If you are tired of the maddening hordes of tourists on the most popular stretches of the Great Wall like Badaling or Juyonguan, then maybe it is time to try out some less crowded alternatives. The mountains surrounding Beijing contain a veritable treasure trove of largely unspoilt stretches of the Great Wall just waiting to be explored by brave hikers. These unspoilt and generally unrestored parts of the wall make up what is known as “The Wild Wall,” and wild it certainly is, with many of these sites virtually impossible to visit for the casual tourist.
Unspoilt Yet Accessible
Jinshanling and Simatai are two such places that are relatively unspoilt yet accessible. They are situated in the mountains northwest of the city on the border between Miyun County and Hebei province and in original condition. Their main claim to fame is the hiking route stretching between them for about 6 kilometres, easily accessible for a day trip from Beijing.
The hike between these two scenic spots is probably one of the most worthwhile excursions you could take out of the city, and is definitely a must for anyone who dream of a visit to the wall with no crowds of tourists, fume-belching tour buses and tour guides with screeching megaphones. Here the only sound you can hear is the wind blowing over the long forgotten walls and howling through the empty doorframes of the watchtowers. The view of the Wall snaking its way over the mountains in majestic solitude is sure to make any sore legs or blisters worthwhile!
Feel History Come Alive
Standing on the wall, the predatory birds circling overhead, pondering the history that created this structure… this is one of those precious, rare moments in China where you can actually feel history coming alive.
If you happen to feel an irresistible urge to raise your arms and signal your imaginary army of a thousand bowmen let arrows rain down over your Mongolian foes, do not worry! This is but a normal reaction to standing on one of the few parts of the wall virtually unchanged since those heady days in the Ming dynasty when battles with Northern barbarians were the order of the day.
This particular part of the wall was originally constructed much earlier than that and goes all the way back to the northern Qi dynasty between 550 and 577 AD. Through the ages, the Wall fell into disrepair until the Hongwu emperor of the Ming dynasty (who reigned from 1368 to 1398) decided to rebuild it in the face of ongoing Mongolian attacks on Beijing. It is the wall of Hongwu which you can see today in all its wild glory.
Jinshanling is about 87 miles (140 km) outside Beijing, Simatai is about 75 miles (120 km) outside Beijing. Plan your whole day around, leave early from Beijing, allow about 3 hours to arrive at your start point, 4-5 hours hiking time and another 3 hours to return to Beijing.
Please note that there is almost no shade on the hike apart from inside the numerous watchtowers. Since the hiking route passes through terrain that has not been developed for tourists, be aware that there are no railings whatsoever and some stretches of the trek are very precipitous and potentially dangerous.
Best time for hiking: Spring and fall will offer the best views. Summer can be extremely hot and winter may be dangerous due to snow and ice.
Jinshanling Great Wall
Add: Luanping County, Chengde city, Hebei Province
Getting there: Take the long distance bus No. 980 or No. 970 from Dongzhimen to Miyun town. From Miyun town you will have to take a taxi or minibus the rest of the way. It should cost around 130 RMB for one car.