Normally when you visit the Great Wall of China, you are seeing just one section of the wall such as Badaling or Mutianyu. The walk along that section will take a few hours and you’ll have a great time and an excellent experience. Another way to visit the wall is to hike from one section of the wall to another.
This will give you more time on the wall, allow you to see the wall in different states, more exercise and a much better experience. Two of the better great wall hikes near Beijing are from Jiankou to Mutianyu and from Gubeikou to Jianshanling or Simatai. I’ve visited both Jiankou and Mutianyu but never hiked from one section to the other so this has a hike I’d been planning to do for some time.
A little about Jiankou and Mutianyu
Jiankou is like the wild west of the Great Wall of China and one of the most inaccessible, dangerous sections and spectacular of the wall. No tour groups go there because it is too dangerous and many people are injured there. The Jiankou wall is shaped like an L going from north to south then bending east where it eventually connects with the Mutianyu section.
Jiankou from Nine Eye Tower to around Beijing Knot is fairly safe. The wall is not very high and there are no steep drops. The only problem hiking there is VERY thick undergrowth on the wall itself and that hike will take all day and not be very rewardig. From Beijing Knot to Jiankou Tower is extremely dangerous with at least three places where the wall has been destroyed and there are steep vertical surfaces. Great views but you really need to think clearly on the danger involved. From the point between Jiankou tower and Sharp North Tower (SNT) all the way to Mutianyu is safe and not hard to hike.
Mutianyu section of the Great Wall has been fully restored and is very commercialized with facilities such as shops and restaurants at the base of the wall and chairlift, gondola and cart ride on the wall. Mutianyu is easy to visit with many tours going there, it is accessible by public transport and the wall itself is safe and easy to hike.
Last year I visited Jiankou for the first time and hiked from Nine Eye Tower to a small tower in between Heavenly Ladder and Jiankou Tower. The hike was an amazing experience and in hindsight, very reckless. I wanted to go all the way to Mutianyu but the heavy undergrowth in the first part of Jiankou and damaged and dangerous second part took the whole day to hike so I ran out of time. (click here for more information on hiking the Jiankou Great Wall of China)
I also visited Mutianyu last year for the first time and had a great time. If you take the early bus or go with a tour group, you will have plenty of time to go from one end of Mutianyu to the other. (click here for more information on hiking the Mutianyu Great wall of China)
The plan this trip was to join up with some friends and start the hike at Sharp North Tower at Jiankou and hike east to Mutianyu. That way we could avoid the dangerous western parts of Jiankou, enjoy the beautiful views from the Sharp North Tower and an easy hike to Mutianyu.
My friend Jeff from Malaysia had never seen the Great Wall of China so hiking from Jiankou to Mutianyu would be an excellent introduction. My other friend Jon from Inner Mongolia had not seen an unrestored wild secton of the Great Wall like Jiankou so the hike would also be an eye opener for him.
With the commercialized and restored sections of the wall, reaching the wall from the car park or road takes a quick 10 minute or so walk. Jiankou is different. The hike from the road at Xi Zha Zi to SNT took almost two hours of hard fast hiking over very rugged terrain where the trail was often not visible.
We made the mistake of aiming for SNT and taking the trails that led in that direction. This added at least half an hour to the hike to the wall and took us over the rougher trails. The best way to reach SNT is to aim for a small tower that is the third tower to the east of SNT.
The SNT and the surrounding views are amazing and well worth the hard hike to get there. SNT has a reputation for being one of the best places on the Great Wall of China for taking photos and when you reach there, you can see why. To the west you can see the remains of Jiankou tower straddling the saddle of a mountain with wall stretching further to the west, you have t he valley and village laid out before you to the north and the wall continuing east to Mutianyu.
When we reached SNT we found that a local entrepreneur from the Xi Zha Zi village was charging tourists 5rmb to use his home made ladders to climb up onto the wall. After slogging for two hours to reach the wall, I was not going to take the easy way at the last minute so huffed and puffed and pulled myself onto the wall next to the ladders. Jeff and Jon followed suit. We hung out on the roof of the SNT enjoying the views and having lunch for half an hour or so. Jon had a chat with the villager who was friendly and had a lot to say about the wall.
Once you reach SNT, the rest of the hike is literally down hill with a short upward detour at the Ox Horn. Once we passed the Ox Horn which took a bit of effort, we started to see some of the more intrepid tourists visiting Mutianyu who wanted to see a bit more of the wall. There was a group of British guys who wanted to hike all the way to SNT but were running out of time because their bus was waiting for them back at Mutianyu.
The hike from SNT to the path at Mutianyu that leads down to the car park took us just over an hour. You can easily do the hike at a relaxed pace in 90 minutes to two hours.
By the time we reached the car park and bus stop at Mutianyu we were knackered and footsore. We sat around the bus stop declining offers from minibus drivers who ferry tourist to the nearby town of Hauirou until our lift arrived.
There is a tremendous contrast and difference between the Jiankou section of the great wall and Mutianyu. The Jiankou section is wild and natural, dangerous, tranquil, unrestored and real. It makes no compromises and compels you to hike it in its own terms. Mutianyu on the other hand is comfortable, easy, restored and artificial, noisy and commercialized.
Hiking from Jiankou to Mutianyu allows you to experience this contrast and provides an insight to the two different sides of the Great Wall of China that are world’s apart.
The best way to reach Jiankou is to catch the 916 bus ant the Dongzhimen bus station in Beijing to Hauirou which is a small city north of Beijing. From Hauirou bus stop make a deal with one of the unofficial taxi drivers and drive out to the Xi Zha Zi village. The drive should cost no more then 120rmb.
From Xi Zha Zi village follow the trails to third tower east of SNT, climb the wall then head west for a well deserved rest on the roof of SNT. Hiking from SNT to the bus stop at Mutianyu should take no more than two hours.
If you reach the bus stop before 4pm, you can catch the 876 bus all the way back to Beijing. After 4pm you can catch the 916 bus to Hauirou than another bus back to Beijing.