Great Wall of China Pictures

Great Wall of China at Mutianyu

A bit of a hike from Gate 23 of the Great Wall at Mutianyu both the wall and path are in poor condition, but at least there’s almost no one else there as Jim Stevenson found in September 2014. Whereas Badaling. . .

Walking the Great Wall of China

The Great Wall is a staggering feat of engineering, a 21, 000 km/13, 170 mile long defensive system displaying the skill, organisation and determination of the Chinese people to maintain their national integrity at whatever the cost.
The wall stretches in layers across this huge country, made mainly from brick and stone, though early efforts of earth mixed with straw and wood are still visible in outer areas.
The first walls were constructed in northern China around eighth century BC but the first big effort occurred during the Qin dynasty (221-206 BC) when the Emperor Qin Shi Huang decided to unify China and the Great Wall was the key element, with its regularly spaced beacon towers from which flag and smoke signals were transmitted, enabling speedy control measures to be put into play.

The second big build came more than 1, 000 years later in the 14th/15th centuries when the Ming Dynasty was having trouble controlling speedy, flexible attacks and feints from the horseback warriors of Manchuria and Mongolia. The vast 23ft-high, 23ft-thick wall was the result.


The Great Wall of China at Badaling

The Great Wall at Badaling. Just say no. Photo by Jsporysz.

Badaling, 60kms (37 miles) north west of Beijing, has been the number one access point to the Great Wall since a major facelift 66 years ago.

If you’re just passing through Beijing then easy access via Line S2 of Beijing’s rail network from Beijing North terminal to Badaling (90 minutes) or fast taxi/bus on the expressway makes a visit brisk and convenient, but unless you arrive very early or late your enjoyment of this world wonder will be tempered with irritation at the number of your fellow travelers.

Badaling is, however, well fitted with facilities for wheelchair users such as with ramps, lifts and toilets.

Badaling is unfortunately a destination for zillions of Chinese tourists too, so if you have more time and prefer a spectacular and slightly less peopled view of the wall head for Mutianyu (73 kms northeast of Beijing), take the cable car halfway up and start walking.

Travellers with even more time and need for solitude could target beautiful Simatai – Jinshanling section, Jiankou or even further out.

The vicinity of the wall at Badaling also suffers an overdose of junk commercialism, with restaurants, souvenir shops and hawkers chasing your business but offers a cable car, a chair lift, a toboggan ride and hotels for those who wish to extend their pleasure.

Best season to walk the Great Wall

The best time to visit the Wall: September-November when the weather should be fair and trees change their colors during fall/autumn.
OK: April-May (when some wind and dust is possible, pollution too).

Time to avoid: December, January (very cold though travelers could combine a visit to the wall with a trip to the incredible Harbin Ice Festival); July, August (hot, humid and even more crowded), 1st weeks of May and October (Chinese holidays so attractions are very crowded) and the Chinese New Year (sometime January/ February).

Note that you should also assume that blue skies are rare and a bleached haze – if not stinging grey pollution – will be the default view.


The Great Wall of China at Mutianyu

Much of the unrestored/wild Great Wall of China (and that’s a lot! ) is either overgrown in damper climes or dissolved into lumpy, yellow sand in arid areas. This is a distant Mutianyu section approaching Jiankou. Photo by Jim.

The traditional first-choice stretch of Great Wall at Badaling is now so overcome by tourists that active visitors should make an effort to get to a less visited section.

Mutianyu’s lush, green 3kms/1. 8 mile section (75 kms/47 miles northeast of Beijing) and its Ming guard towers are attractive and not as busy as Badaling but nevertheless get overcrowded with visitors around the entry point so take a brisk walk and the less mobile will soon disappear into the distance.

As Mutianyu becomes more popular an alternative if time is available is to head for another section such as the striking stretch at Jinshanling 160 kms/100 miles from Beijing; the ‘Lakeside Great Wall’ at Huanghuacheng (70 kms/43 miles north of Beijing); or the wild, rough, steep and picturesque Jiankou (83 kms/52 miles north).

Tips on Walking the Great Wall of China

• Instead of taking a guided tour leaving Beijing around 8am or later, consider hiring a cab to set off earlier before the teeming masses groan off the tour buses. A taxi may well be less expensive than a tour! You will then hopefully find yourself more-or-less alone there at first, as Jim was.

• Cost of a local small-group tour: An average tour of 12 persons to the Mutianyu section including transport, entry, climbing a Ming Dynasty watchtower and traditional Chinese lunch will cost about $110 in 2015.

• If you choose a tour ensure that it does not include visits to shops or factories in the package as this will simply be a time-wasting irritation.

• Wear serious hiking boots, proper hiking sandals or sturdy trainers as the off-piste sections can be very dilapidated and you wouldn’t want to sprain an ankle in the middle of nowhere.

• Take a good stash of water. Of course you can buy refills before the wall but not often on the wall.

• If you’re going to be a bit adventurous then get a decent guide book. And if the weather is kind of changeable don’t forget a light raincoat.

• There will be an entry fee, maybe a cable car fee to go up/down and a shuttle bus fee to come back if you prefer to avoid the return hike. There is even a slide to come off the wall in some places, avoiding the cable car! They are all worth the money.

• Two hours is the average visit time, four hours not uncommon, but try to make your walk longer and travel further, it’s cost you enough to get to this magnificent sight so make the most of it!

• There are hotels adjacent to the Great Wall in many locations and some have private paths onto the wall.

Hiking Jinshanling-Simatai

The Great Wall of China between Jinshangling and Simatai

A section of the wall between Jinshanling and Simatai, approaching Simatai, as seen by Peter Dowley.

Walking between Jinshanling and Simatai is a popular hike to experience some solitude. It’s about 10kms (6 miles) one way so transport back (bus/taxi) will have to be arranged.

Jinshanling is about 160 kms (100 miles) from central Beijing and needs at least 2. 5 hours to reach. There’s a mix of renovated walls and ‘wild’ walls here and it gets steep in places.

Simatai, 140kms (86 miles) from Beijing has recently re-opened. As usual there are watchtowers at regular intervals and a cable-car to ride as far as the eighth watchtower.

The Great Wall of China at Jinshanling

The Great Wall of China at Jinshanling. Photo by Craig Nagy.

Hiking Jiankou-Mutianyu

Accessing the Jiankou wall from the north side (e. g. Hou Jainkou) offers a much easier gradient than from the south side (e. g. Qian Jiankou). Xizhazi village is a common starting point, about 2 hours drive from Beijing.

The most popular walk from Jiankou is to Mutianyu an 8km (5 miles) stretch taking four or five hours and involving climbing rise of around 600m, so you need to be quite fit. The Great Wall of China at Jiankou is unsuitable if it’s raining or icy as it becomes insanely slippery.

Of course you can walk the other way too but starting with the tricky stuff at Jiankou first is considered preferable, then once you have staggered into Mutianyu you have all the comforts of home – including cable-cars, taxis and ice-cream!

The views are breathtaking and there are almost no other tourists so this is the place for photos!

Jiankou’s wild and occasionally dangerous section of the wall, built in 1368, is popular with those who like a challenge, but photographers also love the beautiful mountainous scenery.

Getting to the Jiankou start: A taxi can get you to the Jiankou ticket office, then there’s a walk up to a sign that says this part of the wall is forbidden. Ignore it! Don’t take the very small path to the left behind the sign. Go past the sign to a bigger path and look for an electronic sign that plays a song and says something in Chinese. At this point you are on the right path so start to follow red ribbons and painted dots.

Jiayuguan (Jiayu Pass)

The Great Wall of China at Jiayuguan

Jiayu Guan’s fort, one of the Great Wall’s best sights, containing a fine little temple and hundreds of tombs. Photo by Zhangzhugang.

In the context of the Great Wall’s defence against foreign incursion ‘Pass’ means border control rather than a mountain pass. This fort monitored movements along the Silk Road and collected tolls from caravans traveling the route.

Yumen Pass

Crossing the Great Wall of China at Yumen Pass in a Land Rover

Well that’s one less common way to traverse the Great Wall of China. Maybe their satnav went adrift somewhere in North London? Mistook the Great Wall of China for the Great Wall takeaway in Hendon? Quite normal. Photo by Journey of Discovery Beijing.

Nearby these simple mud-packed straw walls is a small mud fort known as Fangpa Castle. There is also a city in Gansu called Yumen but it is about 400 km to the east so if you decide to travel here make sure you get the right Yumen!

Huanghuacheng, ‘Lakeside/Water Great Wall’

Huanghuacheng wall was built in the 16th century during the Ming dynasty. It’s in Jiuduhe town about 70kms/43 miles from Beijing, 2 or 3 days walk from Mutianyu or Jiankou gates, though one section in particular is dangerously steep, slippery and lacking steps.

Huanghuacheng means Yellow Flower City as the surrounding mountains are covered in yellow flowers during the summertime. This was originally the northern gate of Beijing and provided protection for the imperial Ming Tombs, which also make an interesting place to visit.

The wall zigzags along mountain ridges around Haoming Lake and lower parts of the wall are covered by lake waters, giving the impression of a massive serpent diving in the water. The Great Wall of China is underwater due to a dam built in the area years ago. Visitors can take a variety of boats onto Haoming Lake for spectacular views or even fishing.