Ever since I was a young child, I have learned about the Great Wall of China through Chinese History class and Chinese songs. When I finally stepped foot on it, the thoughts of the people who were there hundreds of years ago flooded through my mind. How did they do it without the modern day equipment and technologies? Did they know that it was a trip of doom? That they would never see their families again? Was one of them my ancestor? So many unanswered questions and all I could do was to soak in the atmosphere and marvel at the scenery.
We hiked the Jinshanling (金山岭) section the first day and a small section of Gubeikou (古北口) the next day. The most popular section is Badaling (八达岭) because of it’s proximity to Beijing and steps that are less steep compared to others. You will find a lot of tour buses and a sea of people in this part of the Great Wall. The peak season for visitors in China is between April 1st and October 31st. So March is the perfect time for us with cool temperature and less crowd. We were basically the only people hiking at the time so we took our time to truly enjoy the journey.
The Jinshanling entrance is about a two-hour hour car ride from Beijing. We started at Zhuanduokou from the Main (Mid-gate) entrance of Jinshaling and hike eastward to the East entrance at Dongwuyanlou (or East Five-window Tower). The total miles recorded on my GPS is 4.3 miles with 1590 ft. elevation gain and took us a little over three hours because of the various photo stops.
We went on a day right after a snow day so the air was clean and sky clear. We could see far into the mountains and the long long wall. I think we passed through 3 passes, 17 towers, and 3 crenels which were all amazing. There are a lot of steep inclines and tall steps in this section of the wall. It takes extra effort to climb up those stairs especially for people with shorter legs like me. Often times we also had to scramble up the stairs because they are basically vertical.
After the hike, we stayed overnight at Gubei Watertown. It is situated at the foot of the Simatai Great Wall section where they light up the wall at night for a night tour. We arrived at the wall after a cable car ride up and a short walk. The town itself is pretty both at night and during the day. Although, if it’s not necessary I wouldn’t stay overnight because hotels are rather pricey.
The next morning we headed over to Gubeikou Great Wall for another hike. This is the wild, unrestored side of the wall and paths are narrow at times. It was windy up there and my husband did not feel comfortable walking on the narrow paths without any barriers. I ended up walking a short distance and turned back.
Hiking the Great Wall is definitely an experience to remember and I would like to possibly complete the whole Great Wall from beginning to end in the future.
Tips for hiking the Great Wall:
- Do some research on the different sections and choose according to your comfort level.
- For the Jinshanling section, a pair of good and sturdy tennis shoes is fine but preferably hiking boots for the Gubeikou section.
- Bring lots of water, the Jinshanling section is well maintained and restrooms are available (may not be opened during the low season).
- Go during early hours or late in the afternoon if you want to avoid crowds.
- Get an English speaking guide (or any other language) if you are not comfortable going on your own.