Take out your bucket list. Have a look-see. Now, what’s the best thing you’ve checked off that list so far? For me, it’s something that I learned about in fifth grade that recently became a reality: walking the Great Wall of China!
I decided I was going to visit China for my anticipated summer vacation. Am I nuts for tackling the Wall during the hot summer months? Yes, probably. But I wasn’t particularly interested in visiting China in the winter, which can be super cold and snowy.
If you’re interested in visiting the Great Wall during off-season (winter), prepare yourself for some frigid temps (read: dress warmly).
Spanning from east-west, over 21,000 km in length, the Great Wall of China was originally built during the Qin Dynasty by the Chinese people to defend themselves from invasions and unwelcome visitors in the north. But with any war, many things were destroyed, including the original Great Wall. It was later constructed during the Ming Dynasty.
Much of the Great Wall remains today, with many restored sections that are accessible for tourists to explore. If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path adventure, then you’ll want to look into the unrestored/wild sections of the Wall.
Choosing a Section of the Great Wall
Before the trek, you should first decide how much of a “hike” you want to do. The less of a hike it is, the more “touristy” it will be. Sections like Badaling and Mutianyu are less strenuous, however, they can be littered with tourists. It doesn’t make for a picture-perfect view when you’ve got bodies in your photo and selfie sticks making cameos left, right and center.
After going back and forth about where to go, my friend and I decided to conquer Jinshanling – the section of the Great Wall that is partly restored but still has many natural qualities to it.
Jinshanling starts off easy but as you continue the trek towards Simitai (another section of the wall that is completely wild), it becomes more strenuous. You’ll see more steep and uneven stone steps, crumbling watch towers and far less people. For the last hour of our hike, we saw maybe one or two other groups passing through.
Getting to Jinshanling
I felt overwhelmed with how to get to the Great Wall. Should we go with a tour group, use public transportation, or hire a driver? Each option has positives and negatives: price, number of stops, English translation (or lack thereof), etc.
A few days before departure, I found Beijing English Driver – a car service that caters to non-Chinese tourists. I emailed and within half an hour, I received a reply for pick-up and to confirm my address. I was already impressed with Miles (the owner) and his company.
We’re happy we chose a private driver to take us to and from the Great Wall. Our driver, Bruce, spoke fluent English and we were able to have conversations with him. We had a spacious SUV and the seats fully reclined so we could take naps to and from our destination. I cannot praise this company enough for their excellent door-to-door service!
Depending on how many people in your party, the rates differ. Because it was just my friend and I, the rate was a bit more than a tour; but I liked that we were not on anyone’s schedule but our own. I would recommend hiring a driver if it’s within your budget!
How Long to Jinshanling?
It takes 2.5 hours to get to the Jinshanling section of the Great Wall. We left at 6:00am (cue gasps) but we were able to avoid the car-to-car traffic that would happen only one hour later. On the way back from the Great Wall, we did approach traffic, but that’s something we cannot control.
How Long is the Trek?
The time it takes to hike the Great Wall will be different based on how many breaks you take. The average time is about 3 hours. We ended up taking 3.5 hours to complete the hike. We took lots of breaks and stopped to have a picnic at one of the watch towers.
Start time: 8:30am
End time: 12:00pm
What to Bring to the Great Wall
- Water and lots of it. There are vendors that set up throughout the Great Wall but their beverage prices are much higher than the local 7-11. I ended up bringing one 2L bottle and two 500mL bottles.
- Entrance fee. Each section of the wall has a different entrance fee. Jinshanling’s fee is 65CNY.
- Snacks/Lunch. DO NOT LITTER! There were garbage receptacles along the path to throw away garbage.
- Sunscreen/Sun protection. There is NO shade (except in the watch towers) so cover up!
- Towel. Be prepared to sweat!
- Camera/Selfie Stick. We put these to good use!
Tips to Prepare
- Wear breathable, cool clothing and comfortable shoes.
- Visit during off-season and/or on a weekday. We went on a Thursday in August.
- Use the washroom before heading up to the hill to get to the entrance of the Great Wall. There are NO facilities on the Great Wall. (Note: although I was drinking plenty of water, I did not have to use the washroom once. Why? I sweated it out!).
- If you are a foreigner, be prepared for many of the locals wanting to take photos with you. The photo opps happened at the start of our hike. I didn’t mind taking several photos with people but it got to the point that it was slowing down our hike. We had to politely decline and move on so we could START.
- At the main gate of Jinshanling, you have the option to take a cable car to the top or you can walk the steps for about 20 minutes. Cable car opens at 8:30am.
I would highly recommend Jinshanling section of the Great Wall to explore. It was everything I imagined it would be, and more! Jinshanling is a great choice for those wanting a challenge, and to see non-restored sections of one of the Seven Wonders of the World!
Have you been to the Great Wall of China? Tell me about your journey in the comments below!
Some photos in this post courtesy of my talented photographer friend, Lauren Charesse.