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Below is a guide to hiking the Great Wall of China. The wall offers some of the best hiking in the country – and it’s one of the incredible ways to experience both the natural beauty and the history of this longtime UNESCO site.
Where and how to hike the Great Wall can be confusing as it’s made up of many different sections. There is a proliferation of companies and tour groups that will take you but to help you get the most out of hiking it, I have put together a basic guide, based on my personal experience.
The different sections of the Great Wall
The Great Wall stretches in sections from the mountains of Xinjiang province in the far west of China all the way to Bohai Sea in the east and covers over 8,000 kilometres. As a tourist, the sections of the wall you are most likely to hike are those near Beijing.
Below are the names of the main sections of the Great Wall near Beijing
Each individual section is good for at least one to two hours of hiking and a number of sections are linked and good for a day or more of hiking.
If you just want the experience of hiking on the wall and don’t want to spend a whole day hiking, my recommendations are Mutianyu and Gubeikou. Normally I would also recommend Simatai but Simatai is currently undergoing restoration. The only part of the wall I very strongly recommend you do not hike on is Badaling. You will understand why when you read the section description below for Badaling.
Badaling- the crowded section
The scenery of this section of the wall is magnificent and it is this part of the wall that international VIPs visit for good reason. The bad part about Badaling is that it is over commercialized and incredibly crowded during the main tourist season.
Badaling is often referred to as the Disneyland of the Great Wall.
If you want to enjoy the splendour of the wall and a good hike, I strongly recommend you avoid Badaling and only go there as a last resort. Badaling is 3.7 kilometres long and takes around 2 hours to hike if there are no queues.
Hiking difficulty Easy – flat smooth surfaces with no steep climbs.
Getting there You can catch a train (seriously) there from Beijing North train station and trains leave every 90 minutes.
This part of the wall is a fully restored section and the scenery is inspiring with the wall winding through tree covered mountains and hills.
This section of the wall is roughly 2.2 kilometres long and takes around 1 to 2 hours to hike.
Hiking difficulty Easy. Being fully restored, the surface of the wall is smooth and there are no steep inclines.
Getting there – Mutianyu is 95 kilometres north of Beijing and getting there takes around 2 hours and 30 minutes. Harder to reach than Badaling but more rewarding. You can catch the 936 bus at the Dongzhimen Wai bus station directly to the wall.
The point that stands out about Gubeikou is it has not been restored and is in its original form. Other sections of the wall such as Badaling and to an extent, Mutianyu cater for mass tourism at the expense of conservation. Long stretches of wall at Badaling and Mutianyu have actually been destroyed to make way for reconstructions.
Gubeikou is both beautifully preserved, reasonably accessible and ideal for hiking. The length of the Gubeikou section is 6 kilometres and it takes 2 to 3 hours to hike.
Hiking difficulty Moderate – completely unrestored so all the hiking surfaces are broken and there are some steep hills. The last part of this section that leads up to and past Wohushan mountain is dangerous and very difficult to hike. It’s best left to fit and experienced hikers.
Getting there Gubeikou is 120 kilometres north east of Beijing about three hours away. The best way to get to Gubeikou is to take a bus from the bus stop outside Sanyuanqiao subway stop on line 10. This bus will go through the Gubeikou township.
Alternatively you can catch the 980 bus from Dongzhimen bus station (next to Dongzhimen subway stop) to a small town called Miyun where you change to a bus going to Gubeikou.
Simatai is a wonderful section of the wall to visit and my personal favourite. The bad news is it has been closed for renovations since June 2010 and the authorities responsible for Simatai are not expected to open it again until at least mid 2012.
The Simatai wall is built on steep mountain ridges and very harsh terrain. Perilous, dense, diverse, artful and peculiar are five words often used to describe Simatai. Simatai section is 5.4 kilometres long and takes at least 3 hours to hike.
Hiking difficulty Very difficult. Some parts of this section are so steep you have to literally climb them, not hike them. This section is only recommended for experienced and fit hikers who have a degree of recklessness. But I highly recommend hiking Simatai.
Getting there Due to the restoration, there are no official bus routes there.
For the more serious hikers, there are two parts of the wall where the sections are joined and are good for at least a day hiking. There is the combination of Jiankou and Mutianyu in the west and the combination of Gubeikou, Jinshaling and Simatai to the east.
Gubeikou to Simatai
The hike from Gubeikou to Jinshaling takes roughly 9 hours and could be completed very comfortably in two days. If renovations to Simatai are complete or if that part of the wall is at least accessible for hiking, the entire hike would take 12 hours and be ideal for two days.
At present there is no way to know for sure how much of the Simatai wall is accessible so one thought would be to hike from Gubeikou to Jinshaling and leave enough time to continue the hike to Simatai if there is access.
This hike would provide incredible views of the surrounding mountains and country and a unique perspective of the unrestored the wall at Gubeikou in contrast to the wall at Jinshaling which is restored.
If you do this hike during the period from late spring to early spring, you can sleep on the wall at the end of the first day. Alternatively at the end of the day you can find a hotel in one of the townships near the wall.
Jiankou to Mutianyu
The Jiankou section of the wall is the most rewarding hike of the Great Wall that can be completed in one day in the Beijing area. The wall is very steep, uneven and treacherous and hiking here involves a lot of scrambling. The hike from the beginning of Jiankou section to the end of the Mutianyu will take at least 5 to 6 hours.
When to hike the Great Wall
Beijing can get very hot in the middle of summer with temperatures up to 40°C so avoid this time of year if possible. Temperatures in winter can drop down to -20°C so it’s also a good time to avoid. The best times for hiking the wall are from March to May and September to November.
Do you know of other longer sections that can be hiked, say 2-3 weeks worth?
Some people hike the entire stretch of the wall from the most western point at Jiayuguan in Gansu province to the most eastern point at Shanhaiguan in Hebei province. You can go further east but very few people do. This hike takes up to four months of very heavy hiking.
For 2 to 3 weeks, I would recommend either – start off in Jiayuguan and hike east through the Gobi Desert that has incredibly harsh and beautiful terrain for three weeks where the wall is little more than barely discernible ruins.
Or start at the western most section of the wall in Shanxi province where you can see bricks in the wall, fields and mountains. The Shanxi sections of the wall can be hiked in 3 weeks.
For detailed information on the wall visit this website.
Further reading on long distance hikes
- What’s it’s Like to Hike the Full Tour du Mont Blanc
- What You Need to Know to Hike the West Coast Trail
- Everything You Need to Know to do the Torres del Paine Trek
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About the author
Hi, my name is Brendon and I am a China travel addict! I’m an Australian expat in China where I’ve been living and traveling for over eight years now. Brendon’s blog is ChinaTravelGo.