The Potato Chip Rock Hike! Mt. Woodson, Poway, CA

One of the most scenic and geographically diverse hikes in San Diego County is Mt. Woodson, near Lake Poway.  It is also one of the longer and more strenuous hikes to do and requires a half-day. On this early morning Monday start a few other hikers were on the trail but nothing in comparison to what the weekends bring in regards to the number of folks who hike Woodson.  The early morning start also provided a cool temperature of roughly 65 digress which was perfect for taking on this challenging hike. The trailhead we started at is on the Lake Poway west end in the recreation area parking lot.  There is a rest room near the trailhead to help you landmark the start.  The trail starts out taking a slight dip and then climbs with the scenic backdrop of Lake Poway on your left and the summit of Mt. Woodson straight ahead.

The trail then begins a steady and blood pumping incline ascent.   The scenery is a mix of brush and boulders with sloping hillsides on either side.   The trail itself consists of compacted earth and sand and is very easy on the knees and feet.   Markers along the way alert you of your destination as well as distance hiked and remaining to get to the summit.  As we hiked on, the gray of the morning gave way to mixed blue skies scattered with wispy clouds. At this point in the hike, at about the 1.5 mile mark, the trail steepens into a series of switchbacks; I’m reminded of the Cowles Mountain trail for a good visual example.  Im also reminded at this point in the hike why I like Mt. Woodson besides the natural beauty; it’s trail diversity! The last 1/3 of this hike the trail gets much rockier and the surrounding scenery turns to massive boulders amidst the plant life and brush.

The views are amazing as the open land, hills, and winding roads dotted with houses and ranches provide a stunning overhead panoramic, much like you might get from being in an airplane.

This is the second time I have done this hike and the difference between the two astounds me. Im in much better hiking shape, equating to “less sucking it up” which leads to more moments to enjoy the nature, scenery and rewards of this trail. As you get to know the personalities of each hike you can better absorb the nuances of the trail and expectations along the way. However, even the same trail can offer up something new, and a first time experience, the second time traveled. This happened on this hike as we took the viewpoint cutoff to get in a little more challenge and a different view as well as some “rock climbing.

As in life, its always a good idea to change it up, take on a new route and see the same things in a different way. This is especially a good idea if you find yourself not being challenged or getting comfortable with the status quo.  Having said that, for the most part that is why I like to hike anyways, if offers me a OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAplace of serenity, peace and of being mindful, or in the moment which keeps me present. Hiking also provides me an “escape” from the stresses of the day and to get a new outlook on a familiar or ongoing situation, problem, or event that needs to be considered differently.

As we approach the summit of Woodson its peak is shrouded in a wispy overhang of clouds/fog that offers a magnificent view to our destination and goal! Potato chip rock appears on our left, which marks the 3.6-mile part of our hike. However, we do not consider our goal of being at the summit’s peak until we go an additional .2 mi up the road and to the right where a pine tree grove appears. Again, yet another scenic diversity this hike offers and my favorite part of the trail, a view through the pines to the landscape far below.

After spending a few moments here, we headed up the trail past Potato Chip Rock to our “break” station to sit, rest, snack and take in the views from the summit peak.  This high above view included looking over a vast sea of white clouds that stretched out as far as the eye could see.

At this point my son and I suggested we get up and move on or we may just sit here the rest of the day, a very rewarding choice but we do need to get to the “Chip.”

Although strenuous and demanding, the Mt. Woodson trail is a must on the upper tier hikes in San Diego County to add to your “Need to accomplish” list.  A must to do after this hike and a way of rewarding your accomplishment is a visit to a fantastic smoothie shop at the corner of Twin Peaks and Espola Rd.  

Great fresh homemade smoothies!

Great fresh homemade smoothies!

    Distance: 7.5 miles out and back

Hike Date and Time: Monday July 2, 2012  7:30am-11:30am

Hike-ability:  Strenuous

Water: 50 oz plus 1 liter of Gatorade 

Temperature: 60’s 

Directions to trailhead:  Exit I-15 go east on Ted Williams Pkwy to Twin Peaks road turn right to Espola Road turn left to Lake Poway Road turn right. You will pass water district on your right as you drive up hill. On weekends you have to stop at gate to pay $5.00 fee. Weekdays you do not. Drive to the right into parking area to far end, you will see restroom house on your left, park here. Trailhead is behind the restroom house.  Have fun!



About Mark

My name is Mark Lees and I was born in Detroit, Michigan and moved to San Diego in 1976. I now live in Oceanside, California. I have a son age 26 who is my hiking parter, and thankfully got me started into hiking four years ago. I have a Masters degree in psychology with an emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy from Chapman University, as well as a certification from the California Association of Addiction and Recovery Resources as an Addiction Recovery Specialist. For fun and self-care I like to Hike, Starbucks to both energize and relax and see as many baseball games as I can each season. The spirit of this website is the same passion that led me to create HikerTherapy.... "Hiking for the Mind, Body and Soul..."
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