Have you ever had one of those moments where you stop to catch your breath, look around, and realize ‘holy shit, this is my life?’ I’ve only had this happen a few times: the first time I visited New York City, and when I stood atop the Acropolis in Athens and looked out over the city.
Well, I have another experience to add to this list: hiking the Great Wall of China. (My face in the cover photo says it all!) This is in the top five experiences of my entire life.
Here is my guide & experience to hiking the Great Wall of China deep in the Jinshan Mountains.
If you know anything about the Great Wall of China, you know it’s thousands of kilometers long and there are just a few distinct locations you can hike on. The closest and easiest to get to is Badaling (all the serious hikers just cringed). This section is always filled with tourists and since this was going to be one chance to hike the Great Wall, I wanted a more authentic experience.
The Lonely Planet’s Beijing guide has some awesome maps and recommendations for sections of the wall! (Seriously, none of these posts are sponsored by Lonely Planet, I just wouldn’t have gotten through my trip without this book. I so highly recommend it.)
There are basically seven areas to choose from for hiking, and I decided on Jingshaling. It’s two hours by bus away from Beijing, but it was well worth it.
Head to the Wangjing West subway station on Line 13 and locate exit C. This will be the easiest way to get out! If you accidentally walk about of a different exit like I did, it’s not the end of the world, you’ll just have more trouble finding the bus port.
When you step out of exit C, across the street will be a big red sign that says “Tourist Bus to Jinshanling.” Cross over and follow the security guards’ directions to walk a ways further. You’ll turn into the run-down metal gated area and wait in line.
It is confusing, but just wait there until you see the big green bus with this sign. I was told the bus left at 8 a.m., but it didn’t come until 8:30 a.m. Arrive at 7:30 a.m. to make sure you can find the stop and don’t miss it! Once you’re on the bus, it’s 50 CNY ($7.50) each way and they drop you off right at the entrance to the park! Our driver told us to come back to the meeting point at 4 p.m. and they were right on time to take us back to Beijing.
The Great Wall
When you arrive, you also have to buy a ticket to get into the park. Truthfully I don’t remember the cost, but I want to say it was around 30 CNY. Not expensive at all!
You can also purchase a ticket to take a little shuttle to the base town, but it’s not worth it. It’s a 20 minute walk and it’s beautiful! You can also pay to take a cable car up to the wall, but again I really enjoyed the walk. It wasn’t strenuous at all, and it felt more authentic.
Another reason I enjoyed this section of the wall is that much of it has been restored, making it easier to hike. It can be steep! It’s filled with steps the entire way, but for the most part the stairs are manageable and easy to climb.
I spent the entire time photographing the wall at different angles and pausing to look out at the mountains. The views were unreal.
I walked the path up to the wall and then hiked on the wall as far as I wanted, then returned to the cable car and hopped a ride back down at the end. That seemed to work out nicely!
After you finish this amazing hike, you can head back into the town and rest. Grab a jianbing from a street cart for 10 CNY (delicious!) and grab a coffee from the cutest coffee shop around. Just enjoy the sunshine and soak it in until the bus picks you back up.
When Should You Visit?
According to my guide, the bus to Jinshanling only runs from April-November, so you may have issues getting to this section in the winter.
It would also be challenging in the summer because of the direct sunlight. It was 60 degrees the day I went which was perfect because there wasn’t a cloud in the sky! I was very comfortable.
The downside to going in the spring is that the vegetation hasn’t grown in yet. As you can see, much of the mountains in my photographs are dead, whereas in the summer it would be green and luscious.
I think May would be your sweet spot. Tourism isn’t in full swing yet, and it won’t be too hot. Whenever you go, just enjoy it. Soak in every minute of this experience.