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Great Wall Hiking: A Hike of a Lifetime

Written by Sunny XieUpdated Mar. 27, 2024

You may just be interested in touring the well-preserved/restored parts of the Great Wall, leaving the wild parts as unexplored mysteries. But if you enjoy hiking, there are great rewards to be had from exploring the uneven steps and slopes of the "Wild Great Wall". It is an experience you will remember for a lifetime.

The 5 most popular (Wild) Great Wall hiking routes are:

Hiking the Great Wall

Why You Should Hike the Wild Great Wall?

You may know about the Badaling section of the Great Wall, which is the only exposure to this ancient wonder for 70% of tourists. It is often overcrowded and much of it is not the original bricks.

The wild parts of the Great Wall, like Jinshanling, Jiankou, and Simatai, are less visited and original. They are the "true" Great Wall, where you can avoid huge crowds of people, and enjoy the original essence of the Great Wall in peace.

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How Long to Walk the Great Wall of China?

Wild Great Wall Hiking MapGreat Wall Hiking Map

The Great Wall that is mostly seen and visited today was built about 600 years ago, with a total length of 8,850 km (5,500 miles). If to walk the entire length, it may take up to 17 months with heavy hiking every day.

For most travelers, hiking on the Great Wall typically takes 1–5 days. Photography tours take longer for the same length of the route.

Here below, we have selected the five most popular Great Wall hiking routes (near Beijing) at different levels:

1. Jinshanling–Simatai Great Wall Hiking | Classical and Photogenic

Jinshanling–Simatai Great Wall HikingJinshanling–Simatai Great Wall Hiking
  • Hiking time: 3 hours, 6 km (4 miles)
  • Difficulty: ★★★
  • Scenery: ★★★★★
  • Highlights: both unrepaired and restored sceneries

Some parts of Jinshanling's Great Wall are ruined and original, but some are restored. Hiking on the Great Wall at Jinshanling, you can see 15 towers and 2 forts.

Simatai's Great Wall is a fabulous part of the Ming Dynasty Great Wall, which was uniquely designed and diversely constructed. You can hike along the rugged zigzag wall on steep mountain ridges.

For history lovers: A museum with precious relics and collections recording the history and development of the Great Wall is located near Simatai.

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2. Jiankou–Mutianyu Great Wall Hiking | Challenging but Rewarding

Jiankou–Mutianyu Great Wall HikingJiankou–Mutianyu Great Wall Hiking
  • Hiking time: 5 hours, 10 km (6 miles)
  • Difficulty: ★★★★★
  • Scenery: ★★★★★
  • Highlights: both wild and restored walls

You could start your hike by ascending to Zhenbeilou Watchtower at Jiankou and proceed to the cableway at Mutianyu to descend from the Great Wall.

Stunning views of natural scenery and the ruined wall perched on perilous ridges, many stone statues, and tablets carved with Chinese calligraphy, can be seen along the way at Jiankou.

Mutianyu's Great Wall is a complete contrast to wild Jiankou. The ancient watchtowers are completely restored to their former glory.

You will notice a big difference in walking conditions as you walk eastward to Mutianyu: the path at Jiankou is really steep and rough, whereas Mutianyu is less steep and paved.

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3. Gubeikou–Jinshanling Great Wall Hiking | Full of History and Stories

Gubeikou–Jinshanling Great Wall HikingGubeikou–Jinshanling Great Wall Hiking
  • Hiking time: 5 hours, 10 km (6 miles)
  • Difficulty: ★★★
  • Scenery: ★★★★
  • Highlights: both wild and paved walls

The Great Wall at Gubeikou is craggy, but not as steep as Jiankou. What makes Gubeikou so attractive is that there are a number of ancient villages and relics around where local culture is well-preserved. Panlongshan's Great Wall, on the way to Jinshanling, is less-visited, original, and one of the most recommended Great Wall hiking paths, with beautiful natural scenery.

The eastern part of Gubeikou is a military area, and you will need to descend and walk along a path through cornfields for 1½ hours to reach the Wall again at the Jinshanling section.

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4. Huanghuacheng Great Wall Hiking | Best for Camping

Huanghuacheng Great Wall HikingHuanghuacheng Great Wall Hiking
  • Hiking time: 4 hours, 6 km (4 miles)
  • Difficulty: ★★
  • Scenery: ★★★★★
  • Highlights: lakeside Great Wall

Huanghuacheng's Great Wall is a little different from other parts of the Great Wall. You can not only see fabulous mountain views, but also a quiet lake/reservoir.

Along the route, you will pass 6 fortified passes, 12 beacon towers, and 32 guard towers. Camping on the Huanghuacheng Great Wall allows you to enjoy a beautiful sunrise, rising up from behind the Wall on a mountain ridge.

The Great Wall at Huanghuacheng is not as risky and challenging as the paths are smoother than at other wild parts of the Great Wall.

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5. Huangyaguan Great Wall Hiking | Constantly Surprising

Huangyaguan Great Wall HikingHuangyaguan Great Wall Hiking
  • Hiking time: 3 hours, 4 km (2½ miles)
  • Difficulty: ★★
  • Scenery: ★★★★
  • Highlights: complex Great Wall relics, longest restored section

What makes the Huangyaguan Great Wall particularly well known is the Great Wall Marathon held every May. But what makes Huangyaguan different from other Great Wall sections are the different-shaped watchtowers, diverse construction materials of different ages, and vast restoration.

During a hike, you could pass 18 watchtowers. The earliest wall relics date back to 2,000 years ago.

A fortification in the shape of the eight trigrams lies below Huangyaguan's main entranceway: it was a maze used to entrap enemies. Try to walk the zigzag lanes with many T-junctions, and see, if you can find a way through.

Tips for Hiking the Great Wall

Great Wall Hiking Tips
  • The best times to hike the Great Wall are April to May and September to November when the weather is most pleasant.
  • Wear sports shoes or hiking boots. Sunglasses and hats are recommended when the sunshine is strong. Walking trousers and long sleeves are needed to avoid scratches when you pass through bushy areas.
  • Bring hiking poles if you find them useful on uneven ground and slopes, as well as bottles of water and some snacks.
  • Confirm your insurance covers hiking (scrambling if at Jiankou) before you start the trip.
  • There are no toilets on the wall! Be prepared, and use the toilet at the car park before you ascend if possible.

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China Highlights can help you create your own unique Great Wall hiking tour according to your requirements. We can help you explore the real Great Wall, with its ancient watchtowers, precarious battlements, and beautiful natural scenery.

Want to appreciate a sunset, picnic, and camp on the Great Wall? Just tell us your interests, and we will do our best to make your dream come true.

Want something unique? China Highlights can create your very own customized Great Wall trip.

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