Hiking the Great Wall of China
The Great Wall has ten thousand miles, Jinshanling stands out uniquely.
I recently spent a week in Beijing for work and was lucky enough to have a free day to explore. I decided to use that time to visit The Great Wall of China, a place I'd always dreamed of going but never thought I'd have the chance.
After a bit of research, I decided to book a tour through Great Wall Hiking. I was traveling solo and while many choose to take a cab to the main visitor sections of the wall, I wanted to go to a less touristy section and travel with a guide that could tell me about The Great Wall's history.
I was blown away with the size of The Great Wall, and I only visited one section! In this post, I'll share my experience hiking The Great Wall, a few interesting facts, and some tips to help you plan your own trip.
The construction of The Great Wall started as early as 7th century B.C. and was originally built as separate walls that were connected over time. Some sections of the wall were built for defensive purposes while others were used for border control or monitoring the transportation of goods.
The section I visited is called Jinshanling and has a complete defense system, built by the Ming Dynasty from 1567-1582. It starts at the Wangjinglou Tower and ends with Longyukou Pass, covering a total of 10.5 km with 67 watchtowers, 5 passes, and 3 beacon towers. This section is also the only one that has a barrier wall and thousands of bricks with inscriptions from the people who constructed them. The Jinshanling section is said to represent the peak of Great Wall architectural design and has been a World Cultural Heritage site since 1987.
Tour at a Glance
- 7:45am pick up in Beijing
- 2.5 hr ride in a comfortable van
- 4km hike across the Jinshanling section of the wall
- Lunch included after the hike
- English speaking guide
- 6pm return to Beijing
Great Wall Hiking aligned perfectly with what I was looking for. The group promotes responsible travel, which they define as minimizing footprint and maximizing your connection with people and the environment. My hope was to visit a large section of the wall in one day, avoid the tourist crowds, learn about the wall's history, and snap some incredible photos. They delivered on all four asks.
My tour guide, Robert, was very knowledgeable and shared facts with us throughout the trek. For example, the steps along The Great Wall are different sizes, uneven and fairly challenging to climb. I assumed this was just how the wall happened to be built, but he told me it was by design to slow down enemies who tried to access the Wall.
Another interesting fact is the more important towers have a larger number of decorative animals on the roof. These symbolize that the passages are lower and more at risk of attack.
The wall is enormous and definitely worth visiting, but in all honesty, I struggled with its purpose. Especially given the current political climate, I'm so glad I was able to visit the wall and walk away having learned why it was there in the first place.
TBP Insider Tips
> Visit a less touristy part of the wall. I highly recommend the options that Great Wall Hiking offers. For the majority of the hike, there were no other tourists in sight and this made for some incredible photo opportunities.
> The sections of the wall vary greatly, so pick the section that's right for you. Great Wall Hiking has varying levels of difficulty and rank the hikes to provide options for everyone.
> Check the weather and predicted smog/pollution. You'll want to plan a visit on a day where this is enough visibility to see the sweeping mountain ranges behind the wall.
> Depending on what time of year you visit, make sure you dress appropriately! I recommend layers and comfortable clothing that you can move in. You'll also want to wear a pair of sturdy sneakers or hiking books. As I mention above, the stairs are uneven and the wall is not easy to climb in some places!
> In addition to dressing comfortably, I recommend wearing something bright that will pop in your pictures. I bought the scarf I'm wearing from Zara the night before because I knew the red would look great against the backdrop of The Great Wall.
> Wear and bring sunscreen, sunglasses, water, snacks and a fully charged camera.