One day Southern California road trip: Potato Chip Rock and Salvation Mountain

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Quick tips:

  1. The Potato Chip Rock can be climbed starting from Lake Powey, located at 14644 Lake Powey Road. 
  2. The advanced hike will take between 2.5 and 4 hours (including waiting in line to get a picture).
  3. Take plenty of water and sunscreen – you’ll need it!
  4. At Lake Powey, you can park for $5-7 per car; however, there’s free parking by highway 67.
  5. This trail is dog friendly.
  6. The drive from Lake Powey to Slavation Mountain takes 2h 30min (make sure to fill up on gas – gas stations get rarer the further you go inland). The Southern route on the 8 will take you through interesting stone formations and very close to the Mexican border.
  7. Try to be at Salvation Mountain during sunset, it makes the place more magical!
  8. If I could do it again, I’d take a full day to explore Salvation Mountain and Salton Sea, and do the potato chip mountain on a different day!

I had come across the Potato Chip Rock on lots of websites and had seen pictures of Salvation Mountain; therefore, I decided to take a group of friends and check them out. It would be a tight schedule for a one-day road trip, but definitely worth it.

We started at 7 a.m. from L.A. with an approximately 1h 45 min drive to Lake Powey, northeast of San Diego. Lake Powey Park also has fishing, a convenience store, a playground, camping, and several sports activities.

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To the right of Lake Powey is where your path to Potato Chip Rock will start. The trail is well marked, so you won’t have any issues finding it. The hike up took us nearly 2 hours, and yes, it was a bit challenging, but absolutely doable for someone who’s average athletic.

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The rock is just a bit lower than the summit. At 11.30 a.m., we had to wait in line for a good hour to take our pictures.

The Potato Chip Rock from afar.

The Potato Chip Rock from afar.

Getting onto the rock is another tiny adrenaline kick because you have to jump a small, but deep gap. People in line are always willing to help you and encourage you. If they can jump it – you can, too! The waiting individuals will also gladly take your pictures, just ask.

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If you want to stand on a safer rock (one where you won’t be scared it’ll break when 3-5 people jump at the same time) to take “jumping pictures,” go past the potato chip rock and you’ll find some adequate rocks on the left side.

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The hike downwards only took us about an hour.

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After this hike, everyone was starving and so we stopped at a Subway nearby before we continued our journey to Salvation mountain. It took us two hours through interesting stone formations, the desert, California small towns, and right along the Mexican border. Thanks to Google maps, the colorful work of art a few minutes east of a tiny place called Niland and almost in the middle of nowhere, was impossible to miss. Right in time for sunset, we climbed Salvation Mountain and watched the sun disappear behind the hills and Salton Sea.  

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The drive back to LA through Palm Springs took us three hours excluding dinner at a Ruby’s somewhere.

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