The Simatai section of the Great Wall is one of the few sections to retain the original appearance of the Great Wall. It’s very varied in makeup. Simatai has many characteristics of other Great Wall sections, and some unique features of its own. It is often described with the following five words: perilous, dense, diverse, artful, and peculiar.
Simatai’s Great Wall is north of Miyun Town, close to another Great Wall section at Gubeikou, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) from central Beijing. It enables access to Gubeikou, an important pass of great military significance on the route to the capital city of Beijing.
Simatai Great Wall stretches 5.4 km from Wangjinglou (‘Viewing Capital Tower’) in the east to the Jinshanling Great Wall section in the west.
The Simatai Section of the Great Wall was originally constructed in the Northern Qi Dynasty (550–577) . It was rebuilt and extended in the early Hongwu years (1368–1398) of the Ming Dynasty. Like most sections of the Ming Dynasty Great Wall often visited today, this section also underwent construction under the supervision of General Qi Jiguang (1528–1588).
Simatai Great Wall is 5.4 km (3.4 miles) long, with altogether 39 watchtowers. At the east of Simatai, the elevation goes abruptly up from 295 meters (968 ft) to 986 meters (3,235 ft), making a breathtaking scene. The wall is very steep and perilous, with the narrowest part only 40 cm wide.
It’s "perilous, dense, diverse, artful, and peculiar". A Chinese expert on the Great Wall of China once said: "The Great Wall is the best architecture in China, while the Simatai Great Wall section is the best among the Great Wall sections".
The wall is divided east-west by Simatai Reservoir, with 16 towers east and 23 towers west. The two parts are linked by a chain bridge. Today there’s a zip line ("Flying Fox") over the lake for travelers to cross quickly.
The mountains in western Simatai are gently sloping, but eastern Simatai is high with steep ridges. The eastern Simatai wall is very peculiar, where ‘Heavenly Ladder’ and ‘Sky Bridge’, the two steepest parts at the top, are very striking.
Heavenly Ladder is a steep and narrow section of wall (about 50cm/20" at its narrowest), which go up at about 45 degrees to the mountain peak, with cliffs on both sides.
At its end is the Sky Bridge, which is not more than 100 meters (300 ft) long, but only 40 cm (16") wide. When this part was being constructed, bricks were bundled on goats' back to the mountain top.
The best times to visit are late spring, early and late summer, and fall (around May and September/October).
(East) Simatai is wild, rugged, and very steep. It is very treacherous when it snows in winter. In early spring (March and early April) and early winter (November), it is still very cold on the wall when it is windy. It is very hot on the wall in mid-summer (July and August).
There is no direct bus from downtown Beijing to Simatai. It takes about 2 hours to get to Simatai from central Beijing by public transportation and taxis.
First go to Dongzhimen (东直门) by bus 24, 106, 107, 123, 132, 206, etc.; or subway line 2, 13, or the Airport Express Line.
Take Bus 980 from Dongzhimen Long Distance Bus Station to Miyun Town.
Then take a taxi to the Simatai Great Wall (司马台长城). Negotiate with the driver the price (about 180 yuan for a round trip is reasonable [written 2015]). No English is spoken.
If you want to travel free of hassles, contact us for a private tour with a private driver and guide. See our 5-Day Jiankou to Simatai West Great Wall Hiking Tour
The Simatai booking website should be used for access to this section of the Great Wall (http://www.wtown.com/index.php/Yuyue/index#menuSub). It gives the following guidance:
Alternatively travel with us and we’ll make all the necessary arrangements for you.
Note: Simatai East is only open from East Tower 1 to 10 and from 8am to 6pm [June 2015]
The East Simatai section of the Great Wall is rugged with high and steep steps. The wall is loose and dilapidated. Make sure you are physically strong enough if you plan to hike this part of wall.
All travelers need to gather at the Simatai Village Entrance (a newly-built tourist village 1–2 km from the Great Wall). There are regular free shuttle buses serving the 1 km road to the Great Wall Entrance.
The classic hike from the entrance, along the reservoir (1.5 km), via East Tower 1, up to ‘Viewing Capital Tower’ (East Tower 16) takes about 3 hours.
The alternative is to take the cable car or rough steps towards East Tower 8.
If you complete the hike to Viewing Capital Tower, you might want to take a short cut back to the entrance, hiking down from East Tower 8 (about 45 minutes). Or from East Tower 8 you could even take the cable car down to the Great Wall Entrance.
If you don’t want to do the dizzying ascent of Heavenly Ladder and Sky Bridge, you could descend on the Great Wall from East Tower 5 or 8 to East Tower 1 at the reservoir (about 30 minutes).
The walk from East Tower 1 to the Great Wall Entrance, by the reservoir, takes 20 or 30 minutes.
There are many hotels and hostels in the newly-built water town of Simatai Village in front of the entrance to the Simatai Great Wall Entrance. One recommended hostel is Simatai Great Wall Hostel, opposite the cable car station.
Kevin’s Kitchen & House, opposite the parking lot at Simatai Village Entrance, is a good place for a simple lunch. Alternatively you could pack food before your departure from Beijing. We can also arrange a picnic lunch on the wall for you if you want.
Or we can tailor-make a tour for you to explore the Great Wall according to your interests.