The Top 5 Great Wall Hiking Routes

Written by Sally Guo Updated Jun. 9, 2021

Take an exhilarating journey across the "Wild Great Wall". The trail, marked by rugged steps and uneven slopes, invites intrepid souls to delve deep into less-explored sections. Here, in the untouched Great Wall sections, you'll tread paths few travelers have ventured before. Discover the top 5 most popular hiking routes on the Great Wall as follows

Great Wall Road Map
Great Wall Road Map

1. Adventurous Hiking Route: Jiankou – Mutianyu Great Wall

  • Difficulty rating: ★★★★★
  • Distance: 10km (6.2 miles)
  • Hiking time: 4-5 hours
  • Location of Jiankou: Xizhazi Village, 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.

The scenery on the way is fantastic. 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 Tower, a best-preserved 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.

Jiankou Great Wall hiking
Jiankou Great Wall hiking

2. Popular Hiking Route: Jinshanling – Simatai Great Wall

The Jinshanling to Simatai route is a favorite among Great Wall visitors. This section, partially restored, lets you witness the original Wall without the arduous climbs of Jiankou.

As you hike, you'll ascend original steps, pass through weathered watchtowers, and take in stunning views.

The journey from Jinshanling to Simatai, encompassing 30 watchtowers and a few cliff crossings, typically lasts four hours. National Geographic Adventure Magazine highly rates this route for its mix of adventure and historical charm. 

Jinshanling Great Wall Hiking
Jinshanling Great Wall Hiking

3. 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.

Gubeikou Great Wall Hiking
Gubeikou Great Wall Hiking

4. Huanghuacheng Great Wall Hiking Route

Huanghuacheng is different from other parts of the Great Wall. It meets a River 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, the reservoir, and the surrounding mountains, hiking along the 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.

Huanghuacheng Great Wall hiking
Huanghuacheng Great Wall hiking

5. Mutianyu Great Wall

The Mutianyu 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.

Mutianyu Great Wall
Mutianyu Great Wall

The Great Wall Hiking Tips

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, a hat, good hiking shoes, a hiking cane, a coat, a map, a flashlight (for overnight stays in a village or for camping on the Great Wall), bottles of water, and 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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