Chip Rock. I was surprised to only find three other people near the rock. I had expected long lines, but was happy to only find a few people waiting to take pictures on the rock. Getting on the rock requires climbing between two large rocks or jumping from one rock to the other. I could not figure out a way for Sunny and I to do this safely so we opted for a picture in front of the rock. After our picture we found another rock to sit on and enjoy the view while we ate lunch. And then it was time to make the descent, which was easier than the way up. The hardest part was keeping my energetic dog from going too fast!

Potato Chip Rock
view of the summit at Mount Woodson Trail

How Difficult is it?

I’ll be honest, I am a fairly fit person and I found this hike challenging. The steep inclines coupled with the sun and elevation caused me to breath heavier than normal. If you are going to try this hike, please make sure you are capable of a long hike with steep inclines most of the way. You also need to have sure footing as you will be traversing packed dirt and stones which can both be slippery, especially on the descent. There is little shade on this hike so bring more than enough water and start early, especially if you hike with a dog. And don’t forget to consider the fitness level of your dog before tackling this climb. Sunny is an active 2 year old and is used to long walks and hikes. We did several steep hikes before we tackled this one and I stopped often to give her a drink. This hike took us 3 hours to complete, with the trip down being faster than the trip up.

Our Rating

Sunny and I rate Mount Woodson Trail to Potato Chip Rock 4 out of 4 paws up. Although there is no water feature, this is a not to be missed hike. It’s a challenging and long hike, but the views along the way are amazing and well worth the effort. Once you reach the peak there’s the iconic Potato Chip Rock and plenty of other large rocks on which to take a well-deserved rest break. At the start is a beautiful park with restrooms and ample parking. A great spot for a picnic lunch or a rest after the hike.

How Do I Get There?

The best way to find the trail is to use 14678 Lake Poway Road as the location. This will take you to the Lake Poway Recreational Area which is a huge park with playground equipment, picnic tables, grassy areas, restrooms, and a lot of parking. Park near the restrooms as the start of the trail is to the right of them. Although the trail is labeled Lake Poway Trail, this will take you to the Mount Woodson Trail. There is a $10 entrance fee to non-Poway residents on the weekends, but no fee on weekdays.

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