Guide to Climbing the Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China isn't, in fact, visible from space, but it’s nonetheless one of the most deservedly iconic sites in the world. No trip to Beijing would be complete without time at this UNESCO World Heritage Site. And you don't need to be a seasoned hiker to enjoy a day (or two) on the Great Wall, especially if you visit with a tour guide. Here's everything you need to know.
Temperatures are at their most pleasant and crowds are noticeably thinner in fall and spring, but even in the middle of summer, the wall is as majestic as ever. Some remote parts can even offer a break from the crowds, but with such a variety of accessible sections—both restored and wild—you can choose the perfect segment based on what you'd like to see and do.
Most visitors to the Great Wall see the section known as Badaling Pass, located about an hour from Beijing. This portion features a cable car to ferry guests to the top of a flat stretch of the wall that spans out in both directions. While it's the most popular and crowded portion of the wall, it's also one of the most convenient and accessible—perfect for those pressed for time.
This is actually the closest section of the Great Wall to Beijing at about 35 miles (56 kilometers) away, but a somewhat steep ascent keeps the crowds at bay—most opt for nearby Badaling instead. The views of the wall snaking up the mountain here are photo-worthy, and it’s close enough to the city to combine with visits to other attractions such as the Ming Tombs.
Great for families and travelers with a full day to devote to the wall, the Mutianyu segment is a scenic, flat stretch of wall with great views and fewer crowds than Badaling and Juyongguan. A cable car lets visitors opt out of a steep climb, and a popular toboggan ride returns visitors to the parking lot.
Jinshanling to Simatai
The most popular Great Wall hike spans the six-mile (10-kilometer) stretch of largely unrestored wall between Jinshanling and Simatai. This four-hour walk offers the chance to see wild portions of the wall without many other tourists and is relatively close to Beijing.
Ideal for adventurous hikers, this steep section of the Great Wall is known for its historic beauty. This section hasn't been restored since its original construction, and seasoned hikers who take on the strenuous (and sometimes nerve-wracking) terrain will be rewarded with some of the wall’s most sublime scenery.
Also called the Great Wall Under the Water, the section at Huanghacheng includes both restored and unrestored pieces, with three portions submerged beneath the surface of the Xishuiyu Reservoir. This section is popular with day hikers looking to experience a wilder Great Wall.
History buffs and hikers alike head to this hard-to-reach segment of the wall that once played a critical role in protecting China from Mongol invasions. The ruined segment between Gubeikou and Jinshanling makes for a strenuous but rewarding day hike, although it is more commonly visited as part of multi-day hiking tours.
This fully restored portion of the Great Wall lies about three hours from Beijing. Those willing to make the drive (and cruise passengers visiting from Tianjin) get to explore a beautiful stretch of wall that sees very little tourist traffic.