If you’re looking for a quintessential Southern California hiking experience that is challenging yet family-friendly and beautiful, check out Potato Chip Rock. This is one of the most popular trails in the Trona Pinnacles region of the desert.
The trailhead for this hike is about 45 minutes north of Ridgecrest or an hour west of Death Valley National Park. This relatively easy 2.5-mile roundtrip hike takes you up to a viewpoint on top of a giant granite monolith that resembles—you guessed it—a potato chip.
It’s a short but challenging uphill climb that requires some scrambling over slippery rocks, so make sure you have sturdy shoes with good traction and plenty of water before heading out.
Hiking to Potato Chip Rock
Potato Chip Rock is a classic desert hike that will take you to a fantastic view of the surrounding landscape. You’ll pass through some beautiful terrain, including creosote bushes, Joshua trees, and Pinyon pine forests.
The trailhead is located near Trona, California, about 45 minutes north of Ridgecrest or an hour west of Death Valley National Park. This trail suits families and kids old enough to handle the challenging ascent.
The trailhead and parking area are well maintained, and facilities are nearby if you need to use the restroom.
What to Expect?
If you’re coming from the Bay Area, you’ll have to drive across California to get to this hike. If you’re coming from Los Angeles, it’s about a four-hour drive. You’ll start walking across a sandy wash, a dry riverbed that fills up with water in the winter.
From there, you’ll make your way down a set of stairs and across a paved road that takes you up to the start of the trail. The trail has some loose, rocky sections, so be careful when descending and keep an eye on your kids.
The trail is well-marked and has an excellent incline level, making it an accessible climb for visitors of all ages and abilities. Along the way, you’ll walk through a creosote-brush habitat. This plant is native to the Mojave Desert and is an essential source of food and shelter for desert wildlife.
You’ll also see desert scrub and Joshua trees, which are common throughout the Mojave. The trail ends at a rock outcropping about 200 feet above the ground. From there, you’ll have a beautiful view of the surrounding patch of desert.
Tips for Visiting Potato Chip Rock
Make sure you have sturdy hiking shoes with good traction
This trail requires scrambling over slippery rocks, and you don’t want to fall on your way up.
Bring plenty of water—at least one gallon per person
The desert gets very hot in the summer, and you don’t want to get dehydrated.
Wear sun protection
You’re in the desert, so the sun is even more potent than at lower elevations.
This trail takes about an hour and a half, making it great for a half-day trip.
When to Go?
The best time to visit Potato Chip Rock is in the spring or fall. The summer months get very hot, reaching over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. In the winter, you may run into rain, and there’s always a chance of flash flooding.
The desert is a beautiful, unique environment but is also home to dangerous wildlife. Be on the lookout for rattlesnakes, scorpions, tarantulas, and black widow spiders.
You should also be prepared for extreme weather conditions. In the summer, temperatures can soar past 100 degrees Fahrenheit, while in the winter, they can drop below freezing.
The Desert Environment
The Mojave Desert is one of the most unique ecosystems in the world. It covers many elevations and climates, from Death Valley, the hottest place on earth, to the higher-elevation Joshua Tree Forests.
The desert is also home to many rare and endemic species, making it a biodiversity hotspot. Despite its harsh conditions, the desert supports an incredible array of life. Creosote bushes, common in the Mojave, have roots that go as deep as 30 feet below the surface.
These bushes collect water from the winter rains and store it for use during the dry summer months. Many desert plants, like cacti, have spines and thick skin to protect them from the sun and prevent water loss. Animals that live in this harsh environment, like the desert tortoise, have changed in order to stay alive.
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The Pinnacles are a beautiful desert landscape worth visiting in any season. If you’re looking for a quintessential Southern California hiking experience that is challenging yet family-friendly and beautiful, check out Potato Chip Rock.
This is one of the most popular trails in the Trona Pinnacles region of the desert. If you go, ensure you have plenty of water and sturdy shoes with good traction, and start early in the day. This is one hike you don’t want to miss.