Your Summer Guide to Exploring the Great Wall of China

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June 12, 2017

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As we get well into summer, more and more people start booking tickets east to fulfill that lifelong dream of climbing on the Great Wall. Here's how to do it best. 

Photo by Outbound Explorer Kyle Obermann

The Classics

Beijing's Badaling and Mutianyu Great Wall sections are by far the most famous hikes on the Great Wall of China. This is where presidents of the US go on their state visits to China; they are the most well suited towards all levels of experience and different kinds of travelers. Plus, they are only about an hour-and-a-half from Beijing depending on traffic. These are your classic Great Wall experiences and can be done in a simple day trip.

Hike the Mutianyu Great Wall. The crowds are generally less here than Badaling. Plus, if you are willing to hike far enough, you can get to an unrestored section of the wall. Photo by Outbound Explorer Michael Gabbert 

The Wild Wall

If you're feeling a bit more adventurous, leave the crowds behind and head to what local Beijingers call the "Wild Wall." The Wild Wall is usually a completely unrestored or only partially restored section of the Great Wall. Because of this, these places often see fewer tourists and are a bit harder to reach but are some of the most beautiful and serene sections of the wall. The Wild Wall isn't for those with bad knees or the elderly, but it offers some unparalleled views.

Hike the Jinshanling Wall. This hike offers a good mix of restored and unrestored sections of the wall with first-class views of the wall stretching into the horizon. Photo by Outbound Explorer Kyle Obermann

Not for the faint of heart, the Jiankou section offers incredible views of high peaks topped by tumbling towersVaut is one of the tougher and steeper sections of the Wild Wall. Be aware of falling stones and steep, unforgiving ascents. But the experience is unforgettable. Photo by Outbound Explorer Michael Gabbert

Camping

Most people are excited about hiking on the Great Wall. Tell them they can sleep on it, and they get even more excited. Camping on the Great Wall is easy, and unless the forecast predicts a high chance of rain than you can get away with just bringing a sleeping bag and pad, settling down in some broken tower, and letting the stars spin above you. There are many sections where camping on the Great Wall is not allowed, and some where local villagers will even rent you gear and guide you up their local trail up the mountain.

On a moonless night, the milky way is clearly visible on Chenjiapu Great Wall, only about 1.5 hours from Beijing. Photo by Outbound Explorer Kyle Obermann

Camping on the Gubeikou Great Wall. Photo by Outbound Explorer Michael Gabbert


***

Hiking the Great Wall is a lifetime dream for many, and once you are in Beijing is a really easy item to tick off the bucket list. For those with the time and fitness level, I'd encourage you to experience the Great Wall on your own terms and go to an unrestored section or try camping! There's also no shame in heading to the easier Badaling or Mutianyu, I took my mother to Mutianyu and it was spectacular. Wherever you go, have fun and remember to Leave No Trace!

Photo by Outbound Explorer Kyle Obermann

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.