Mt. Woodson/Potato Chip Rock (East approach)
The destination of this hike is not the actual summit of Mt. Woodson, but a geological oddity a short distance beyond. Potato Chip Rock is a long, thin, outcrop of a weathered granite boulder. While climbing out onto it requires only a little bit of rock scrambling, with the right angle and perspective, it’s possible to take dramatic photos that look more like the remote badlands of Utah or Arizona than of the San Diego suburbs.
The approach described here is the quickest way to reach both the summit and the rock; it works well for later starts as the sun will likely be behind the mountain and since the route is paved and navigation couldn’t be easier, the descent can be safely done even in dim light. A longer approach from Lake Poway is also possible; additionally one can hike from the east and return via the Fry Koegel Trail for a longer loop.
To begin, follow the signed single-track trail briefly as it parallels Highway 67. You’ll soon reach Mt. Woodson Road, paved but only open to service vehicles. Turn right and begin a long, often steep ascent. Making up for the pavement are the increasingly wide views to the east, the distant Cuyamaca Mountains dominating, as you climb.
At 0.9 miles, you reach an overlook with views to the southwest, including downtown San Diego and the ocean. Farther up, you enter a “tunnel” where large granite boulders virtually block out the sun. You continue making switchbacks before finally reaching the summit (1.8 miles.) An overlook on the left marks the highest accessible point on Mt. Woodson (2,894 feet); however the views from Potato Chip Rock are better. Continue past several antenna installations and begin a descent. At 2 miles from the start, Potato Chip Rock appears on the right.
Whether or not you climb onto the rock itself, the views from this spot are excellent: if visibility is good, you can see the San Gabriel Mountains, Old Saddleback, Catalina and San Clemente Islands and more. Those who venture out onto the rock will be treated to an even more striking perspective.
In case you were wondering the mountain was named for Dr. Marshall Clay Woodson, a dentist who moved to San Diego in 1895, after having served in the Confederate Army. The summit has also been called Cobbleback Peak and the Mountain of Moonlit Rocks.
Text and photography copyright 2015 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.