5 Great Wall Hikes For Every Beijing Tourist
“You’re not a great man (or woman) if you haven’t been to the Great Wall of China…” 不到长城非好汉。
…Or so the saying goes, originally coined by Chairman Mao, now a reminder to countless visitors who travel far and wide each year to personally step foot on the magnificent Great Wall of China that spans over 21km in total across the Middle Kingdom, built across several dynasties over thousands of years of Chinese history. A wall so great, where does one even begin to try to experience its grandeur or capture its beauty? In sharing extensive research conducted for my own recent visit to Beijing, below are 5 amazing sections of the Great Wall of China that you can visit from Beijing, one for every kind of tourist on any kind of schedule.
- Bādálǐng八达岭: For the “Touristy” Beijing Tourist
If you’re the kind of tourist who wants to go where everyone else has been and capture THAT famous photo you’ve seen friends capture at that exact place every tour bus makes a must-go-to stop, then Badaling is your best bet. Badaling is hands-down the most visited and best preserved section of the Great Wall. Close to downtown Beijing (70km) and easily reachable by public transportation, it may be the only option for those who have little time in Beijing, or those with limited mobility, allowing tourists young and old, regardless of physical fitness, the opportunity to experience the Great Wall. There is even a cable car and elevator readily available (as discussed in Chinesepod’s lesson “Wheelchair Access to the Great Wall”.
Just don’t expect to get that perfect selfie without other heads in your frame. How to get to Badaling
- Mùtiányù 慕田峪: Badaling’s Less Crowded Alternative
For those wishing for a bit more elbow room than offered at Badaling, Mutianyu is a commonly chosen alternative. Situated only a little further from central Beijing, Mutianyu offers slightly smaller crowds. Also accessible by public transportation, most sections have been restored making it a safe and easy hike, offering beautiful views of forests and streams in the distance. Mutianyu is often combined with other challenging hikes, such as Jiankou and Huanghuacheng (below).
- Jīnshānlǐng 金山岭 to Sīmǎtái司马台: For the Classic Backpacker
This 4-5 hour hike continues to be a favorite amongst international backpackers who dream of experiencing China’s Great Wall with all its rugged beauty on foot. This was also my very first Great Wall hike 10 years ago, introduced in the Lonely Planet Guidebook (the “bible” for many backpackers). Approximately 130km from downtown Beijing, this hike from Jinshanling to Simatai is definitely worth the extra time and sweat, if you wish for isolation, good exercise, and stunning beauty, all on a safe and moderately strenuous hike, offering unparalleled natural beauty. Learn more here.
- Huánghuāchéng黄花城: For the Off-The-Beaten-Track Backpacker
Never heard of the Huanghuacheng Great Wall hike? Probably because most backpackers don’t even know it exists (as of yet) and it is not an official Great Wall hike (despite the $5 entrance fee). Expect to see fewer people (more locals than foreigners, in fact) than any of the three hikes introduced above. While not as rugged or dangerous as Jiankou (below) due to a combination of restored and unrestored sections, it does feels more isolated than Jinshanling, due to its unofficial status. Extreme steep climbs and descents make this hike more physically challenging than Jinshanling, and sometimes scary, but because you are required to turn back to your starting point (unless you hike 2 days to Mutianyu), you have the flexibility to decide how far you want to continue based on your comfort level. On our recent trip to Beijing, we hiked Huanghuacheng section, and were pleasantly surprised as we hiked further, there was not a soul in sight! Many hikers stopped after the first uphill climb, so the further we went, the more wonderfully remote it became. It was just us and the magnificent Great Wall, surrounded by stunning mountains, water, and flowers. We didn’t, however, see the yellow flowers that gave its name.
How to get to Huanghuacheng: Bus 916 from Dongzhimen Bus Terminal to Huairou (approx. 1 hour), then take a taxi or hire a driver. We decided to hire a driver, who was willing to wait for us to complete the hike, to ensure we have transportation back to Beijing.
- Jiànkòu箭扣: For the Dare-devil Hiker-slash-Photographer
Considered a photographer’s dream and the very definition of “wild Great Wall” Jiankou is also one of the most dangerous and mainly unrestored sections of the Great Wall, and not officially open to tourists. This section is best reserved for very experienced hikers, and best tackled with a local guide. People have actually lost their lives on this hike, so best to proceed with caution. I have not personally hiked this section, and suggest doing further research on the safety of this hike before considering tackling it. More information can be found here.
With so many sections of the Great Wall available, it can be hard to choose where to begin. Try out one of the above 5 sections of the Great Wall on your next visit to Beijing and share your experiences in the comments below. Remember, regardless of what part of the Great Wall you hike, it is guaranteed to leave you in awe!