Explore the Great Wall of China
Explore the Great Wall of China which stretches westward across the provinces and municipalities of Liaoning, Hebei, Tianjin, Beijing, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Shanxi, Shaanxi and Ningxia Autonomous Region to Gansu in the west.
The Great Wall of China can be visited at many places along its length of several thousand kilometers. Its condition ranges from excellent to ruined, and ease of accessibility varies straightforward to quite difficult. Note that different sections also each have their own admission fees, e.g. if you want to hike from Jinshaling to Simatai then you probably have to pay twice.
History of the Great Wall of China
Flora and fauna
Chinese wildlife is diverse, considering all of the different habitats available along the length of the Great Wall. From the rare Siberian tiger in the northeast to the protected and rare Giant Panda which lives in southern Gansu, Sichuan, and Shaanxi, you never know what you might see on a given day.
Wild mammals can be found in the north, such as the Manchurian weasel, brown and black bears, northern pika, and mandarin vole. Deer species include Sitka deer, roe deer and the long-sought-after spotted deer, which has many uses in Chinese medicine.
The birds of the region include various pheasants, black grouse, pine grosbeak, various woodpeckers, mandarin duck, and the fairy pitta, a rare migratory bird. Cranes are especially revered in China. Common, demoiselle, white-napes, hooded, and red-crowned cranes all breed in China.
You can find many tonic plants along the Great Wall, such as the rare ginseng (Panax ginseng). Chinese medicine has had many thousands of years to discover and use these tonic plants for the benefit of mankind.
Northern China has all four seasons and they arrive with a vengeance. Summer and winter temperatures normally reach extremes of over 40 degrees Celsius (105+ °F) and -20 degrees Celsius (-4 °F) respectively.
What to see. Best top attractions of The Wall of China
As the Great Wall of China is rather on the long side, there are a large number of places to visit it. The following list is divided by province/municipality.
Badaling and Juyongguan are nearest Beijing, and these two are among the most crowded sections of the Great Wall. On the weekdays, Badaling is less crowded and it is the easiest to reach affordably (i.e., without hiring a taxi
The hike is still a challenge with plenty of very steep hills, so don’t get disappointed if you took the cable car up and see a huge crowd – once you get a bit into the wall the crowd thins quickly, and even on a weekend you can find yourself alone on a whole section of the wall. On weekdays, there are much less vendors chasing you on the wall; they stay in the little town area. In addition, there are sun bears that you can feed carrots to in the little town.
Make sure you wear the proper shoes such as tennis shoes or sneakers. The stones the wall is made of have been polished by millions of tourists like you, and are very slippery. If you wear flip-flops, you’d be looking for a disaster. Walking barefoot or in a thin sole shoes would be very uncomfortable because the stones get very hot in the sunshine.
The cable car before the entrance (they can also sell you the Great Wall entrance ticket at the booth). As well as taking out a good bit of uphill, it puts you right into a quiet area of the wall. Once you get off the cable car a left turn will lead you to the regular entrance. But a right turn will provide a pleasant walk along the wall for a while until the path becomes closed.
It takes 2-3h to do the whole wall depending on your fitness/weather/crowd.
In winter, expect to lose 5°C between Beijing and the Wall. This plus the wind from the mountain, you will cherish every layer of clothes you can have. The vendors will be here to sell everything you may have forgotten, although the price is not reasonable. For the good part : the crowd is then much lighter, and almost nobody go after the first peak. The winter sun and, if you’re lucky, the snow will give you amazing views on the walls.
Mutianyu is slightly further than Badaling, equally well restored, significantly less crowded, and has greener and more scenic surroundings. Historically, most tour groups did not go here, so this is a generally a better option than Badaling. Mutianyu has a cable car gondola to get onto and off the wall (though walking via stairs is also possible) and a toboggan ride down! Misplaced, but fun.
If, after exiting the cable car, one turns to the left and hikes up stairs for about an hour, one can reach the unrestored, “wild” wall. As of March 2017, a 60cm high wall at tower 20 has been built in order to discourage passage. Signs will tell you that visitors are not admitted to this area of the wall. You should not go beyond this point. A man may ask you for money to allow passage, however he is not an employee of the facility. You should not pay him to go beyond this point. The terrain gets rougher, there’s bushes growing in the way and some parts are so destroyed, one has to actually climb to go on. Please note that mobile phone reception drops off sharply here and there’s only very few to no people around, so in case of an emergency, you’ll be on your own. Good hiking gear advisable. Frozen and slippery in winter. Loose Rocks.
If you are further interested in this unrestored “wild wall”, the ideal way to experience it is a hike from the Jiankou section to Mutianyu. Allowing a more in depth exploration of the untouched overgrown decrepit walls and towers, it also enables you to go down the stairs of the restored section instead of the long arduous climb up. Some offer self-guided tour packages including transportation from Beijing to Jiankou and pickup from Mutianyu to get back to Beijing.
Because several English-language guidebooks now recommend Mutianyu over Badaling as less crowded and less overdeveloped, a few tour companies have switched to Mutianyu as their preferred Great Wall segment for their China tours. If at all possible, try to book an escorted group tour with a Mutianyu visit as an integral component. That will provide the most convenient and seamless experience, since small tourist motor coaches with the appropriate paperwork can take you directly from a Beijing hotel to a small parking lot very close to the cable car base station. The driver will wait with the motor coach while your tour guide takes your group up to the Great Wall, then when you are all done, you get back on the motor coach and go directly back to Beijing.
In addition, the cable car to the wall costs more than the wall entrance. This option is overall the best; you should save your walking energy for on top of the wall, which is very long.
Alternatively the 20-30 min. climb uphill through steps in the forest is free. However the climb is fairly steep, and does not offer views until you reach the great wall itself. If you’re not afraid of walking through some shrubbery, and you’ve got some grip on your shoes, continue on past the restored section and head to the highest local watchtower. You will be greatly rewarded for your effort!
There are two different cable cars in Mutianyu which are operated by different companies. One is a cable car to get to a high part of the great wall; the other is a chair lift to another point on the wall where you can toboggan down. They start at roughly the same point at the entrance to the area; however they operate in different directions.
Note that the walk on top of the Great Wall involves significant amount of climbing steps, which vary from short steps a large part of the way, to some sections with quite steep steps.
Do not miss the stone museum just past the main ticket office on the right, which features beautiful caves with lighted rock art. Entry is free.
If you miss the bus, there is accommodation to be found near the shops in Huairou. There is a tourist information office that remains open during normal office hours, though it may seem closed due to lack of visitors. They will be able to help you find accommodation that is licensed to take foreigners, should you need it. The nearby “Yanxi Nightless Valley” area is full of small forest resorts, where you can pay for a fresh, farmed trout. Stay in the valley the night before, then hire a taxi out direct to one of the nearby Great Wall sections in the morning.
Huanghuacheng one of the most well-built sections of the Great Wall that caused the beheading of Lord Cai, the builder, for mismanagement and waste
It’s far less crowded than Badaling and Mutianyu…. mostly before more difficult to access and less renovated.
Arrive at Shuishangcheng, you can access to the reservoir trough an entrance gate, where you can see the wall. However, to climb on the wall, you can also go to the parking in front of East entrance, then take a small trail at the left of the toilets (without passing the entrance gate so): you’ll be able to access the wall without paying the entrance fee.
Gubeikou, Jinshanling and Simatai are a bit farther from Beijing than other sections, but the extra time it takes to get there is rewarded with a very significant reduction in crowding and tourist traps. Services are also limited, however; make sure you bring your own supply of water and extra film. The most authentic part of the Wall (at least portions closest to Beijing) is at Simatai; the Wall here is of original construction unlike Badaling. These three locations are 130 km (80 mi) northeast of central Beijing. Jinshanling is well restored and offers some round-trips : get on the wall at the Zhuanduo pass, you can get off at Shaling pass (~= 5 towers), at the cable car (~= 10 towers), at the Houchuan pass (~= 13 towers, less than 4h round trip from the gate) or at the “Tower with Five Arrow-holes in the East” (~= 20 towers, a few steep parts, you will get off at the East Gate where you can catch the 3pm direct bus to Wangjing West Station. You can no longer go to Simatai from Jinshaling.
Jiankou Many published photos of the Great Wall are from this area. ‘Jiankou’, is translated as ‘Arrow Nock’ in English, because the shape of the mountain is like an arrow, with the collapsed ridge opening as its arrow nock.
There are many famous sections of Jiankou Great Wall, such as ‘The Nine-Eye Tower’, an important command post during the ancient wars. It has three layers, and there are nine holes which look like nine eyes on each side. ‘The Beijing Knot’ is the meeting point for three walls coming from different directions. ‘The Sky Stair’, is a precipitous stair whose angle of elevation is 70 to 80 degrees. It leads to ‘The Eagle Flies Facing Upward’, a watch tower built on the lofty peaks. It is so dangerous that even eagles have to fly facing upward to reach the top. ‘Zhengbei Tower’ is the right place to appreciate the beauty of the sunrise and the sunset.
Shuiguan Located near the Badaling Great Wall, the Shuiguan Great Wall is sometimes called the ‘Badaling-Shuiguan Great Wall’. It often happens that innocent visitors are guided to the Shuiguan Great Wall instead of their original destination – the Badaling Great Wall, especially during holidays or peak periods.
This portion of the Wall was opened to the public in 1995 after repair. Besides climbing the wall, you can also visit the Genghis Khan Palace, the Stone Buddha Temple, Luotuo Peak (Camel Peak) and the Great Wall Stele Forest nearby.
Hebei and Tianjin
- Shanhaiguan, at the Old Dragon’s Head, the wall juts out into the sea. To get there from Beijing takes about 3 hours by train.
- Panjiakou Reservoir – sunken part of the Great Wall
- Huangyaguan – worth a visit for its water run-off controls, well-preserved towers, challenging hiking and striking scenery
- Hushan – can be explored from Dandong
- Xingcheng – a Ming dynasty walled town
- Jiumenkou – located 18 km east of “The First Pass Under Heaven’ at Shanhaiguan
- The Outer Wall of Shanxi – Li’erkou to Deshengbu, Juqiangbu to Laoniuwan, and along the Yellow River
- The Inner Wall of Shanxi – Yanmenguan, Guangwu Old City, Ningwu Pass and Niangziguan
- Yulin and Shenmu – garrison towns in the time of the Ming dynasty
- The Eastern Ningxia Wall – Hongshan Castle and Water Cave Gully (Shui Dong Gou)
- The Northern Ningxia Wall – in the area of Helanshan
- The Western Ningxia Wall – Zhenbeibu and Sanguankou
- Wuwei – garrison town
- Minqin – oasis town
- Zhangye – garrison headquarters
- Jiayuguan – Fort at Jiayu Pass, nicknamed “Last Fort Under Heaven”
- Lanzhou – former walled town that now is capital of Gansu Province
What to do on the Great wall of China
Hike from Jiankou to Mutianyu If you are interested in a more authentic experience, this hike allows you to experience both the unrestored “wild wall”, as it would stand had it not been entirely rebuilt, and the restored wall, as it would look in it’s former glory. An extra bonus is it enables you to go down the stairs of the restored section instead of the long arduous climb up some attempt. The hike can take anywhere from 2 to 5 hours. Stay overnight in a hostel at Xi Zha Zi village, or hire someone to drop you off at Jiankou and pick you up at Mutianyu. This hike starts in Xi Zha Zi village, at the foot of Jiankou Great Wall section. After an hour long walk in uphill medium-rough terrain, a local villager will ask for money to use his ladder to climb onto Jiankou Tower. Head left (East) towards Mutianyu, a hike that will take you about 2-3 hours, the first half on the unrestored area of the wall and the rest on the restored area. Add 1 hour if you choose to climb up the Ox Horn section, a rougher but beautiful section. Be careful coming down, as it is quite slippery when dry. Do not try to do the hike when it’s wet, because it has some very steep and slippery parts. While it would be totally possible to do the hike the other way around, transportation back would be much harder to find.
Hike from Jinshanling to Simatai. The majority of the Wall east of Jinshanling is also unrestored. The hike from Jinshangling to Simatai is roughly 10 km. It is a significant hike in distance but more so in the elevation change, but you will be rewarded with spectacular views and a good day of exercise. Expect to spend anywhere from 2.5 hours to 6 hours on the wall, depending on your fitness level, ambition and frequency of photo ops. When you are half way between the two sections, there are hardly any tourists. In fact, more foreign tourists are seen doing this thorough hike than domestic Chinese tourists. Comfortable shoes and clothes are needed, as you will be hiking on moving bricks sometimes combined with steep climbs. Water and snacks should be in your backpack. But you will find some local vendors selling water and sometimes snacks on the wall. When you descend down from Simatai, there is a zip line available. It’s roughly 400m, and is over a river. It will take you down to the other side of the river, and includes a short boat ride back to catch your ground transport. During the middle of this hike, collectors will charge you again because you are entering another part of the Wall. If you are going between sections, there is little you can do about it other than turn back. A guard is posted two towers east of the Five Window Tower in Jinshanling to turn hikers back should they try.
See the sunset and sunrise in Jinshanling Follow the same way than the section above to reach Jinshanling. When you arrive at the service station, you should get offers to find accommodation. Prices seem to go from 50 to 80 rmb per person, don’t hesitate to bargain. If not follow the road on the south east side of the station (left of the tunnel), it turns right and passes under the highway. After 5-8mn walk you will find guesthouses. To climb the wall, after 5pm, you should be able to sneak at the East Gate (10mn walk along the road) and avoid the 65rmb fee. You can also ask your host to drive you to the main entrance if you are in a hurry for sunset, he may ask you 20-30rmb to drive and wait, and they still ask for a ticket after 5pm, even when it is supposed to be closed. Take the same way back and go on the East Gate in the morning for sunrise for best views. Ask your host to know how to sneak in. There might be a small path on East of the East gate. If you end up in Hua Lou Gou village, there might be a path on West of the West gate to.
Visit the Great Wall Museum Down the “Badaling Pedestrian Street” and up a hill behind the “Circle Vision Theater” is the under-appreciated Great Wall Museum. The walk-through exhibits provide a good overview of the wall’s multi-dynasty history, along with many artifacts from those time periods and photo-worthy models of watchtowers, scaling ladders, etc. The bathrooms are also probably the cleanest you’ll find at Badaling (there’s even a Western-style toilet). Best of all, admission is free! (closed M, 09:00-16:00). Great wall circle-vision theater.
Downhill on the toboggan run The Mutianyu section offers two chairlift lines which run to different parts of the Great Wall section, a more modern one with bubble cabins and a less modern one with two-seater chairs. If you feel up to it and the weather is clear, the return ticket for the less modern lift is also good for a ride down the toboggan run. Though if you prefer, tickets can easily be purchased separately for the toboggan ride of course – just walk up to the ticket office at the beginning of the ride, then off you go down the wall. Note that the tickets for the lifts cost the same but are not interchangeable. If you can’t read Chinese check the picture on the ticket, and if you get wrong one with a picture of the bubble cabins, it’s not a problem to immediately get your money back and take it to the other ticket counter.
Bring a jacket against the wind or cold in the chillier seasons. In summer you will need lots of water, but there are plenty of vendors at the most visited sections. Be prepared for the possibility of sudden, short, but rather violent thunderstorms.
Do not leave any trace of your visit. Even if it is not an uncommon sight, resist the urge to add your name to the carvings in the wall, or take a piece home as a souvenir. If the wall should be damaged by your actions, the authorities may very well take action with fines and other punishments.
Hiking as a recreational sport is not well understood yet in China so the etiquette of crossing state and private land has not yet been established. Remember that the Wall is mostly mud and poorly supported stones, and that you are on your own if you’re outside the maintained areas. Even if you are not walking on the wall, you will find few trails to follow and at some parts, the area the Wall traverses are vertical, treacherous and very unsafe. Besides that, it is difficult to obtain clean drinking water and some areas may even have no water at all. Other areas will have man made obstacles, like roads and motorways that have solid fencing. Villages where you could get supplies may be few and far between. Some may take you miles away from the Wall. Poor cartography is still a problem here since maps of less than 1:450,000 are not easy to get a hold of due to the military applications of such maps. Besides that, guides who know the areas along the Great Wall are few and far between. The last item to think about regarding hiking the Great Wall is that China has no system of mountain/wilderness rescue personnel. You will be on your own should something happen to you.
Scams – Beware of bus scams that may ruin your day. Also try to avoid organized tours to the Great Wall costing 100-150 Yuan. These are advertised by people handing out flyers around the Forbidden City in Beijing for example (the real bus service to the Great Wall only costs 20 Yuan!). Also, the driver might just stop and set you off before your destination.
Walking safely don’t run around as you may trip which may result in an injury as the steps are uneven.
Badaling. There are plenty trains going to Badaling station. Very cheap and super easy from Beijing station.
To explore the Great Wall of China also includes the Ming Tombs. Many tour operators or private drivers will combine the wall and the Ming Tombs in a day trip. The Ming Tombs are nothing special and are quite plain. Tourists usually skip them unless they are Chinese history buffs.
Official tourism websites of the Great Wall of China
For more information please visit the official government website: