The Best 5 Great Wall Hiking Routes
The Great Wall is one of the largest and most celebrated achievements of ancient China, and nowadays a must-see for travelers to Beijing. Apart from leisurely touring the well-preserved or restored sections, however, there are increasing numbers of people taking the challenge of hiking on the rugged, uneven steps and slopes of the “Wild Great Wall”.
On this page, we list 5 recommended hiking routes, from idly strolling to harder trekking, to help you make the most of the Great Wall.
1. Graceful Walking at Mutianyu Great Wall
- Difficulty rating: ★
- Distance: 3km (1.9miles)
- Hiking time: 2 hours
- Location of Mutianyu: Huairou County, Beijing
- Features: fully-restored, most child-friendly section; uniquely designed; suitable for all people
- Tour with China Travel: 1-Day Graceful Great Wall at Mutianyu Group Tour
The Mutianyu (慕田峪) Section of the Great Wall, about 72.4km (45 miles) from downtown Beijing, runs for 2.25km (1.4miles), with watchtowers and fortifications at intervals of only 500 meters. Parapets were built on the inner and outer sides as a way to protect from invaders coming from either side.
This longest fully-restored section of the Great Wall was rebuilt with smooth and even steps, which are child-friendly. Strolling leisurely on the Wall, you can take a closer look at the unique structural style of this section, or gaze down at Jundu Mountain (军都山) valley. Also, the cableway and slideway will make your journey up and down more exciting and less laborious.
2. Adventurous Hiking Route: Jiankou – Mutianyu Great Wall
- Difficulty rating: ★★★★★
- Distance: 10km (6.2 miles)
- Hiking time: 4-5 hours
- Location of Jiankou: Xizhazi Village (西栅子村), Huairou County, Beijing
- Features: steepest and most dangerous section; suitable for experienced hikers in excellent physical condition
- Tour with China Travel: Hiking from the Original Jiankou to Mutianyu Great Wall
The Jiankou section of the Great Wall zigzags up and down the mountain ridges in the shape of a "W", or like a bow drawn to its fullest, thus it was named Jiankou (箭扣, literally meaning ‘arrow knot’).
This section often remains unexplored. Most of it is completely original and without repair marks. The perilous peaks and cliffs make the Great Wall more dangerous than it looks. It is the steepest and most adventurous section for world hikers to explore. In fact, the majority of perfect photos of the Great Wall we see today originate from the wild natural beauty of the Jiankou section, which makes it the most photogenic spot of the Great Wall.
Hiking towards the east from the Zhenbei Building, a nearly-intact watchtower standing at the peak of Jiankou, over a challenging trek on the original ruins and broken walls, you will reach the Mutianyu section, where you can finally enjoy an idle walk.
3. Popular Hiking Route: Jinshanling – Simatai Great Wall
- Difficulty rating: ★★★★
- Distance: 10km (6.2miles)
- Hiking time: 4 hours
- Location of Jinshanling: Chengde, Hebei
- Features: most precipitous and popular section for hiking; a paradise for photographers; suitable for ordinary hikers
- Tour with China Travel: 1-Day Simatai to Jinshanling Great Wall Hiking
The Jinshanling (金山岭) Section of the Great Wall is favored by hikers, mainly because of the popular route from Jinshanling (Zhuanduokou Pass) to Simatai West (Houchuankou Pass). The Simatai (司马台) section, winding along the lofty and steep ridges of a mountain range, is said to be the wonderful Great Wall in miniature because it is the most precipitous part (but still much safer than Jiankou).
The hiking from Jinshanling to Simatai takes about four hours, requiring the crossing of 30 watchtowers and some dangerous cliffs. This route is also recommended by National Geographic Adventure Magazine.
4. Gubeikou – Jinshanling Hiking Route
Gubeikou is regarded as the most comprehensive section of the Great Wall; its name means “ancient northern fortress” in Chinese. Thanks to its strategic position, this place served as a battlefield for over 130 wars between Chinese royal families and marauding Mongol tribesmen, witnessing the vicissitude of history.
As a completely unrepaired section, Gubeikou retains its original composition and natural beauty. Hiking along the Gubeikou-Jinshanling route, you’ll find, is not as challenging as Jiankou but with awesome views that are just ideal for photographers.
5. Huanghuacheng Great Wall Hiking Route
- Difficulty rating: ★★★
- Distance: 6km (3.7miles)
- Hiking time: 4 hours
- Location of Huanghuacheng: Huairou County, Beijing
- Features: the only lakeside section of the Great Wall in Beijing; less risky but still a challenging hike; suitable for ordinary hikers
- Tour with China Travel: 2-Day Great Wall Hiking at Huanghuacheng to Mutianyu
Huanghuacheng (黄花城) is different from other parts of the Great Wall. It meets Huaijiu River (怀九河) at a point where a dam has been built. Thus, with the rising of the water level, the wall is partially submerged, creating a unique waterside scene. With the quiet and majestic scenery of the Great Wall, the lakes, reservoir, and surrounding mountains, the hiking along Huanghuacheng Great Wall are relaxing and enjoyable.
In addition, this section is not yet too touristy, which means the splendid scenery is kept exclusively for a few visitors, and you can avoid being confronted by a sea of tourists when boating, camping, and viewing the Wall.
Apart from its defensive function, Huanghuacheng Great Wall also acted as a secure location for the mausoleum of Ming Emperors, which later became known as the Ming Tombs.
Family Tour on the Great Wall
1. A travel guide is strongly recommended, especially in some of the more dangerous sections like Jiankou and Simatai.
2. Please gear up sufficiently for your trip. Hikers should pack sunglasses, sunblock, hat, good hiking shoes, hiking cane, coat, map, flashlight (for overnight stays in a village or for camping on the Great Wall), bottles of water, energy-boosting snacks.
3. Weather-wise, the best hiking time at the Great Wall is late summer or autumn, dry and warm. Whenever you want to go, check the weather three days beforehand.
4. Suggested itinerary for a 2-day Great Wall hike: Day 1: Beijing - Gubeikou - Jinshanling; day 2: Jiankou - Mutianyu - Beijing.
5. Suggested itinerary for a 3-day Great Wall hike: Day 1: Beijing - Gubeikou - Jinshanling; day 2: Jiankou - Mutianyu; day 3: Huanghuacheng - Xishuiyu Lakeside Great Wall - Beijing.
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