The Ultimate Guide to Travel the Great Wall of China
Wondering which part of the Wall is the best for you to visit? The answer to this question varies from person to person. You must, therefore, do your research and plan carefully the areas you wish to explore. Answering the following questions can help you determine where to travel.
Several Factors to Consider Before Visiting the Great Wall
- Is this your first time visiting?
- Do you prefer the original un-restored Wall or the restored one?
- Time of year that you are traveling?
- How much time do you have to spend, one hour, two hours, or the entire day?
- Who are you traveling with, and what are their interests?
- Would you prefer to go alone or with an entire group?
- What kind of activities do you want to experience? Hike daily, camp overnight near the Wall, or fly over the point of interest in a helicopter?
- Will you wish to take photos of sunset or sunrise?
- Will you require the services of a tour guide?
Your answers will help identify the most exciting and rewarding sections of the Wall worth visiting. With so many sections to choose from in Beijing, you’ve got many options for your vacation plans. Here we list the most popular sections of the Great Wall, and you can choose according to your preferences and interests.
Great Wall Map in Beijing Region (right-click to enlarge or print)
Best Sections of the Great Wall to Visit
- Half day options: Badaling, Mutianyu, Juyongguan and Simatai.
- Full day options: Huanghuacheng, Jinshanling, Gubeikou, Simatai, and Jiankou.
- Best day hikes: Jinshanling, Jiankou to Mutianyu, Gubeikou, and Huanghuacheng.
- Best spots for sunrises/sunsets: Jinshanling, Huanghuacheng, Jiankou, Simatai, and Mutianyu.
- Best spots for long layover: Mutianyu, Huanghuacheng
- Best photography spots: Jinshanling, Simatai, and Jiankou.
- Best family vacation spots: Mutianyu, Jinshanling, Jianou, and Huanghuacheng.
- Fully restored wall experiences: Badaling, Mutianyu and Juyongguan.
- Wild wall experiences: Jiankou, Gubeikou, Jinshanling and Simatai.
- Romantic honeymoons, birthdays, anniversaries, proposal celebrations: Jinshanling, Huanghuacheng, and Simatai.
- Winter trip: Badaling, Mutianyu, and Juyongguan.
Badaling-the Most Famous, Most Visited, and Most Restored Section
- Fully restored and most well-preserved sections among the variables of the Great Wall. Nearly all tour groups and guides include this thrilling section in their Beijing tour package.
- Easily accessible and conveniently equipped with valuable facilities like restaurants, guardrails, cable cars, pulleys, viewing telescopes, and a long row of souvenir market stalls.
- Badaling offers less wild scenery and landscapes than the Wild Great Wall sections like the Jinshanling, Gubeikou, and Jiankou.
- It is noisier than other sections. Still, it is possible to enjoy a quiet time at the Badaling by walking towards its southwestern part, which is less crowded, as most revelers and guides prefer walking towards its northeastern side.
Mutianyu-less Crowded, Easy to Walk on, Has Fun Toboggan Ride in the End
Don’t have time for a day hike? That’s ok. Mutianyu is fully restored, and the trails are well-formed and easy to follow, making walking along the 2km wall relatively easy. Whether you have an afternoon or prefer a less crowded section of the Wall, Mutianyu is a perfect choice.
- Mutianyu is greener, quieter than Badaling, and has few tour buses. Offers a better alternative to the noisy and jammed Badaling.
- Mutianyu is well established and boasts features like the toboggan ride, cable cars, and chair lifts, making visiting the Mutianyu an unforgettable experience. Thanks to the cable cars, you can avoid the tiring steep climbing experienced when visiting the Gubeikou or Jinshanling sections of the Great Wall. The Toboggan offers a thrilling, fast ride descent back to the entrance. First-time visitors chose Mutianyu Great Wall for its beautiful views, excellent visitor services, and family-oriented facilities.
- Mutianyu offers scenic landscapes and beautiful scenery. If the weather is favorable, you are likely to view magical stretches of the Wall and even take photos of the scenery effortlessly as you ascend the Wall.
- Harder climb to the top than other sections. Some parts of Mutianyu are very steep; the steps are very uneven heights. This makes for a challenging climb towards the top unless you hold the side rail to help pull yourself up.
For more details about Mutianyu, you can check out the Mutianyu travel guide.
Jiankou-one of the Most Dangerous, Wild, and Picturesque Section
Jiankou is a popular spot due to its unique style, steep mountains, and scenery. The 20km long Wall connects to Mutianyu to the east and joins Huanghuacheng in the west. The most scenic sites of Jiankou include the Arrow nock, the Sky Stair, the Eagle Flies Facing Upward, the Beijing Knot, and the Nine eye tower.
- Jiankou remains wild and secluded in comparison to Mutianyu or Jinshanling. It has a few broken sections and missing steps, while the towers have native plants and trees.
- Jiankou is very popular for photographers and adventurous and experienced hikers throughout the year. If you are into hiking in the wild, or you find the prospect of trekking in the wilderness adventurous, Jiankou will be a turn-on for you. Traveling from Jiankou (Zhengbeilou) to Mutianyu offers a rare opportunity for you to explore both the unrestored and fully restored sections of the Great Wall. From Jiankou, a hiker can easily reach Mutianyu, after which they can enjoy an exciting downhill ride of the famous Toboggan.
- Jiankou can get extremely dangerous when it snows or rains. The famous Sky Stair is complicated to climb, more difficult than climbing Mutianyu or Badaling.
- Bit further out. Jiankou is a little further out. There is no direct bus/ train between Jiankou and Beijing. As you approach Huairou, some van drivers will try to sell you a ride to your point of interest. Some visitors have felt intimidated and bullied by the van drivers in Huairou; better pre-book a driver in advance at a reasonable price to avoid any scam that may happen along the way.
Jinshanling-ruined, Preserved, Original, A Classic Great Wall Hiking Experience
Jinshanling is located in Luanping County, Hebei Province, 125 km northeast of Beijing. This section of the Wall is connected with the Simatai to the east and Gubeikou to the west. With only a 2.5 hour drive from Beijing, Jinshanling is a relatively undiscovered paradise for backpacking & hiking enthusiasts.
- The breathtaking view. Jinshanling has magical pristine landscapes, as well as unique features guaranteed to amaze you. The views of the surrounding countryside of rolling hills and walls will take your breath away. Jinshanling is a massive draw for tourists and is one of the best sightseeing spots around Beijing because of the spectacular view.
- Easy to avoid crowds. Jinshanling is relatively less crowded than Mutianyu and more original than Badaling. You can easily enjoy the views without dodging crowds.
- An unmatched sunrise and sunset view. Jinshanling sunsets/ sunrises are just as spectacular as one might expect from the Great Wall of China. Watching the beautiful red skies over Jinshanling is an unmatched treat you will never forget. If you are making plans for the Great Wall, I encourage you to fit Jinshanling into your itinerary. It has a specific power that will move you beyond your expectations.
- An epic hiking experience. If you are looking for an epic trail to hike, there isn’t one more worthy than the legendary Jinshanling. The hike from Jinshanling to Jinshanling East has little traffic, meaning it is not noisy, and you can move freely. This is one of the more difficult but popular hikes in Beijing. You only need to make prior arrangements for booking a tour or hiring a taxi. The good thing is that both the Jinshanling and Simatai are safe, and you can camp near the Wall or spend the night in any of the local farmer’s guesthouses.
- Possible traffic when going back to Beijing from Jinshanling. There are times of the day when the traffic is at its peak, and some areas are affected even more. After your visit, the drive back to Beijing could be 1.5 hours longer due to heavy traffic. This is why you should be generally prepared for traffic all the time.
- Aggressive vendors. Beware of local farmers who will follow you and help you; they will try to sell you water, books, postcards, or T-shirts. Just be firm and avoid eye contact with them if you do not want to purchase their goods. Otherwise, they can be very persistent and follow you all the way. Once you get on the Wall, the vendors at the various watchtowers are more relaxed and friendly.
Gubeikou-relatively Quiet, Original, Less-crowded, A Perfect Setup for a Wild Wall Adventure
Gubeikou is located around 120 kilometers northeast of Beijing. Gubeikou was an important mountain pass during the Ming Dynasty (16th century ). With 14 beacon towers, 143 watchtowers, and 16 strategic passes, the majority of the Wall was built by patriotic general Xuda in 1378.
- A quiet, less-crowded section with fewer visitors gives you an entire feel of nature. Gubeikou is an exciting place for those who like exclusivity and the fun that only the Great Wall can provide.
- Picturesque views of the masonry stretching as far as you can see. Gubeikou features the vast, expansive views most often seen in magazines, websites, Facebook, and TV.
- An uncrowded adventurous hike. Hiking from Gubeikou to Jinshanling is a great moment; only the initial climb up is physically demanding. Although this section is a long journey, it is generally the first choice for those who prefer to enjoy a challenging hike on the Wall. It is not just the Wall; Gubeikou has more to offer for all adventure lovers.
- A little far away from downtown Beijing, allowing 2.5-3 hours to drive each way unless you pre-book an excellent driver.
- The hilly trail is hard to follow as part of Gubeikou is officially closed. The Wall goes through a military zone, making some parts of the Wall off-limits. You will pass a military base and detour on a path along the north side of the Wall. You must be careful as there is no signage to point out the detour from the military area.
- During spring or summer, the sharp spines from the surrounding plants can scratch you or even rip your garments. While exploring the Wall, wearing a long sleeve shirt and pants in summer is highly recommended.
Huanghuacheng-peaceful, Remote, Calm Lakeside Views
Huanghuacheng was first built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) by General Cai Kai to enhance the defense of Beijing’s northern border and protect the graves of the Ming Tombs. The 11 kilometers long Wall comprises five terraces, six forts, 32 watchtowers, and twelve beacon towers.
Huanghuacheng is best visited by young lovers, couples, and outdoors-minded families seeking a quiet getaway. It is also a good alternative for those who’ve already been to Jinshanling. Hikers, photographers, and camping enthusiasts will probably like Jinshanling.
- Breathtaking scenery. If you enjoy striking sceneries, alluring mountains, and secluded lake views, you will find a tour of the Huanghuacheng reassuring. In summer, when the plants bloom, the entire landscape becomes embellished with a beautiful sea of yellow wildflowers. A cold and clear lake receives its waters from nearby springs. The Beautiful views and many photo opportunities make this a place never to forget.
- One of the top places for sunset-watching. Huanghuacheng is popular amongst honeymoon couples as they get to capture some of the best memories of sunsets. As the sun goes down, the light can give you the perfect lighting for some stunning photographs.
- A little bit short but a steep hike. This is a little harsh but steep section of the trail, which can be hiked in a single day or afternoon. You will encounter a pretty chestnut garden, which the Ming Dynasty soldiers planted. Despite the absence of smooth walking paths, you will find the rough mountainous terrain a perfect opportunity to take on a challenging hike. You might wish the day doesn’t end while walking along the Huanghuacheng to Xishuiyu. You can set up camp right by the lake for easy access to water. You can also view the mountain without climbing the steep steps by taking a speedboat. It’s a perfect place for adventurers and peace-seekers.
- It’s remote, and accessing it can be challenging if you travel from Beijing since there are no direct buses.
Simatai-uncrowded, Picturesque, Stunning Night Views
Simatai Great Wall snakes its way along mountain ridges through valleys and hills in Miyun county, 120 km from Beijing. The 5.4 km long Wall is divided into eastern Simatai and western Simatai by the valley. With 35 beautiful towers, Simatai Great Wall is known for its steepness. By far, Simatai is the only section that opens in the evening. Going to Simatai at night will bring you a different experience.
- uncrowded. Simatai is less crowded and more historical, where you can find a much-needed bubble of calm. The hike from the entrance, along the reservoir (1.5 km), to East Tower 10 takes around 2-3 hours. You can hike up the Wall just before sunset or even after the sun goes down, which is a more relaxed experience.
- Beautiful water town beneath the Simatai Great Wall. The Gubei water town is literally at the entrance of Simatai; you can visit both Simatai and Gubei water town on the same day. The Wall is always visible from the water town and looks fantastic at the top of the mountain when lit up at night. However, some might claim that Gubei water town is a replica of Wuzhen and is not authentic. But you can have a pleasant walk both in the evening.
- Very steep in some parts. Simatai is an incredibly steep and visually rewarding section of the Wall. Some portions have very narrow, steep steps, thus making the hike up quite challenging. Fortunately, a cable car is available if you want to avoid the initial climb up.
- Only the section between towers 5 and 6 opens at night. Western Simatai has been closed since 2010; visitors are allowed to walk only the eastern part from Tower 1 to Tower 10 during the day, while at night, you can only walk the section between towers 5 and 6. This could be the major drawback of visiting Simatai at night.
How Much Time Do You Need to See the Great Wall of China?
- Badaling: It follows a mountain ridge to the final viewpoint-North Eighth Tower, roughly 1,015 meters (3,330 ft) above sea level. Most visitors take 2-3 hours to walk to the top and back; some take longer. The quickest and easiest route up to the top is taking the cable car.
- Mutianyu: It generally takes the average visitor around 1.5 hours to reach the top of Mutianyu Great Wall, or just 1 hour if you take the cable car to tower 14, then walk up to the top! The trip can take longer if Mutianyu is crowded when you visit. You’ll want to allow at least 2-3 hours to relax and enjoy the walk and the scenery while there. Pro Tip: If you’re looking to visit on a busy summer weekend, make sure you arrive early to find parking near the entrance. Are you looking for more peace and quiet? Leave at least an hour earlier during the morning commute on weekdays to avoid crowds.
- Jiankou: You can hike the entire route in three days. The trails hug the mountain for about 1 km to the Wall. If you hike uphill via Xizhazi village to Mutianyu, where the hike is finished, the entire walk normally takes between 4 and 5 hours. Unless you plan to spend lots of time in Jiankou, you don’t need more than one or two days in Jiankou itself. It all depends on your fitness and how far you hike.
- Jinshanling: The entire Jinshanling Great Wall is 10.5 km long with five passes, 67 towers, and 3 beacon towers. Outdoor enthusiasts, photographers, and tourists can see the amazing Jinshanling on the same day. There are several routes you can take. Depending on your pace, it takes anywhere from 2 hours to 4.5 hours to hike Jinshanling.
- Jinshanling 4 Hour Route (Most Popular Route): Start from the Main/West Gate and hike along the Wall from Zhuanduokou Pass to East Five Window Tower and end at the East Gate.
- Jinshanling 3 Hour Route: Start from the Main/West Gate and climb up to the Wall via Zhuanduokou Pass. Hike from Zhuanduokou to Houchuankou Pass, where the hike is finished, and walk the Jinshan Horse track back down the mountain to the main gate you started at.
- Jinshanling 2.5 Hour Route: Start from the Main/West Gate and hike along the Wall from Taochun Pass. Walk the Wall eastward to the Lesser Jinshan Tower, where you can take the cable car down the mountain (pay an extra 40RMB per person to take the cable car).
- Gubeikou: Gubeikou is around 12 miles/20 km long and is divided into four parts: Panlongshan, Wohushan, Simatai, and Jinshanling. Fit hikers are recommended to allow 4.5 hours minimum to hike up Panlongshan and walk down to Jinshanling, but more like 5-5.5 hrs for a good hike up, viewing, and hike down.
- Huanghuacheng: Generally, the walk takes about 1.5-2 hours and is manageable. Fit hikers should have no problem with a 4-hour hike from Huanghuacheng to Xishuiyu. Beginners in reasonable shape may find the ascent challenging but manageable, with proper pacing and plenty of water.
- Simatai: This route typically takes 2-3 hours to hike round-trip. (Depending on your fitness, age, and the crowds.) Give yourself half an hour to relax up top before starting your descent. For those who have not hiked regularly and are taking on Simatai as a challenge of physical ability, It will take 3 hours or even longer complete. Don’t fret. At tower 10, you will be rewarded with panoramic views and, most certainly, a sense of accomplishment for completing the climb.
Do You Need a Tour Guide for the Great Wall of China?
First, if you’ve never been to the Great Wall of China, or you did go but didn’t get a full appreciation of what’s there — which is just going to be the reality if you went with only a guidebook and you’re not an ancient Great Wall expert — then a guided tour of the whole area is worth it.
Second, if you’re an experienced or particularly free-willed hiker, you might want to hike the Jinshanling/Huanghuacheng/Jiankou to Mutianyu independently–no guide, just you and the trail.
Jinshanling is rugged but still very well-marked and isn’t challenging to follow. You can try Jinshanling to Jinshanling East self-guided hike – all equipment is provided for the guided trips, except you provide your food and travel at your own pace. You need to be comfortable with hiking without the assistance of a guide.
Third, for a fully guided tour, a knowledgeable guide can offer a depth of experience and knowledge of the Great Wall beyond guidebook snippets or plaque-reading. A good guide can explain the stories behind the Great Wal and describe what life in ancient China was like.
A guided Great Wall hiking tour gives you a sense of comfort since the tour guide knows the local area, understands the culture, helps you avoid potentially dangerous places, and brings a sense of safety to the trip. Hiking with the right guide can get the Great Wall to life in a way that wouldn’t happen on your own.
Whatever you choose, make sure you leave the busy world behind and allow yourself to become part of the Great Wall for a day. It’s an experience you’ll never forget!
The Distance Between Beijing and the Great Wall
- Beijing (about 103 km) The Jiankou Great Wall;
- Beijing (about 150 km) The Gubeikou Great Wall;
- Beijing (about 157 km) The Jinshanling Great Wall;
- Beijing (about 149 km) The Simatai Great Wall;
- Beijing (about 81 km) The Mutianyu Great Wall;
- Beijing (about 80 km) The Huahaucheng Great Wall;
- Beijing (about 59 km) The Juyongguan Great Wall;
- Beijing (about 69 km) The Badaling Great Wall.