What it’s like to hike Potato Chip Rock on somewhat of a whim

Potato Chip Rock

There’s a lot of hype around Potato Chip Rock, a hiking trail in Poway, California because it leads to a rock that resembles a potato chip and because people get really cool pictures on it. So, I hopped on the bandwagon and added it to my bucket list a few months ago, set a date to go, and drove down to San Diego County this past weekend.

I titled this post as such because although I did a little research about the trail (and saw that some people said it was strenuous), there was insufficient preparation for this hike aside from picking a day to go. My friends and I drove to San Diego County from Los Angeles on Saturday morning (a little more than two hours of driving). We didn’t have enough water either, so we swung by a store to pick up 12 bottles of water, which further delayed our arrival.

When we arrived at Lake Poway Park – where the trail begins – we found there was a $5 entrance fee. Luckily, somebody had some cash, but the rest of us didn’t. Additionally, by the time we got, it was past 9 a.m. and the sun already pretty high up in the sky. Fortunately (again), we brought two bottles of sun block to at least protect our skin.

Potato Chip RockThe trail we hiked was roughly 3.6 miles one-way, according to Google Maps, so 7.2 miles total. It is entirely dirt (and rocks) and more than half of it was on incline. But the most grueling part of Saturday’s hike was the intensity of the merciless heat. The trail is 99 percent out in the open, so trekking it in the middle of the day is a brutal experience. Shade is not easy to come by, especially when there are many others on the same path. There are, however, little pockets of refuge, courtesy of leafless shrubs and large stones along the way! You’ll just have to lean awkwardly and/or squat to shield yourself from the sun with them because they’re not incredibly generous with the amount of shade they provide.

Make sure to bring plenty of water! We almost bought only six bottles, but were grateful to have doubled that amount. It’d probably be easier to last with less water in cooler temperature, but it never hurts to bring more if you can carry the weight comfortably 🙂

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Potato Chip Rock is such a popular trail that there are lines for taking photos! This one took about 30 minutes before my friends and I got our turn.

The main draw of Potato Chip Rock appears to be all the cool photos you can take. (I know that’s why we went. Lol.) Because people get really creative about their poses and shots (some people hold up animals to recreate the scene in “The Lion King” and some bring potato chips to the top, among other poses), we encountered a line that left us waiting for more than 30 minutes before we could get our photos taken. Aside from avoiding the heat, what we should’ve done was be at the trail by sunrise, so as to avert the lines. It was actually surprising that so many people trekked up to the rock in the middle of the day.

While we stood in line, we tried to figure out how we could get our photos taken. We eventually found a lady who had already been up on the rock before and didn’t plan on standing in line. So we handed her our camera and she graciously took our photos. Don’t hesitate to ask spectators to take your photos. Everyone up there is pretty friendly! We would have gladly taken shots of other people, had they asked us to.

Potato Chip Rock

Going back down was much faster. We encountered no significant incline on the hike back down. It did, however, take us a little longer than expected because we took rest stops to recover from the relentless heat by cooling off in the shade and pouring some water over our heads.

In the end, it took about four to five hours to complete the trail. That’s including the 30+ minute wait in line and the rest stops. Had we tightened our plans a little more (aka hiking earlier either by staying closer to the trail or leaving Los Angeles earlier in the morning), it would have taken less time.

Potato Chip Rock

When we finally made it back, we plopped down on some green grass under a generously shady tree, munched on some Lays potato chips, and looked toward Lake Poway (where people are forbidden from swimming even on days when the temperature is scorching and a dip in the lake would be a wonderful way to conclude a challenging trail! Lol).

Overall, Potato Chip Rock is a moderately strenuous hike, but it’s a great activity for those who like hiking, those up for a challenge, and those who just want to take a photo (just keep an open mind about it not being as glamorous as the pictures out there).

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