The great wall snakes its way across northern china for over 20, ooo Km.
Its most popular sections are perfectly restored, easy accessible and often crowded to the point of madness. If you are near Beijing, you have to expect busy. After all, it is China, but there are some places that don’t involve anywhere the mount of dodging and manoeuvring in your visit. Avoid Badaling like the plague. Badaling and Mutianyo are both good options, and I would go the latter based on numbers.
Many numerous sections have been left untouched and crumbling, making for incredible, people free hiking for the adventurous. But it can be tough going and require imagination on what would have been the structure. There are a number of things to think about- leg strength, ease of travel, family/friends capacity (e.g. children).
Most people explore the wall from Beijing. The most popular section – Badaling – is 70 km from the city and has impressive views. With these views, there are also crowds and all the modern trappings of development. It’s best for older travellers, families with small children, those who don’t love sheer drops and are short on time. I explored this section in 2005 and from other reports it has only got busier!
Often you can combine with a visit to the Ming Tombs.
- 75% of the visitors come here
- wall is well restored, highly commercialised
- easy hike
- has a cable car
- closest to Beijing
- entrance fee: 40/ 45 CNY
This section offers equally good views of impressive rolling hills and its famed for its Ming-era guard towers. Smaller crowds than Badaling section but still very commercialised.
- less busier than Badaling with great views
- weel restored
- fairly easy hike
- has cable car and chair lift
- entrance fee:: 45 CNY
In 2011 I hiked this section. At the time I was travelling with a Lonely Planet guide from 2007, which said this was a very remote section of the Wall. To my surprise, when I arrived for my hiking in the nature, I was greeted with a cable car 1020m long and 150 m high. It wasn’t what I had in mind, however it definitely had less people than the Badaling and Mutianyu sections. The wall winds along hilly mountainous landscapes for miles.The views, the effort, the time and energy of the people that build this wall blows your mind!
This section has many well preserved structures including beacon towers and battlements.
- much less visited by tourist
- semi- restored not very crumbling
- moderate hike, steep at times
- cable car
- entrance fee: 65 CNY
Huanghua Cheng Section
Huanghuacheng Great Wall has picturesque lake views and hilly landscapes, much quieter, much less developed and less known than other sections in Beijing. It is one of the best sections to explore. It is a remote, unrestored, highly under- visited section with epic views
- trickier to get to from Beijing
- very few visitors
- can be a fairly challenging hike
- fairly unrestored “wild” wall
- entrance fee: 45 CNY
You can hike from Jiankou to Mutianyu section, which is around 10km, or 5 hours hike. This hike takes you from the forest to the unrestored part of great wall, then to mutianyu great wall, where you can take the cable car down to the hill, with remote mountain views. I would recommend to do this rather than just Mutianyu, if you are up for some walking. One of my best hikes ever!
- very challenging and dangerous at times
- very few visitors
- largely unrestored “wild” wall, crumbling & overgrown
- entrance fee: 20 CNY
This section of the Great Wall has diversified modes of construction, including walls built with rammed earth, piled stones, and bricks. Because of these characteristics, Zhangjiakou has earned itself the name “Museum of Great Walls.” From far, this was the section that I liked the most! I enjoyed seeing the contrast of previous experiences on the restored Wall to oppose this one almost untouched. Bargain and paying along the way with the locals gave a special touch.
- rarely visited by tourists
- partially unrestored
- challenging hike
- camping tours are run from here
- entrance fee: usually you pay along the way to the locals, try to bargain with them respectfully.
- beat the tour bus guides – head out either super early or late afternoon. You will also have the best light for photos.
- avoid weekends, particularly during the summer, as most tourist are domestic Chinese
- if you are in a small group, hiring a taxi is a good option, allowing you to see different parts of the wall. Hotels/hostels can easily arrange an English speaking private car, but expect to pay over150 CNY