Great Wall of China

Beijing, China

The Great Wall of China runs more than 21,000 kilometers (over 13,000 miles), not as one continuous wall but rather as fortified wall sections. Some of the sections date back more than 2,500 years, though only 8.2 percent of the existing wall is original. The Mutianyu Great Wall is one of the more accessible portions. Hike (because that is what you’ll be doing, even on the wall itself) up the Great Wall, then slide down the side of the mountain on a toboggan. Alternatively, explore the Simatai Great Wall, which retains a more authentic feel—save, of course, for the fake water town at the bottom. Even more remote is the Jiankou section, which is largely unrestored, so book with an experienced group like Beijing Hikers or Wild Great Wall.

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Afternoon stroll on the Great Wall

The Great Wall of China may be the most impressive structure on the planet. Nothing could have prepared me for how impressive the Great Wall is in real life. There is no way to imagine how tall and long it is in real life. Luckily, my wife and I were there in the offseason (beginning of March) so there were not too many crowds to speak of. If you are willing to walk 15-20 minutes in either direction you will find yourself alone and be able to enjoy the scenery in peace. After we got to an isolated spot we found a bench and spent an hour just taking it all in. That afternoon was definitely one that we will never forget.

Pit stop for a few laughs on the Great Wall.

Wear good shoes! It’s definitely a hike but one worth the effort.

Night on the Great Wall

During a two week trek across China, my friend and I decided to head out to the Great Wall. We arrived early in the morning to avoid crowds and we asked an unmarked taxi to take us to a different location then from where a usual tourist might go. The driver dropped us off, and my friend and I began walking the Great Wall, with no one in sight. The views were spectacular, and the snow on the wall made some beautiful pictures. As the day progressed, we walked further and further from where we originally started. As the afternoon approached, we realized that we had to be back by 6:00pm to catch the last bus to Beijing. I asked my friend if we should go back, or if we should stick around(since we had the necessary food, water, and extra clothes) and make an adventure out of it. We decided to stay. We continued walking the wall, and we were amazed by the beautiful scenes we encountered as the sun set. We ended up sleeping in a guard tower, and we used our extra socks and jackets as cushions against the floor. The following morning we walked back to a main road and found a taxi that took us back to a bus station. It was truly a memorable experience.

The Great Wall of China

According to our guide to the Great Wall, Mao once said, “you can not be a great man until you have walked the Great Wall”

Simatai Section, Great Wall of China, Miyun County, China.

There are a few boxes every traveler wants to tick off their bucket list. I got a chance to tick off the Great Wall a few years back, and my experience couldn’t have been more thrilling. I’m sure it had plenty to do with the section of the wall we explored; Simatai, a 5.5km section of the East Wall, was quiet by tourist standards, beautiful in its ancient way, and characterized by the immense grandeur of the rolling countryside. I thought the fact that we got to ride a zipline off the wall - and over a massive lake - was pretty neat. This section of the wall was closed in 2010 for repairs, but could reopen anytime. If you’d like to speed things along, I’m sure my friend here would be happy to hire you.

The Great Stone Snake

I snapped photos with every step that I took climbing the Simatai section of the Great Wall. I would preview each photo after I taking it, and none captured the sight before me—a seemingly endless stretch of stone that undulated with the landscape of the mountains that it was snaking over. I kept climbing until the path was blocked and I could go no more. I turned around and took one last photo. It’s not the perfect image, but it’s the one that captured the memory I wanted to preserve of this amazing experience.

Climbing the Great Wall at Simatai

Hiking the Great Wall was an amazing experience. What made it even better was going to Simatai, which isn’t as heavily visited as Badaling and other parts of the Wall. It’s harder to get to and takes more effort to reach, but it’s worth it. The Wall stretches out for miles and miles. Totally cool.

Badaling Section, Great Wall of China

This was taken a couple of years ago, when I went on my first major trip solo (well, solo as part of a tour group). This remains one of my all time favourite pictures. Rather than go to the more crowded Badaling section of the Great Wall, our guide took us to the Jinshanling-Simatai section. At the time, there was approximately 10.5km of walkable wall. Two of my tourmates decided to do the entire section (there were parts that were crumbling), but the rest of us decided to get down to level ground for a little and walk alongside the wall. Accept the help of the guides - they will show you where to step so you don’t slip or fall.

Badaling Section, Great Wall of China

I’ve been to the Great Wall of China four times now - three times to the Mutianyu section and once to Badaling. I’ve never seen more than a few people at the wall on any of the visits, and definitely nothing resembling the huge crowds that you see in photos sometimes. The secret? Either head there in the off-season, or go in the late afternoon. In this case we got to the Mutianyu section on a weekday in May around 2pm. We stayed until the cable car down was about to close - roughly 5pm. We passed a few people, but most of the time we didn’t see anyone else. Other than the timing, the smartest thing that we did? We bought a Chinese robe and two umbrellas at the base of the wall for my cousin’s wife. With no one on the wall, the photos wouldn’t have been interesting otherwise.

Ruined Badaling Great Wall ( now officially named Ancient Badaling Great Wall )

Off to the Great Wall! Badaling area is the most common area where all dignitaries are seen and where the wall has been rebuilt. It is 6700 kilometers long. After hours of steep climbing with thousands of our “closest” friends, we drove about 10 more kilometers passing by a subdivision of beautiful large new homes (farmer’s homes) to Ruined Badaling, the wall that has not been rebuilt and is much less crowded. Wow!! This was the highlight of the day. It seemed as if we were the only ones there. In reality there were about 5-6 others hiking the wall around us but we hardly encountered them. Surprisingly, our tour guide and driver had never been. It was so quiet and peaceful while we were climbing the steep rocky steps for several hours. The tour guide and I called it quits when we climbed the 2023rd step (not sure how many steps we had climbed at that point-where’s my pedometer?) but T wanted to push on through to the top of one of the guardhouses. As we waited on the steep steps, T ventured on by himself to the top and then some. After about 5 or so minutes, I yelled his name and no response. After I called his name multiple times, I climbed closer to the top and saw him quite a ways away. He said he had to walk carefully around the ice on several steps and just had to see what was at the top. As we all walked back, we were moaning with different aches and pains. Boy, we’d be sore the next day!

Jiankou Section, Great Wall of China

This is one of the lesser known portions of the Great Wall, Jiankou. It is unrestored, untrafficked, and absolutely stunning. We saw 2 other people while on this unrestored section. We slept the night before at Zhao’s Homestay in a small village about an hour out of Beijing. In the morning, we hired a girl form the homestay to take us up to one of the entry points on this portion of the Great Wall. We then hiked for several hours along Jiankou, which gradually merged with Mutainyu restored Great Wall, and then we went down the cable car. It was an absolutely unique and incredible experience, and I’d recommend this hike to anyone.

Huanghuacheng Section, Great Wall of China

This was such a great find I’m not sure I should spread the word. These days the Great Wall is overrun by tourist (and all that comes with it.) We wanted to experience the Great Wall without being shoved or standing in everyones pictures. A friend that lives in Beijing recommend Huanghuacheng. It is about a 2hr car ride outside of Beijing, but worth it. This is an unofficial location so you might have trouble finding that correct location. There is a viewing platform in this are, and is just that, you can not walk on the wall. This location is about a mile west at another reservoir. You will have to pay a small fee, hike up a small hill and climb a ladder to access the wall. Once you are up there you basically have the wall to yourself. This might not be the case everyday, but the day we were there, there were only a dozen other people on the wall. This is great for taking pictures since there is no one else in your shot. This was a very mountainous region where the wall snaked up and down with an outpost at every peak. The wall is preserved quite nicely in this section. General Cai Kai’s craftsmanship of this part of the wall took so long and ran over budget that it cost him his head.

Mutianyu Section, Great Wall of China

This photo was taken in the late afternoon of my trip to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. The sun was about to set, and my friends and I had a few more hours of hiking the Great Wall before we reached our final destination: a guard tower where we would set up camp and sleep the night. Yes, it’s illegal ... and yes, I would definitely recommend a sleepover on the Great Wall to any adventurous traveler.

It's That Great

Visiting one of the Seven Wonders of the World makes for a good day. Head to the Mutianyu Wall location, known for fewer crowds. We unintentionally went on a horrifically polluted day in March, but that made for zero crowds and some moody photos. We only stopped roaming and climbing when we could no longer see the wall as it steeply ascended into the “clouds.” Be sure to take the toboggan down this UNESCO World Heritage site, and stop at the School House on your way out of town for some delish food and an on-site glassblowing studio.

How to Be An Explorer Of The World

its the Great Wall.

Skip the Crowds at the Great Wall

What’s the best way to experience the Great Wall? Go really early...right when they open up so you can beat the crowds. We arrived at the Mutianyu Great Wall Section at 8AM and it was empty! And we beat the rush hour traffic out of Beijing. I found myself wishing I had a few people in the pictures for perspective. However hours later it was flooded with school kids and I couldn’t get down fast enough! And getting down was so much fun...we rode a toboggan sled down! Sherry Ott traveled to China courtesy of the China National Tourist Office ( and Wendy Wu Tours ( as part of AFAR’s partnership with The United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) (, whose members provide travelers with unparalleled access, insider knowledge, and peace-of-mind to destinations across the globe. For more info on Sherry’s journey, visit the USTOA blog (

Great Wall

There’s a reason this is one of the wonders of the world. No, it cannot be seen from outer space, but it is truly magnificent. When visiting China, avoid the super touristy hotspots. We visited a spot that locals preferred called MuTianYu, about 40 minutes outside of Beijing and a short hike to the entrance. There are a few “forbidden trails” but carry on with caution. Bring water and a packed lunch to have a picnic on the Great Wall!

Great Wall

Snaking through lush mountains, the Great Wall is rich with history and continues with a seemingly endless reach. When visiting, try to go early in the morning and to an entrance point away from the big tourist crowds. This was in a place called MuTianYu, about 40 minutes outside of Beijing and a short hike to the top. There are a few “forbidden trails” but carry on quietly, and with caution.

Road Less Traveled

If you’re wandering down the expansive renovated section of the Great Wall known as Mutianyu, you might spot a couple of these signs. My advice? Walk right past to the unrestored sections. Not only are there less people, but you’ll experience the mysteriousness of an ancient wall a little more closely.

Wanginglou Tower Section, Great Wall of China

The problem with most iconic sights is that they’re usually mobbed with tourists. Because China’s Great Wall is more than 5,000 miles long there are bound to be tourist-free stretches. One of them is the Jinshanling section, which is about a two- hour drive from the center of Beijing. It’s one of the best preserved parts of the wall and still maintains a lot of its original features. A good six mile hike starts at the Wanginglou Tower in the east and ends at Longyukou in the west. Imperial Tours (, a Beijing-based tour company specializing in China, can arrange a guide who will detail the history of the wall, and also arrange for a lunch to be waiting at the tower, supplied by locals from a nearby village.

Huangyaguan Section, Great Wall of China

The Huangyaguan section of the Great Wall of China runs along the ridgeline of Jixian County’s rolling, verdant mountains. From the Huangya gate, the wall runs east toward Taipingzhai and west toward Wangmaoding Mountain. Both sections can be hiked in a few hours, providing gorgeous views. This section of the wall was restored within the last few decades, and it offers a taste of everything Great Wall visits can offer: incredible natural views and hiking, military and cultural history sites (there are several garrison locations and military fortifications along this section), and ease of access. While it’s a little far afield from central Tianjin (a two-hour bus trip), it’s worth making. The crowds are less dense than at sites closer to Beijing, and the setting far more picturesque. (In the fall, hikers can admire the season’s fiery red foliage in the valleys around the pass.) Admission is ¥45-50, depending on the season, and transportation should be less than ¥100, including the regional bus from Tianjin and tourist mini-bus from the train station to the ticket office.

Jinshanling Section, Great Wall of China

The Great Wall is a must for any first-time traveler to Beijing. However, it is also the most touristy thing you can do, meaning there are throngs of people around to unintentionally (or intentionally) photobomb your memories. Jinshanling is a great section of the wall to explore for those that want to get away from the wall and see a bit more of the original, unrestored wall. Located about 125km outside of the Beijing city center, Jinshanling is a beautiful part of the wall that is much less touristy than the very popular Badaling section. Transport can be difficult so going with a small tour is recommended. The hike up an around the wall is around 10km long. There is a cable car that cam be paid for to go up or down the wall too.

Lanzhou Section, Great Wall of China

It’s hard to imagine such a fortress around a country as large as China. Inside these walls are warriors secrets.

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